by Debra M. Strauss, Esq.*
Motivated by several critical concerns about clerkships and diversity in the legal profession, the National Association for Law Placement (“NALP”) and the American Bar Association (“ABA”) conducted a comprehensive study of judicial clerkships as employment opportunities for law graduates. The study gathered input from three significant populations through extensive surveys and empirical data analyses: law school administrations/career service professionals, third-year students, and alumni law clerks. It has captured information on student perceptions about the clerkship application/selection processes; the value students and alumni see in clerkships; data on the presence of women and graduates of color in federal, state, and local clerkships; the influence of the clerkship experience on attorney careers; and the roles that law school faculty and administration assume in the clerkship application process.
The complete findings, including suggested proposals for the judiciary, are published in Courting the Clerkship: Perspectives on the Opportunities and Obstacles for Judicial Clerkships, Report on the 2000 National Judicial Clerkship Study (National Association for Law Placement, October 2000) (the “Report”). This article highlights some of the principal findings and initiatives pertaining to the law schools.
Appreciation is extended once again to the thousands of participants in this significant study. Through this work -- a culmination of the input of so many career services professionals, law students and alumni law clerks -- we hope to offer a meaningful contribution to the judicial clerkship application process from which the ABA, the law schools and the judiciary can make further strides.
Noted among the findings are these key concerns:
· The lack of clerkship timing guidelines and uniform application procedures severely hampers law schools in their programming, information gathering and counseling efforts.
· A related problem is the lack of information on individual judges and their application requirements, procedures, and application and interview dates.
· The data indicate that the representation of Hispanic and Black/African American law clerks has been significantly lower than the representation of these groups in the general law school population, with some variation observed by court types. These racial and ethnic patterns appear to be a reflection of the student applicant population rather than the success rate of their applications.
· The gender patterns in judicial clerks and applicants tend to vary with the type of court and may also reflect a differential in the success rate of their applications. In addition, students in the upper age category (36 and older) believed their age to be a disadvantage leading to unsuccessful clerkship applications.
· The expense of the clerkship application and interview process emerged as problematic for many students and alumni law clerks. More than one-third of the students who did not apply for a clerkship stated as a reason that they lacked the finances to apply or interview for a clerkship, emphasizing as a deterrent the financial differential of the clerkship salary given their considerable educational debt.
· A large number of students expressed the concern that their professors did not know them well enough to write meaningful recommendations, due in part to the earlier timing of the application process. Moreover, almost one-third of the students experienced difficulties with the timely submission of their letters.
To address these concerns, the study presents the following action plan for law schools and their students, which are outlined briefly here and discussed in further detail in the Report.
· The law schools should endeavor to gather and disseminate more information about the judges. Almost one-half of the students surveyed would have liked additional assistance from their law schools in collecting this information and advice. To address the need for a complete and current source of contact information, contents of application materials, and deadlines for judges, law schools should play a more active role in encouraging judicial participation in existing or newly developed directories.
· Clerkship handbooks are valuable resources that more schools might find helpful.
· Web resources are underutilized. Schools that do not wish to construct their own site for clerkship information can still benefit from a number of existing sites on the web (see list below). These web sites are continually growing and changing, but all schools should instruct their students to explore the wide range of web resources available to them.
· In expanding their library of resources, schools should not overlook the value to their students of collecting written feedback from alumni law clerks.
· More outreach efforts to students are needed to increase their awareness and attendance of clerkship programs and counseling. Additional programs in this area would be welcome.
· The schools should strive for the development of more judicial internship/ externship programs, which are regarded as beneficial to this process by those schools that have them.
· In order to increase minority representation among law clerks, initiatives should focus on the need to increase the number of minority students who apply for judicial clerkships. Law schools should adopt as a priority encouraging more minority students to apply by offering specialized programs, resources and counseling for these students.
· Some form of financial assistance or loan deferment from law schools is imperative. With a goal of promoting diversity of the applicant pool, judicial clerkships -- which are a form of public service -- should be treated like other public interest jobs, evoking eligibility for financial assistance, loan forgiveness or deferral programs.
· Law schools should cultivate greater faculty involvement by developing ways to enhance the interaction of professors with students and increase their awareness of student writing. Schools should also implement measures to facilitate the mechanics of the application process for their students, including procedures to improve the timeliness of the letters of recommendation from their faculty.
· Almost one-third of the law clerks indicated that in retrospect they would have done something differently in the application process. As general advice to students, many of these graduates revealed that they would have applied to more judges or more broadly across the courts, started the application process earlier, built stronger recommendations from the faculty, pursued the clerkship more aggressively through phone calls to chambers, and/or researched more to try to obtain additional information about the judges, by talking to former clerks and consulting an array of valuable resources.
· www.courts.net -- This site was developed to provide access to web sites maintained by courts nationwide and offers links to both state and federal court sites.
· www.uscourts.gov -- The official site of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, this site offers links to other federal sites and a new database containing information supplied by federal judges regarding their law clerk hiring schedules and application criteria, along with other features accessible by the law schools and judges.
· www.judicialclerkships.com -- This new site serves as a central source of information and advice for law schools and students on judicial clerkships, with a forum for law clerks and key resource links.
· The NALP Federal and State Judicial Clerkship Directory. Available in print and on-line through LEXIS.
· Directory of Minority Judges of the United States, Chicago: American Bar Association, Judicial Division, Task Force on Minorities in the Judiciary.
· Almanac of the Federal Judiciary, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Aspen Law and Business. Also available on-line through WESTLAW.
· Guide to State Judicial Clerkship Procedures. Vermont Law School.
* Debra M. Strauss, the Project Director and author of the National Judicial Clerkship Study on behalf of NALP and the ABA, is a consultant in the area of judicial clerkships, providing services to law schools, students and judges. She is also Adjunct Professor of Law at Fairfield University School of Business; and at Pace University School of Law, where she helped to establish and teaches the Federal Judicial Extern Honors Program.
This article is reprinted from: Strauss, Debra M., "Empowering the Participants: Initiatives from the National Judicial Clerkship Study," NALP Bulletin, Vol. 13, No. 12, Dec. 2000 (originally online at: http://www.nalp.org/press/pdf/1200clrk.pdf).