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How to Become a Law Clerk

A law clerk, also often called a judicial clerk or a judicial assistant, is a legal professional who researches issues and writes opinions for court cases. Although the term “clerk” may indicate an administrative professional, this position is actually one reserved for junior apprentice judges or attorneys.

Many recent law school graduates seek jobs as law clerks, and most federal judges require law clerks to have studied law review in law school. In general, law clerk jobs are reserved for law students who graduated from the top of their class. In fact, many of today’s notable judges and professors began their careers as law clerks.

Law Clerk Job Description

Law clerks are directly involved in litigation, as they assist judges when making legal decisions, thereby making this position often one of prestige. Some of the job duties assigned to law clerks likely includes:

  • Provide assistance in courtroom proceedings (trials, hearings, bail motions, etc.)
  • Manage evidentiary exhibits
  • Perform legal research and advise judge and other members of the legal team on the facts of a case prior to the oral argument
  • Draft trial briefs and other legal documents
  • Review and verify briefs and legal authority
  • Research and write bench memoranda, order and opinions
  • Maintain chambers library and supervise chambers staff
  • Make recommendations on the disposition of appeals
  • Deliver subpoenas
  • Take sworn statements from witnesses

Education for Law Clerks

Because most judges require law clerks to be recent law school graduates, this career path involves the successful completion of an accredited law program. And, because this law clerk jobs are very writing and research-intensive, law clerks must possess excellent written skills and have a well-rounded understanding of many areas of law, court procedures, court systems, and jurisdictional rules.

Because law clerks are not required to pass the bar exam, they may not play an active role in a court proceeding. They are, however, generally authorized to conduct arbitration.

Generally, law clerks possess a master’s degree in law, a specialized legal master’s degree (e.g., public policy or international law), or a Juris Doctor (JD) degree.

Salary Statistics for Law Clerks

Most law clerk jobs are found at state or federal courts, including appellate and supreme courts, although certain trial judges may also employ law clerks. As such, salaries for law clerks vary depending on the court in which they are employed.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, law clerks earned a mean annual salary of $40,580 in May 2011, with the top 10 percent earning more than $63,210.

The top-paying states for law clerk careers in May 2011 were:

  1. Rhode Island
  2. District of Columbia
  3. Connecticut
  4. Nevada
  5. Hawaii

A few examples of recently posted law clerk careers include:

  • Law clerk for the Chief Justice and Associate Justices of the Connecticut Supreme Court: $63,153
  • Judicial law clerk for the District Court of Maryland: $44,620
  • Law clerk I for the District and Superior Courts of the Alaska court system: $45,504
  • Law clerk II for the District and Superior Courts of Alaska court system: $45,576
  • Judicial law clerk in Tucson, Arizona: $35,000
  • Law clerk for United States District Court Central District of California: $56,896 to $124,572
  • Law clerk in Southeast Judicial District, North Dakota: $25,000 to $31,000

Resources for Law Clerks