Monday, May 9, 2011

Does Congress need law clerks?

Larry Kramer says yes after a conference on the proposition in April. I question the reasoning somewhat--doesn't Congress already have hundreds of attorneys employed by committees? Still, more clerks could give Congress bright "young lawyers [who] would spend a year researching and drafting laws before moving on to other legal endeavors." In a way, new law students offer a unique perspective to the drafting process. From Law.com:
"The legal profession as such is extremely court-centered," Kramer said. "One of the reasons for that, I think, is that court clerkships are the first job out the door for many graduates of the best law schools in the country. They move on and become leaders in the profession, and it's incredible the extent to which that first job shapes their thinking and understanding about the profession."

Advocates of congressional clerkships are dreaming big, but starting small. The Daniel Webster Congressional Clerkship Act of 2011, a bill introduced in April by U.S. Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Calif., and co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., would create a pilot program with 12 clerks. The Committee on Rules and Administration of the Senate and the House Committee on House Administration would select clerks from a centralized pool. Each chamber would get six clerks, to be divided between the parties.
The article further elaborates on the proposed pilot program:
Legislators and committee would compete for the clerks by offering the most attractive type of work. The clerks would choose where they want to spend their year.

Keeping the pilot program small will help ensure that competition for clerk spots is stiff, said Yale Law School professor Bill Eskridge, a leading authority on the legislative process. The plan will have succeeded, he said, if the congressional clerkships carry prestige equal to that accorded to federal court clerkships. The long-term plans calls for the program to expand after the pilot phase.

Supporters acknowledge that getting the bill passed during this legislative session may be difficult, given that Congress is in budget-cutting mode. The cost of the pilot program is relatively small -- about $1 million per year, with clerks earning the same salary as clerks in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia -- but the cost has been a hurdle in the past.
Senator Chuck Schumer has sponsored a sister bill in the Senate on the measure. It will be interesting to see how this shakes out.

2 comments:

  1. Need? No. Would it help? Yes, a lot. But it would probably take a while for students to consider it a prestigious option.

    ReplyDelete
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