Goal IX Newsletter

Spring 2001, Volume 7, Number 2

Judicial Clerkship Program - A Student's Perspective by: Katina N. Grays

It was during my second year in law school that I first thought about whether to pursue a judicial clerkship. Like many of my law school classmates, I thought about the prestige of the position. But I also worried about the stringent clerkship selection process: Were my class rank and grades good enough? Would not being on law review hurt my chances of being selected? In addition, I read many articles that addressed the dearth of minority law students pursuing judicial clerkships. Armed with all of this information, both good and bad, and after taking a realistic assessment of my credentials, I decided to take a chance and apply for a judicial clerkship.

In the middle of my application process, I was asked to attend the Judicial Clerkship Program for minority students jointly sponsored by the ABA Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession and the ABA Judicial Division, in February 2001 in San Diego. On the first day of the program, I met students from the other participating law schools—Duke, University of Michigan, University of Texas, and University of New Mexico. We were randomly placed in teams and assigned to two judges to prepare a bench memorandum. My team decided to prepare our memos based on an interesting case involving the Indian Child Welfare Act. During the preparation of our memos, we worked closely with our team judges, the Honorable Frank Sullivan (Indiana Supreme Court) and the Honorable Danny Boggs (Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals). Our judges listened to our perspectives on the case and discussed the various issues of the case with us. Afterwards, other judges critiqued our written work product.

 In addition to the written work assignment, we also had the opportunity to meet and network with judges in a less structured way at luncheons and receptions. I met even more judges during these events, including the Honorable Andre Davis (Southern District of Maryland) and the Honorable Arthur Burnett, Sr. (state trial judge, District of Columbia). The judges were very interested in talking with the students about the merits of a clerkship, the application process, and other areas of interest. I was very impressed by the number of non-minority judges who seemed genuinely interested in having minority law students clerk for them.

The judges’ panel at the end of the program was a particular highlight. Federal and state court judges on the panel answered the questions of the participating students. It was a rare opportunity for law students to openly ask questions on issues that often deter minority students from pursuing clerkships. Some of the issues addressed were the qualities judges seek in law clerks; whether judges are serious about hiring minority clerks; and how heavily they weigh credentials like grades and law review in relation to other qualities. Hearing their responses was immensely useful because it gave us an honest perspective on a judge’s decision-making process when hiring clerks.

Although I had already decided to pursue a judicial clerkship, attending the program reaffirmed my decision. For students who were still undecided about applying, I am certain the program offered even more incentive to do so. In hindsight, it took me a long time to convince myself to apply for a clerkship— so much so that I did not send out applications until the middle of December. Attending this program earlier in my law school career would have removed some of my fear and doubt about the process.

Further, I learned that many non-minority judges receive few or no applications from minority law students. This is disturbing because it suggests that perhaps minority students believe that non-minority judges will not seriously consider their applications. Minority law students should be aware that we bring a unique and valuable perspective to a judge’s chambers that otherwise might never be heard. Moreover, judges who sincerely desire diversity in their chambers will consider our applications seriously. But they can do that only if we apply.

I was honored to participate in the inaugural year of this useful and inspiring judicial clerkship program. I offer my sincerest gratitude to the program’s organizers and participating judges, who have acknowledged the existence of a problem and are taking positive steps to provide a remedy. This is a program with great potential and the promise of success in the future. I hope that it will continue to evolve and, ultimately, to increase the needed presence of minority law clerks.

Katina N. Grays is a second-year law student at Cornell Law School. She will clerk for Chief Judge U.W. Clemon, Northern District of Alabama, after graduation.

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