All About Clerkships



Thursday, Oct 21, 2010

Federal judge offers students the big picture on clerking

by Maria Iacobo

Where can you:

-  Observe how attorneys handle themselves in court and recognize good and poor legal skills?

-  Familiarize yourself with various types of legal documents and why they are filed without having to draft them yourself?

-  Develop confidence in your legal abilities prior to beginning work in a law firm or public service organization?

The answer is: in a clerkship.

Judge Wardlaw story Oct 2010
Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw

Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw, of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, spoke to USC Law students recently about the value in obtaining a clerkship after graduation.

“Just being exposed to a wide variety of issues is invaluable,” said Judge Wardlaw.  “And, the kind of writing we do is really an art.”

Accompanying the judge was Anna Faircloth ’10, who began her clerkship with Judge Wardlaw two months ago.  Faircloth enthusiastically told students that it was already a great experience.

“There are so many different types of cases that you quickly research and summarize so your judge can be the best judge she can be,” said Faircloth, who also noted the camaraderie that quickly develops among the clerks.

“Clerks work around the clock; they’re like a little family,” said Judge Wardlaw.  “It begins a lifelong relationship you will have with your judge.”

Judge Wardlaw also provided students with a list of attributes she looks for when hiring her clerks.  Among these were: demonstrating strong legal skills; having a position on law review or publishing an article; good grades; and taking on an externship while in law school.

Anna Faircloth Oct 2010
Anna Faircloth '10

“Externships help you get acquainted with your judge and they, in turn, become familiar with your work,” said Judge Wardlaw.  “Your judge will know your work and can speak with other judges.”

Judge Wardlaw also looks for students who have taken on leadership roles, which indicates initiative, another important quality in clerks.

Most importantly, when interviewing with a judge, “demonstrate that you know what the judge is all about,” she told the audience.  “Think where you would fit the best, be it geographically, judicial philosophy or personality.  It will help you explain why you’re applying for a specific role.”

Faircloth recommended that interested students work closely with faculty and Professor Jean Rosenbluth, Director of the Legal Writing and Advocacy Program, to stay current on what would be helpful to land a clerkship.  Faircloth told the group that just three years ago she sat where they were sitting and, after listening to a judge outline the benefits of clerking, decided that was what she wanted to do.