Clerks: Can’t Go Home Again?
(Or: An open thread about post-clerkship job prospects.)

clerks screwed in recession.jpgOn that ill-fated Thursday last month — aka the Valentine’s Day massacre, in which hundreds of law firm employees lost their jobs — a federal judicial clerk quipped: “I know the budget is set, but this almost makes me want to chain myself to my desk so they can’t make me leave. People at firms must be quaking in their Manolos.”

Well, law clerks are quaking in their Keds. Many of them have requested coverage of the plight of clerks in this economy — similar to the post we did back in February 2008, when the job market for clerks was already starting to soften. So here you go.

Once upon a time, clerks were a hot commodity, wooed by major law firms with constantly increasing clerkship bonuses. The market-rate clerkship bonus rose to $50,000 for one clerkship, $70,000 for two clerkships, and $250,000 for Supreme Court clerks. But times have changed since 2007 — and clerks, despite their general orientation towards the somewhat more recession-proof field of litigation, are not immune.

Back in February 2008, we wrote about firms no longer welcoming back former associates who left their firms to clerk, contrary to past practice. We also covered the trend of firms imposing freezes on hiring clerks who didn’t summer there.

The bad news continues to roll in. More recently, we’ve heard reports of firms cold-offering clerks holding offers to return. Now we’re hearing reports — anecdotal, admittedly — of firms outright rescinding offers to current clerks:

I know one friend, who is clerking for a federal judge, who had her offer from a large law firm formally revoked recently. My fellow clerks and I have not been allowed to accept our offers yet and are afraid they may be revoked as well.

Also, we are not sure if the firms will pay out the typical clerkship bonuses in this market. The bonus is obviously the least of our worries, but nonetheless it definitely factored into our decision to take clerkships in the first place.

More discussion, including a Latham & Watkins case study, after the jump.

Latham — a firm that historically has been popular with law clerks, especially Supreme Court clerks — is one place clerks have been wondering about, in light of the firm’s recent, large-scale layoffs. Here is what we’ve managed to piece together from our sources:

1. Clerks who were LW associates and then left to clerk are not eligible for the public interest deferment being offered to graduating 3Ls.

2. The firm appears to be determining which clerks to hire back on a case-by-case basis.

3. It is unclear whether the firm will pay clerkship bonuses to lawyers joining or returning from clerkships; our sources have not obtained confirmation of that. But the firm still has the bonus information on its website.

We previously reached out to LW to inquire about their policies on clerk hiring (or rehiring). We haven’t heard back. If and when we do, we’ll update this post.

If you have information to share about how law firms are handling clerks — who’s rescinding, who’s recruiting, who’s revoking bonuses (and who’s not) — please post a comment and/or email us (subject line: “Post-Clerkship Job Prospects”). If we receive enough new information, we may do a follow-up. Thanks.

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