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Dean Guzman Makes Clerking a Priority

Wednesday, Oct 12, 2016

Profs. Abby Wood and Sam Erman head clerkship committee

-By Gilien Silsby

It’s a job that lasts only a year or two, but offers an experience that defines a legal career.

Clerking for a judge is one of the most prestigious opportunities for law students, and the benefits reverberate through their profession  - whether the goal is to work for a firm, in government or in public interest.

“I have held many jobs, and not all are on my resume. But clerking for my judge is and will always be on my resume,” said USC Gould Dean Andrew Guzman. “It’s an experience that is like no other.”

Encouraging students to clerk is one of Guzman’s priorities, and he has revamped USC Gould’s clerkship program this year to encourage every student to make it a goal.

For the first time in more than a decade, two tenure-track professors - Profs. Sam Erman and Abby Wood - are heading the committee.

Professor Sam Erman served as a clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy

Erman, who clerked for two U.S. Supreme Court justices, Anthony Kennedy and John Paul Stevens, and current U.S. Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, said his clerking experiences shaped him as a lawyer and scholar.

“Clerking forever marks you as an elite lawyer,” Erman said.  “Grades drop off the CV.  People care less about law review over time.  But clerkships remain a coin of the realm.”

Law firms also value associates who have clerked. At a recent reception at USC Gould, attorneys and partners at 11 Los Angeles firms mingled with first- and second-year students encouraging them to consider clerking. (Sponsoring the event were Paul Hastings; Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP; Morrison & Foerster; Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher; Sidley Austin; Sullivan & Cromwell; Kirkland & Ellis; O’Melveny & Myers, Loeb & Loeb; Proskauer Rose; and Reed Smith).

Matt Cave ‘11, co-chair of Gould’s Clerkship Committee and an associate with Morrison & Foerster, told students that nothing prepares a new law graduate like clerking. “You essentially become the judge’s right-hand woman or man. It’s an experience and training that you can’t get anywhere else.”

Peter Brejcha ’09, a senior associate in the litigation practice of Paul Hastings, said his clerkship gave him a solid foundation in legal research, writing and analysis skills. It also gave him an added advantage when he joined Paul Hastings in Los Angeles.

“Law firms universally recognize the value of clerkships,” said Brejcha, who clerked for the Hon. Manuel L. Real of the Central District of California. “Having a clerkship under your belt can help set you apart once you arrive at your firm by making you a go-to associate.”

Paul Rosen ’05, the chief of staff of U.S. Homeland Security, said his clerkship opened many doors, ultimately leading to one of the most powerful jobs in Washington, D.C.

“My clerkship was invaluable; it is the foundation of my professional and legal career.  Everything I learned in law school was immediately put to practice, which is not always the case for post-law school jobs.”

Most importantly, Rosen learned from an experienced judge - Honorable Gary Allen Feess - about how to be an exceptional lawyer.  “My clerkship was a case study in good lawyering and bad lawyering.  Day in and day out I saw what techniques were effective in court and brief writing, and those that were not. Each day we were in trial, presiding over motions, or drafting bench memos and orders.  And each day I learned how to be a lawyer myself.”  

Joel Purles ’08 clerked for two Ninth Circuit Court judges: The Hon. Johnnie B. Rawlinson and the Hon. Ferdinand F. Fernandez. He has no doubt that his clerkship gave him confidence and made him a better lawyer.  

“It provided the passion for the work that I feed upon, it instilled in me the confidence to know I can accomplish it, it taught me how to work harder than even I thought possible, and most importantly it taught me to guide my practice with fairness, honesty, and justice regardless of the circumstances,” said Purles, an associate attorney at Munger, Tolles & Olson.

Amy Proctor ’11, a senior associate at Irell & Manella, learned valuable skills from her clerkship with the Hon. John Kronstadt. "The perspective I gained clerking helped me even when I was handling entirely new responsibilities, like taking my first deposition a few months after starting at Irell. At that deposition, I was able to think about how the transcript might be used to support a motion for summary judgment, which helped me ask better questions and do the necessary follow-up that can sometimes be hard for junior attorneys.

Prof. Abby Wood realizes that a year can seem like a big investment, but she encourages students to take a longer view.

“We know that legal careers are long and varied, and that clerkings’ benefits reverberate through an entire career. There is nothing like clerking for paying career dividends. It truly can take a career to the next level. You learn so much more than you can at a firm in the same amount of time, due to the sheer variety of work. You build connections for life. And you set yourself apart as someone who is serious, ambitious, experienced, and adventurous.”

Students are invited to the panel discussion, “Clerkships: The Best Job You Will Ever Have,” featuring USC alumni who have clerked. The event will be held on Wednesday, Oct. 26 at noon in Room 130.

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