Judicial clerkships provide an opportunity for recent graduates to spend a one or two year period working with judges in federal, state, county or municipal courts. Unlike judicial internships and externships, post-graduate clerkships are paid positions. They provide exposure to varied legal issues, an opportunity to master research and writing skills, and, in trial court, a chance to develop advocacy skills through observation of the various arguments and strategies, both good and bad, used by many lawyers.Clerkships also serve as catalysts for future employment, since law firms, government agencies, public interest organizations and other legal employers actively solicit judicial clerks.

There is no one job description for a judicial clerk, and the specific responsibilities of a clerk depend on the type of court at which the clerk serves and on the specific preferences of the judge. The judicial clerk is a full-time assistant to the judge and usually performs a wide range of tasks including, legal research, drafting of memoranda and court opinions, proofreading and cite checking. A judicial clerk is often responsible for various administrative tasks such as maintenance of the docket and library, assembling documents or other administrative tasks necessary to meet the many obligations of the judge.

Trial court clerks generally are responsible for a wider range of functions than appellate court clerks. This is primarily because a trial court is a fact-finding court, which deals directly with litigants and with the everyday details of the litigation process.

Appellate court clerks are more likely to spend most of their time researching and writing. An appellate court reviews cases for error from the trial court and does not have contact with the litigants apart from the oral argument.

Some courts serve only specialized areas of the law such as the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, the U.S. Tax Court, the U.S. Court of Federal Claims and the U.S. Court of International Trade. Judicial clerks serving these courts generally perform duties similar to judicial clerks at the trial level.

For a complete overview of judicial clerkships, please see the Judicial Clerkship Handbook.

Judicial Clerkship Writing Sample

Your writing sample must be well-organized, free of typographical and grammatical errors, and demonstrate your legal research and analytical skills. Although typically no official page limit exists, your sample should be from 8-15 pages. The most appropriate submission is a legal brief or memorandum written in law school or during your summer employment. [1] If you use work from your employment, you must (1) get permission from your employer and (2) redact any identifying client information.  For some positions, a more theoretical article or note could be appropriate (possibly with appellate courts).

Depending on the document, a cover sheet may be helpful to explain the source of the document (for a class, job, moot court) and any background information that helps the judge understand your submission (the assignment from an employer or the facts you were given by a professor).

You may submit a section of a larger document as long as you explain the context of the section you are sending.

Career Services staff does not substantively review writing samples.  Please ask a Legal Research and Writing professor or one of your faculty references to review your writing sample prior to submitting your application.


[1] One of our state Supreme Court justices was hiring recently and his law clerk sent an email to the Career Services Office about what they have observed and asked that we share this info with law students:

We are in the process of interviewing candidates.  Many of the applicants have included writing samples that aren’t really representative of their own abilities.  For instance, we have received numerous law review case notes/articles, motions and briefs that were submitted to courts, and even a divorce decree.  The problem of course is that none of these writing samples are truly representative of only the candidates writing abilities.  Instead, we can’t tell what the candidate’s writing abilities are since the samples have all been edited, either by fellow law students (in the case of law review case notes/articles), or worse yet, by licensed attorneys in the case of motions, briefs and divorce decrees.  I know that students should have a memorandum that they prepared in legal writing that would be substantially their own work that they could edit themselves and use as a writing sample for jobs (that’s what I use).  I just thought I’d give you a heads up on this, because it seems like it is a rather prevalent practice that doesn’t really benefit the applicant (not just with this job, but with others as well). (emphasis added).