How to Choose the Right Judicial Clerkship for Your Career Goals

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Judicial clerkships are highly coveted positions among law school graduates, offering invaluable experience and the opportunity to work closely with a judge. However, with so many different types of clerkships available, it can be challenging to determine which one is the best fit for your career goals. In this article, we’ll explore some key factors to consider when choosing the right judicial clerkship for you.

Identify Your Career Goals

The first step in choosing the right judicial clerkship is to identify your long-term career goals. Do you aspire to work in a particular area of law, such as criminal justice, civil rights, or intellectual property? Do you envision yourself working in private practice, government, or academia? Your answers to these questions can help guide your search for the right clerkship.

For example, if you’re interested in criminal law, a clerkship with a judge who presides over criminal cases could be an excellent fit. Similarly, if you plan to pursue a career in academia, a clerkship with a federal appellate court or even the Supreme Court could be highly beneficial, as these positions are often seen as stepping stones to academic positions.

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Consider the Type of Court

Judicial clerkships are available in a variety of courts, including federal district courts, federal appellate courts, state trial courts, and state appellate courts. Each type of court offers a unique experience and can be more or less valuable depending on your career goals.

Federal clerkships, particularly at the appellate level, are often considered the most prestigious and competitive. These clerkships can be especially valuable if you’re interested in working in federal government or litigating in federal courts. However, they may be less helpful if you plan to practice in a specific state or focus on state law issues.

State court clerkships, on the other hand, can be an excellent choice if you plan to practice in a particular state or focus on an area of law that is primarily governed by state law, such as family law or criminal defense. A state court clerkship can also provide valuable insight into the workings of the state court system and help you build relationships with judges and attorneys in your state.

Research the Judge

Once you’ve identified the type of court that aligns with your career goals, it’s important to research individual judges to find the best match. Each judge has their own unique personality, legal philosophy, and working style, and finding a judge whose approach aligns with your own can make for a more rewarding and productive clerkship experience.

Start by reading the judge’s bio on the court’s website and reviewing any opinions or articles they’ve written. You can also reach out to former clerks or attorneys who have appeared before the judge to get a sense of their expectations and management style. Look for a judge who is known for providing mentorship and opportunities for professional growth, as these qualities can be invaluable in a clerkship.

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Consider Location

The location of your clerkship can also be an important factor to consider, particularly if you have geographic preferences or constraints. Clerkships are available all over the country, in both large cities and smaller towns, and the location can have a significant impact on your quality of life and job prospects after the clerkship.

For example, if you want to work in a major legal market like New York or Washington, D.C., a clerkship in one of those cities could be highly beneficial, as it would allow you to build relationships and gain exposure to the local legal community. On the other hand, if you have family obligations or a strong preference for a particular region, a clerkship closer to home may be a better fit.

Timing and Duration

Finally, it’s important to consider the timing and duration of your clerkship. Most clerkships last for one to two years, although some judges hire permanent clerks. The timing of your clerkship can also be important, as some judges hire clerks several years in advance, while others hire on a rolling basis.

Consider your personal and professional obligations when deciding on the timing and duration of your clerkship. If you have significant student loan debt, for example, a longer clerkship may not be feasible, as clerkship salaries are generally lower than those in private practice. Similarly, if you have family obligations or other time constraints, a shorter clerkship may be more manageable.

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