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 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?