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January 25, 2019

Judicial Clerkship Program offers unique opportunities for diverse law students

More than 80 law students and 30 judges from around the country are participating in the 2019 Judicial Clerkship Program at the ABA Midyear Meeting in Las Vegas.

Presented by the ABA Council for Diversity in the Educational Pipeline and the ABA Judicial Division, the three-day program, taking place Jan. 24-26, brings together judges and diverse law students for structured networking activities designed to introduce students to the life-long benefits of a judicial clerkship. Aimed at increasing diversity among judicial clerks, the program also encourages judges to consider students they may not otherwise have considered for a judicial clerkship.

The JCP program has an important mission. Without fair access to judicial clerkships, both law schools and their graduates lose significant opportunities. For recent law school graduates, serving as a judicial law clerk is a mark of distinction and honor that will advance their career opportunities. Former law clerks generally have an advantage when pursuing careers in academia, in government as high level appointees, as litigators in prestigious areas of the private sector, and in securing appointments to the bench.

JCP was established by ABA President William (Bill) Paul following the publication of a study in 2000 showing that minorities have made little progress in obtaining judicial clerkships.

The study showed that just 15 percent of all judicial clerkships were held by minorities, despite the fact that minorities make up 30 percent of the population and 20 percent of the law student population.  In addition, although the number of minority judicial clerks had increased from 388 to 509, the number of clerkships also increased. Therefore, by percentage, minority representation in clerkships had only risen from 13 to 15 percent.  In six of the twelve federal circuits, the percentage of clerkships held by minorities actually dropped.

In discussing the trends identified in the study, Paul noted that, “the legal profession is 92 percent white and only 8 percent minorities.  In contrast, the U.S. population is 70 percent white and 30 percent minorities.  If we are to maintain our justice system as the best in the world, we need to address issues of ethnic and racial diversity in the legal profession.”

The following year, the ABA launched the first JCP at the ABA Midyear Meeting in San Diego. Hosted every February since 2001, the program has worked with hundreds of diverse students from around the nation.