February 06, 2015

Judges “serve” as a U.S. Supreme Court justice, students “work” as clerks

Judges and 53 minority law students have come together in Houston for the 15th annual Judicial Clerkship Program, sponsored by the ABA’s Judicial Division and the Council for Ethnic and Racial Diversity in the Educational Pipeline.

The three-day program is designed to allow judges, law students and former law clerks to develop close personal working relationships; improve students’ analytical, legal research and writing skills; and enhance participants’ career opportunities. Numerous students have obtained clerkships and internships as a result of their participation.

Those welcoming the students to this year’s program on Feb. 5 included Maryland judge Toni Clark, Judicial Division Chair and federal judge David Waxse, ABA President-Elect Paulette Brown, ABA Executive Director Jack Rives and ABA Chief Human Resources Officer Valeria Stokes.

Among several activities, the students work on exercises as clerks to fictional Supreme Court justices portrayed by the judges.

In one such exercise, a justice has been assigned to draft the Court’s opinion examining whether a city ordinance that authorizes warrantless police inspections is facially unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment.   

The “justice” sets a schedule for the “clerks” that includes meeting later in the day to discuss the project and gathering the next day to discuss the clerks’ research methodology and the substance of the issue at hand, as well as develop an outline for the opinion.  

According to program materials, the participating judges’ interactions with the students are meant to “replicate to the maximum extent possible the kind of judge-clerk personal interaction characteristic of judicial clerkships.”

The JCP offers additional benefits to students, such as a review of student resumes by the judges and a trip to the Bob Casey Federal Courthouse, where students will hear actual appellate cases.

Second-year Elon University law student Diamond Zephir plans on a career in criminal law or family law, and is also interested in becoming a judge. She is participating in the JCP because “I wanted to see what is involved in being a judge, and the steps involved in becoming one.” Zephir is one of four Elon law students chosen for this year’s JCP.

Among the 50 participating judges are U.S. District judges (such as Nannette Baker of St. Louis), federal appeals court judges (such as Danny Boggs of the 6th Circuit in Louisville), county-level judges (including Guy L. Reece II of the Franklin County Common Pleas Court in Ohio), state supreme court justices such as Robert Edmunds of North Carolina, and city court judges (including Elizabeth Finn of Glendale, Ariz.).

Reece, participating in the program for the sixth time, said, “I think it is important for future lawyers to have the opportunity to interact with judges, understand more about what is required in clerking, and be exposed to all of the benefits involved.

“The program is geared to minorities, and quite often they’re not exposed to the opportunities clerkships offer.” Everything else being equal, Reece said he would favor a clerkship candidate who had been through the JCP.

The JCP was established after ABA and National Association for Law Placement research in 2000 that found that minority representation in judicial clerkships was generally lower than in law school populations. As part of the anecdotal evidence indicating the importance of clerkships, it is noted that Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer and former justices, William H. Rehnquist, John Paul Stevens, Robert H. Jackson, Wiley B. Rutledge and Arthur Goldberg, were themselves former Supreme Court clerks.