I am well aware of the basement-dwelling commenters who make a bloodsport of decimating each column written here at ATL. Heck, sometimes they make a good point, or more rarely, are funny. But, I admit that I was surprised upon learning that a legal recruiter out there was taking issue with my column regarding experienced lawyers taking clerkships. I looked up this person, who appears to be still in her 20s, and thought to myself, are you kidding me right now? This is 2013, not 1999.
It should have been readily apparent that I was referring to clerking as an alternative to being unemployed. If it was not clear, then mea culpa. My bad. However, I read some of this recruiter’s tweets and was curious if there wasn’t a more nefarious motive behind advising lawyers to think twice about clerking mid-career — specifically, with government positions, no recruiters need apply.
I know that the economy has decimated the recruiting market, just as it has damaged the direct hiring market. I also know that desperate times call for desperation, etc. But I find it interesting that anyone would be advised not to take any opportunity that they can in an economy such as this. I do agree that leaving a law firm mid-stream might be inadvisable if one is clearly on a partner track and that person clearly wants to make partner. But to the 99 percent of associates, this is not a relevant situation. Throughput is going to leave most, if not all, of the rare associates who remain at a single firm for their career, on their asses, shivering in the dark world of unemployment. I cannot stress enough that if you are one of these folks in your fourth year or beyond, and you come across a federal clerking opportunity, take it, and run like the wind.
I will concede that you will not be getting clerkship bonuses upon coming back to Biglaw if that is what you decide to do post-clerkship, but you may well have saved yourself from a gaping hole in your résumé that can grow to years-long before your eyes. And, as I said, it’s a long shot to obtain a clerkship in the first place, regardless from whence you come. But, to advise someone who is not on partner track that a mid-career clerkship should be approached with caution borders on malfeasance in my book.
Each of one of you is an individual. Each career is not black and white. In 2013, decisions and strategy on how to play this game need to be made early, and reassessed constantly. Biglaw is no longer the monolithic experience that it once was; wherein each firm sold you a bill of goods regarding lifestyle, substantive work, etc. In this period of hiring freezes, no pay raises, and other horribles, you need to keep abreast of all your alternatives, all the time. We used to hang up on recruiters and think it was funny. No one is laughing now. If you’re fortunate enough to have a recruiter phone you, listen to what they have to say. You may land yourself a better and more secure position than the one you currently occupy.
Furthermore, if you hear of a judge who is looking for a clerk, get your application packet out there. You could actually enjoy the next year or two of your life, and gain some invaluable experience. You might not get to double a tweaker’s bail or throw her in jail for criminal contempt, but you might get to advise a jurist to do so. (Breaking Bad reference there, as well as to Ms. Soto). And as far as substantive work, I was able to work on decisions impacting patent rights and securities class actions that were affirmed by the relevant Circuit as well as the Supreme Court. I also assisted on the only case in history holding a baseball bat manufacturer partially liable for injuries sustained by a pitcher. It beat the heck out of document review.
In sum, keep your eyes and ears open and to the ground. Be very cautious about career advice you may take. I do not claim to be the guru of legal career choices; in fact, hindsight being 20/20, if I knew then what I know now and all that…. I am also not dinging recruiters. There are some folks who I have mentioned in this column who are aces at what they do, and to whom I regularly refer readers. My message is that your career is your own. Try to do what makes you happy, or at least shoot for that as a goal; chances are that you can make it to there. (Shout-out to Liz Lemon).
After two federal clerkships and several years as a litigator in law firms, David Mowry is happily ensconced as an in-house lawyer at a major technology company. He specializes in commercial leasing transactions, only sometimes misses litigation, and never regrets leaving firm life. You can reach him by email firstname.lastname@example.org.