Friday, February 13, 2009

Will you clerk in this economy?

Between the four or so letters I have received from my law school urging me to clerk after graduation, I have come to understand that clerking for a judge is a great (presumably, pre-firm) opportunity. Clerkships, I am told, are "to lawyers what post graduate fellowships are to doctors." Okay, fine. Like many of my peers, I was interested in clerking before the heavy sell; I was fortunate enough to have a great 1L summer working in a judge's chambers, and I saw firsthand just how valuable the experience is.

But the benefits of clerkships extend beyond the intangible experience everyone raves of. Indeed, as it stands today, most firms pay qualifying one-year clerks a $50,000 bonus along with class standing. While this monetary benefit is not enough to "make up" for the money lost spending a year working for a judge instead of a firm, it is a benefit that many undoubtedly consider when weighing whether to pursue a clerkship or not.

Let me be clear at the outset that I am not aware of any firm that has modified its policies with respect to judicial clerks. However, given the events discussed earlier, it seems conceivable—although, perhaps unlikely—that the market may change the way law firms treat judicial clerks.

There are, of course, compelling reasons for firms to do everything in their power to maintain the status quo. First, as noted, the experience is very valuable. It hones legal writing and reasoning ability immeasurably and thus brings associates to the firm who are better able to contribute. Second, clients love to have former clerks working for them; the positions are competitive, prestigious and former clerks have an "inside knowledge" of the judicial process.

Yet, with firms laying off by the dozen and swelled profits drying up, can anyone comfortably state that clerks will continue to receive BigLaw's "most favored associate" status? Probably not. In fact, it is entirely conceivable that clerking could pose an affirmative disadvantage for students with respect to firm employment: offers can be revoked, bar expenses unpaid…the potentially adverse consequences of choosing to clerk rather than go straight to a firm are plentiful.

I know I will still pursue a clerkship regardless of how the economy shapes the legal market in the next few months, but I am inclined to think that many who would otherwise want to clerk would be driven away by a change in the market. In these uncertain times, it is only natural to anticipate some degree of change in the priorities of ambitious law students.

Am I wrong to assume as much?

39 comments:

  1. You'd think clerking COA was a bad thing the way firms are hiring clerksright now.

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  2. Take the clerkship so you actually learn something useful (not to mention the networking among judges, lawyers and other clerks) over the next couple of years. Then you'll be better equipped to practice regardless of whether it's in a big firm, as a solo, somewhere in-between, or in-house.

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  3. i think clerking will be harder ITE due principally to the fact that everyone will have nothing else to do

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  4. @ 11:20--

    That's an interesting view. I couldn't help but wonder the same thing. Craig makes a great point that the economy may make clerking a riskier option. This could conceivably lead to there being less interest in clerking. However, I wonder if the economy won't have the opposite effect.
    I think clerkships will be in high demand, as many law grads will delay entering BigLaw for a couple of years. The struggling economy should prompt many professionals and recent college graduates to attend graduate school. It'll be interesting to see if the same trend goes for law school grads . Clerkships are another form of education- it'll be an opportunity for law grads to hone their skills and build their resume.

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  5. I agree with everything Josh has said; it's definitely an interesting twist to the question I posed.

    As I indicated in my original post, I think clerking is valuable enough as an experience to be pursued solely for that reason. While I will not be dissuaded from clerking if the economic climate changes further, I still do think that some will.

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  6. I'll bite..I'm not going to be applying for clerkships if things continue to degenreate. It's too risky for me. I have 140k in loans, and can't afford to be locked out of a firm job. I've always wanted to clerk, but I'm not willing to chance it.

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  7. Anent recent college graduates and laid off "professionals" going to graduate school to wait out the depression: anyone incurring significant debt to go to any graduate school (even law school) in this economic environment is a damned fool.

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  8. what do you mean 5:23? so your not going to clerk or you are?

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  9. 5:40 .... read the thread. Clerking as a way of improving professional skills, albeit at a reduced wage, makes real sense in a down economy. What doesn't make sense is incurring debt. Unless, of course, one is certain there will be sufficient inflation to reduce the value of the debt to a nominal amount (which is a not especially remote possibility).

