Answering Clerkship Interview Questions on Legal Ethics

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During a judicial clerkship interview, you may encounter questions that probe your understanding of legal ethics – the principles, rules, and values that govern the professional conduct of lawyers and judges. These questions aim to assess your moral reasoning skills, your commitment to integrity and impartiality, and your ability to navigate complex ethical dilemmas. To effectively answer these questions, follow this 5-step process tailored to demonstrating your ethical competence and judgment:

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Step 1: Review the relevant ethical rules and guidelines

Before the interview, thoroughly review the ethical rules and guidelines that apply to lawyers and judges in your jurisdiction. These may include:

– The American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct

– The Code of Conduct for United States Judges

– The specific ethical rules and guidelines of the court or jurisdiction where you are applying to clerk

– Relevant case law or advisory opinions on legal ethics issues


Step 2: Reflect on your own ethical values and experiences

In addition to knowledge of the formal rules, it’s important to reflect on your own ethical values and experiences that have shaped your moral compass. Consider:

– Personal or professional experiences where you faced ethical dilemmas or had to make difficult moral choices

– Mentors, role models, or teachers who have influenced your understanding of ethics and professionalism

– Your own deeply held beliefs about honesty, fairness, responsibility, and respect for others

– How your personal background, culture, or faith tradition informs your approach to ethical decision-making


Step 3: Develop specific examples of ethical decision-making

To illustrate your ethical competence and judgment, prepare specific examples of situations where you have faced and navigated ethical challenges. These may include:

– Law school experiences, such as moot court competitions, clinics, or externships, where you encountered ethical issues and had to apply the relevant rules and principles

– Professional experiences, such as internships or jobs, where you observed or engaged with ethical dilemmas and learned valuable lessons about professionalism and responsibility

– Personal experiences, such as community service or leadership roles, where you had to make difficult moral choices or stand up for your ethical principles


Step 4: Articulate your commitment to ethical principles and practices

When answering questions on legal ethics, it’s crucial to convey your deep commitment to the ethical principles and practices that underpin the legal profession. Emphasize your respect for the rule of law, your dedication to truth and justice, and your willingness to subordinate personal interests to the greater good of the profession and society.


Use language that demonstrates your moral clarity and conviction, such as “I strongly believe,” “I am committed to,” or “I would never compromise.” At the same time, acknowledge the complexity and difficulty of ethical decision-making, and express your humility and openness to learning from others and growing in your ethical understanding and judgment.


Step 5: Connect your ethical competence to the role of a law clerk

Finally, explain how your ethical competence and judgment would directly contribute to your effectiveness and value as a law clerk. Highlight how your understanding of legal ethics would enable you to:

– Provide reliable and trustworthy support to the judge in researching and analyzing legal issues

– Maintain the highest standards of confidentiality, impartiality, and integrity in your work

– Identify and navigate potential ethical issues or conflicts that may arise in the course of your clerkship

– Serve as a positive role model and representative of the court in your interactions with lawyers, litigants, and the public

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Example Question and Answer:

Question: "As a law clerk, you may encounter situations where your personal moral beliefs or political views conflict with the legal issues or decisions you are working on. How would you approach such situations, and what ethical principles would guide your conduct?"


“As a law clerk, I recognize that my primary ethical obligation is to support the judge in the impartial and objective administration of justice, regardless of my personal beliefs or views. The Code of Conduct for Law Clerks emphasizes the importance of maintaining independence, integrity, and propriety in all activities, and I am deeply committed to upholding these principles.

If I encountered a situation where my personal moral beliefs or political views conflicted with the legal issues or decisions I was working on, my first step would be to carefully examine the nature and source of the conflict. I would ask myself whether my personal views were truly incompatible with the fair and impartial application of the law, or whether I was allowing my own biases or preferences to cloud my judgment.

If I determined that there was a genuine conflict between my personal views and my professional obligations, I would bring this to the attention of the judge and seek guidance on how to proceed. I believe in the importance of honesty, transparency, and open communication, and I would never try to conceal or suppress a potential ethical issue.

Depending on the nature and severity of the conflict, the appropriate course of action might be to recuse myself from working on the particular case or issue, or to request reassignment to other matters. However, I would not take such steps lightly, as I recognize that the judge relies on the support and expertise of their law clerks, and I would not want to create undue burden or disruption.”

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