Former clerks speak about their experiences
-By Lori Craig
Most first-year law students are familiar with the career options of joining a firm, government agency or nonprofit organization after graduation.
Robert W. Loewen '75
But a judicial clerkship is another option – one that offers incomparable research, writing and analytical training; unparalleled exposure to the judicial decision-making process; and rewarding personal and professional relationships that can last a lifetime.
About 100 USC Law 1Ls learned more about judicial clerkships from former clerks, including law school alumni and faculty, at the annual First-Year Law Student Clerkship Reception, held in Town and Gown Sept. 27.
Clerks spend a year working in a judge’s chambers to help the judge handle his or her caseload.
Among the tasks Dean Robert K. Rasmussen performed as a clerk for the Honorable John C. Godbold of the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Alabama were reading briefs, writing memos and drafting briefs.
“You get to see how the judge – someone you’re going to work with on the other side of the bench throughout your career – makes decisions,” Rasmussen said.
As a clerk, “you get a personal relationship with a great individual,” said Robert W. Loewen ’75, a partner at Gibson Dunn who clerked for Justice Byron R. White at the United States Supreme Court and for Judge Walter Ely at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Clerks get to know the judge for whom they work and talk to them about the historic decisions they’re made, he said.
Master of Ceremonies Dave Walsh '85, speaker Robert
Stern, Dean Robert K. Rasmussen and Prof. Hannah
Garry at the fall clerkship reception.
“You also get to know some other great people, but they’re not ‘great’ yet because they’re your coworkers,” Loewen said. “That’s the best time to get to know them because they’re all young and scared, like you. These are some amazingly talented people and they’ll get to do amazing things.”
Clerking makes you a better writer because you quickly learn to identify good and bad briefs; it makes you a better lawyer because you observe how to get at the essence of an argument; and it helps you get business later in your career, Loewen said.
Robert S. Stern, a partner at Morrison & Foerster LLP who clerked for Judge John Minor Wisdom at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, said that he, like most other former clerks, considers the year he spent clerking to be one of the best years of his life.
“It teaches you how a judge thinks, how a judge goes about his or her business, how a judge makes decisions,” Stern said. “Those are all critically important” for future lawyers.
Prof. Hannah Garry, chair of the clerkship committee who clerked for Judge Rosemary Barkett of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, pointed out four areas on which students should focus if they are interested in pursuing a clerkship. Get good grades, get as much writing experience as possible, gain experience through an externship, and develop relationships with faculty and employers who can write letters of recommendation or offer advice, Garry said.
The fall clerkship reception was hosted by the USC Law Board of Councilors’ Clerkship and sponsored by seven law firms: Paul Hastings, Sidley Austin LLP, Morrison Foerster, Jones Day, Irell & Manella LLP, Gibson Dunn, and Munger, Tolles & Olsen LLP. In addition to hearing from the speakers, the first-year students mingled with former clerks and judges from the sponsoring law firms and the law school.
Master of Ceremonies Dave Walsh ’85, partner at Paul Hastings who clerked for U.S. District Judge Howard B. Turrentine ’39 noted that the committee holds events throughout the school year to educate students about clerkship opportunities, including a spring reception for clerkship-eligible students and local judges, and a lunchtime speaker series.