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  10. I sought out, and accepted, a two-year position with a district court judge. I will likely apply to appellate positions next year. While three years of clerking is a lot, I'm certain it will be the best job I'll ever have AND it's a secure job in an uncertain economy.

    Hopefully firms will be hiring clerks in three years...

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  11. Karen, good point...but speaking from the vantage point of my firm, I think that it may be a lost cause. If you get an app. cship, I think you will be in a far greater position. But, hell, its 1 Am and I am still at the office, so what do I know?

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  12. Why would it be a lost cause 1:23? Surely firms want 2-yr dist. ct. clerks

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  13. 10:13 is right....it seems like 2-year dist. ct. clerks would be more valuable to firms because of the excess knowledge they could get both from the dc and app ct.

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  14. I am very much terrified of my offer being revoked or pushed b ack before I end my clerkship, and start next fall.

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  15. Truthfully, I don't think it matters either way...getting the clerkship experience is vital for you as an attorney--in any economy.

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  16. It's "vital"? Give me a break, 8:25

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  17. I don't think you are wrong to assume that some people will be disauaded from clerking given the state of the economy but, as others have said, I think there will also be a glut of attorneys looking for clerkships that will make clerking even more competitive this year.

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  18. For what its worth, a guy on AutoAdmit.com claims to be a COA clerk who can't get a job:

    http://www.xoxohth.com/thread.php?thread_id=936169&mc=7&forum_id=2

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  19. Perceptive discussion because I'm a current appeals clerk and have found the interview season very unforgiving this year. I still think the experience has been worthwhile but I would have opted to go straight to a firm if I realized how difficult clerking would make things for me.

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  20. Would you guys feel this way if you could clerk while getting a firm stipend for defering a year? I'm considering this right now, but it may be too late to apply for clerkships at this point.

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  21. Steve, clerking is always a good idea. It provides unmatched benefits that you simply will not get as a first, second, or even third year associate at any firm. Plus, it makes you more marketable.

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  22. Would it be too late 11:23? I am a 3L with a option of delaying when I start. Is this even a smart move given the economic crisis?

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  23. I mean would it be too late to still procure a clerkship.

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  24. Steve,

    Probably would be too late. I neglected to read that part of your comment. However, you can always go back later in your career and do one. It is a little easier to get one when you have some practice experience under your belt.

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  25. Have you heard anything on firms rescinding offers for clerks?

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  26. My friend got his offer rescinded, but ended up getting a better offer.

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  27. Vault Range/Market, 2:11?

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  28. Steve,
    V50-75/NYC

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  29. Current clerk here: sent out 25 resumes, 3 interviews and no offers so far.

    I have an offer with my 2L firm in another market, but was hoping to get something new after the clerkship. Guess it ain't happenin

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  30. Same story as 2.57 for me except my offer got revoked. I wasn't allowed to accept for my judge. I'd say which firm, but I guess that's offlimits. ATL will prob. cover soon because I e-mailed it to them.

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  31. I am starting a CoA clerkship this fall and am very afraid that my 2L firm will revoke my offer. Hope the economy looks less grim by September 2010!

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  32. Has your 2L firm said anything about its plans 12:56?

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  33. 2:11, how long ago did your friend interview/get the offer? I'm a current clerk and still looking. I've sent my resume out, but no interviews.

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  34. 5.20-he got the offer about a month ago. it was a high regarded NY firm. what markets are you targeting? what kind of clerkship? I ask because I'm a current student contemplating clerking, but am scared of the economy.

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  35. 5:35- I am in NY and targeting NY. I am a dist. ct clerk.

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  36. How does GW place in law clerk positions?

    -- GWU 2L (Top 1/3...not job)

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  37. Not so well....although one did get SCOTUS this year

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  38. I'd say about 9 or 10 students in the graduating class do clerkships in the Federal Appellate circuits...though this is probably overstating the placement options, given the typical size of the graduating class.

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