What Is a Law Clerk?

Venturing on a journey as a law clerk opens the door to the heart of the legal world. This blog unpacks what it means to be a law clerk, sharing the ins and outs of the job and offering a roadmap for anyone eyeing this path. We’ll dive into their responsibilities and share tips on how you can step into those respected legal shoes.

Law clerks play a crucial role in supporting the decision-making process of the court, often working closely with judges to ensure the thorough examination of legal issues. They contribute to the efficiency and effectiveness of the judicial system by providing valuable insights and assistance in various legal matters.

It’s also common to see law clerks interning or working inside a law firm before graduating from law school. The work varies between court clerks and firm clerks, but the same responsibilities of assisting the judges and lawyers in researching, analyzing, and breaking down their cases remain

Responsibilities of a law clerk 

Responsibilities of a law clerk

“Law clerk” covers a broad spectrum of legal roles—from non-lawyer clerks to recent law school graduate clerks. Law clerks often carry varying degrees of responsibility based on the court, judge, law firm, or company they work for. Many recent law school graduates start their careers as law clerks under a sitting judge or join a firm or company as a clerk while attending law school.

Clerks are heavily involved in the research aspect of a law matter and help judges and lawyers by:

  • Researching and analyzing the law
  • Gathering and presenting relevant findings
  • Creating detailed reports for judges, lawyers, and the courts

When providing case assistance, clerks will refer to legal books, journals, prior cases, and magazines to help their supervising attorney or judge make informed decisions.

The success of a law clerk hinges on their ability to conduct high-quality legal research. Modern tools provide immediate access to searchable law libraries, decisions, and crucial details, facilitating faster and more effective research. 

Tip: Fastcase boasts one of the world’s largest online law libraries, including case law, statutes, regulations, and constitutions, enabling remote research capabilities. Fastcase’s integration with Clio offers clerks working at firms the ability to access everything they need seamlessly.

What does a judicial clerk do?

While the role of a judicial law clerk may vary depending on the judge they work under, they are mainly responsible for helping judges with different cases. A law clerk is seen as a judge’s right hand, and the judge as their mentor. The judicial law clerk is the main buffer between chambers and is trusted by the judge with confidential information. 

Some of the most common duties of a judicial law clerk include:

  • Briefing the judge
  • Aiding with trials and court procedure
  • Conducting legal research
  • Managing a caseload
  • Drafting, editing, proofreading, and composing bench memos
  • Analyzing issues before the court
  • Reviewing papers (library maintenance and document assembly)

In general, law clerks are pivotal in supporting judges and enhancing the efficient and effective operation of the judicial system.

What does a law clerk do at a firm?

Law clerks help attorneys research and analyze cases, review files, and manage support documentation. They will break down more complex legal cases with their legal knowledge and practical experience to help guide efficient and well-researched representation for the firm’s clientele. They will be heavily involved in case strategy and documentation management and might even assist with client communication.

Law clerks may also work alongside the managing lawyers, firm partners, and paralegals in smaller firms to keep the business running smoothly. This can involve using the firm’s chosen tech tools for bookkeeping, research, documentation, and case management.

Importance of law clerks in the legal system

Importance of law clerks in the legal system

Within the broader legal system, law clerks are responsible for researching and aiding their superiors to stay prepared to make the best case on behalf of their clients, litigants, or the state. They have a strong understanding of the law and are constantly researching and gaining more knowledge.

Legal education

Whether they are presently enrolled in law school or have completed their law degree, law clerks are constantly learning and gaining legal insights. They often possess a significant amount of practical, real-world experience in addition to academic knowledge.

Legal research and writing skills

Law clerks are great at bringing a fresh perspective to cases, understanding, evaluating, and breaking down the law. They are valuable in building the bridge between law academia and the practice of law. 

Using research tools like Logikcull helps law clerks automate discovery for their case matters inside of Clio Manage.

Assisting with case preparation and analysis

Law clerks organize important and relevant documents to a case so the lawyer and the courts can easily refer to them. They write court motions, summarize pleadings, and assist with trial preparation.

FormEvo helps law clerks create legal documents and court forms right from their Clio Manage accounts.

Many law clerks are adopting e-filing solutions for their document and research management. Keeping documents uploaded to the cloud allows them to access them on the go, makes it easier to keep them organized, and reduces the need for physical copies. Everything is right at their fingertips! This can become increasingly important if the clerk works for multiple judges or runs around a courthouse on a daily basis.

Support decision-making

Law clerks aid lawyers and judges in making bigger legal decisions. They do this by ensuring their superiors are equipped with all the relevant research, case studies, and statutes. They help break down more intricate legal issues and ensure a strong understanding of all angles as well as possible solutions and outcomes.

Collaboration and communication skills

Law clerks collaborate daily with judges, court personnel, lawyers, paralegals, and firm staff. They participate in strategizing, researching, organizing, and presenting cases and are highly skilled in both written and verbal communication across channels.

While the above covers most of what a law clerk may be responsible for, a law clerk’s role might vary based on the judge or size of the firm they work for.

How to become a law clerk

How to become a law clerk

Education required

To become a law clerk, you must have a bachelor’s degree. While there are no required majors, clerks often graduate with degrees in political science, pre-law, or similar fields. Many also plan to attend or have attended law school, which requires you to take the Law School Administration Test (LSAT)

While you do not need a law degree to be a law clerk in some cases, clerking is often viewed and used as a great stepping stone before becoming an attorney. This is why many clerking roles are on a temporary or contract basis.

If you’re looking to begin a career in law, clerking for a law firm or for a judge can help you build up your legal knowledge while developing strong writing, research, and necessary analytical skills.

Getting the job

Illustration of someone climbing stairs made of books

Clerkship opportunities are often posted on court websites, legal job boards, or through law school career services. Many students begin a clerking internship while attending law school. This is a great way to experience different areas of the law and gain tangible experience with firms and with the courts.

Working as a clerk early in your law career can help with networking and propel you toward your chosen career path in the court system or chosen area of law.

Tips for a successful application:

Tailor your resume. Your resume should highlight relevant skills, experiences, legal internships, and accomplishments related to legal research, writing, and analysis.

Showcase your legal research and writing skills. Highlight any legal research projects, papers, or memos you have worked on. Establishing your legal knowledge and ability to communicate effectively in writing.

Illustrate your legal tech proficiency: Familiarize yourself with legal research tools and software commonly used in the legal field.

Research the firm or judge. Familiarize yourself with the judge or the firm you’re applying to work for. Understand their practice areas and notable cases.

Offer strong recommendations. Include references from professors, internship supervisors, or legal professionals who can vouch for your skills and work ethic.

Final thoughts on law clerks

Working as a law clerk can be a career-boosting experience, offering insights into legal processes and fostering essential skills. Exposure to court proceedings provides firsthand knowledge of courtroom dynamics, while networking opportunities with judges and legal professionals open doors for mentorship and career advancement. 

A law clerk position on a resume is seen as prestigious, signaling a high-level legal experience, therefore strengthening your appeal and paving the way for a successful legal career!

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