Clerkships

Yesterday we broke the story of a strange situation concerning a Minnesota judicial race. Judge Thomas G. Armstrong (10th District Court 3), a 30-year veteran of the bench, filed to run for reelection last month. Unsurprisingly, the longtime judge was initially unopposed.

Hours before the filing deadline — which fell on Tuesday, June 1, at 5 p.m. — his law clerk, Dawn Hennessy, jumped into the race. Shortly thereafter, Judge Armstrong withdrew. This left his clerk running unopposed, with the filing deadline for other challengers elapsed.

Whispering in Minnesota legal circles ensued. Observers wondered: Did Judge Armstrong and Dawn Hennessy collude to place her on the bench? We started investigating the story yesterday, with phone calls and emails to both Judge Armstrong and Hennessy. A few hours after we started poking around, Hennessy withdrew from the race — leaving no contenders for the seat.

Since yesterday, there have been some developments — including the reopening of the race….

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Some updates in the bizarre MN judgeship situation.

Something odd is going on in the great state of Minnesota. The deadline for filing to run for judicial office in the North Star State was this past Tuesday, June 1, at 5 PM. Incumbent judges usually face no challengers, since it’s practically impossible to unseat an even marginally competent incumbent.

One such incumbent was Judge Thomas G. Armstrong (10th District Court 3), a 30-year veteran of the bench who first became a judge back in 1980. As of Tuesday morning, Judge Armstrong was running unopposed. No surprise there.

But then something strange occurred. Shortly before the deadline, Judge Armstrong’s law clerk, Dawn Hennessy, filed to run against her boss. Meanwhile, before anyone realized what was going on, Judge Armstrong withdrew from the race — leaving his law clerk, Dawn Hennessy, running unopposed for a Minnesota district court judgeship. Who says chivalry is dead?

And then things got even more strange….

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The bottom line here is that Judge Posner is one of the few appellate judges that writes his own opinions. Otherwise it would be like getting quotations from law clerks.

Robert Blomquist, editor of the new book The Quotable Judge Posner.

Summer is just around the corner, with Memorial Day just a few weeks away. Summer associates are starting to arrive at law firms. Meanwhile, in government, many law clerks are getting ready to leave chambers. Summer is traditionally the season when clerkships turn over. (At the Supreme Court, July is the magic month for the changing of the guard.)

What does this mean? Well, it means that clerks need to start thinking about their post-clerkship plans. Many will return to law firms where they summered or worked full-time before clerking. But others — such as clerks who got no-offered as summer associates, or who weren’t happy with their prior firms — are looking for new opportunities.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the job market for law clerks is improving. One friend of mine, who took a second clerkship last year after having a tough time finding a position with a law firm (despite excellent credentials), went back on the job market a few weeks ago — and promptly wound up with three offers.

But not all clerks are sitting pretty….

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From 'Alaska in Pictures': A beaver

Moving from sunny California to cold, rainy, snowy Anchorage might make a person a little crazy. A man who went to law school in San Diego might miss lying on the beach, walking the boardwalk, and seeing the city’s good-looking population in skimpy summer clothes. Such a man might find another way to see people in a state of undress, perhaps by planting a hidden camera in his bathroom.

That’s what a federal law clerk, Daniel Eisman, is accused of doing. The UCLA and University of San Diego School of Law grad was clerking for Judge Timothy Burgess (D. Alaska). According to the Anchorage Daily News, Eisman was arrested on May 6, after allegedly shooting video of his co-workers undressing and using the bathroom at his home and a family cabin.

How was his scheme uncovered? A fellow clerk was at his house babysitting. When she went on to his computer, she noticed a file with her name on it…

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Justice Clarence Thomas — who tends to hire clerks from a wide range of law schools, including some schools far outside the so-called “T14″ — has had to defend himself against (unfounded) allegations that his clerks are “TTT” (an epithet so ridiculous it always makes us laugh). At the same time, because he’s the justice tasked with going to Capitol Hill to beg for money to testify in support of the SCOTUS budget request, he also has to defend the Court against charges of elitism in law clerk hiring, leveled by grandstanding lawmakers.

Hiring law clerks from Ivy League law schools: damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

For this coming Term, October Term 2010, Justice Thomas has steered his chambers back in the direction of elitism. All of his clerks for OT 2010 hail from top schools.

So, who are they?

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Career Center AboveTheLaw Lateral Link ATL.jpgOur recent Career Center survey asked about whether the recession has affected clerkship bonuses and law firm hiring of clerks.  Of respondents at law firms, a slight majority — 57% — indicated that their firms are not interviewing judicial clerks for Fall 2010 positions.  Of respondents who are currently clerking, only 30% indicated that they have a position for Fall 2010 or have even been able to get interviews for such positions.  Despite these depressing statistics for post-clerkship employment, a majority of law student respondents indicated that they are planning on clerking after law school. 

Check out the full survey results after the jump — and visit the Career Center, powered by Lateral Link, for more on clerkship bonuses and hiring trends at firms across the country.

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Career Center AboveTheLaw Lateral Link ATL.jpgWe recently wrote about the subject of clerkship bonuses (which generated some very helpful comments). Now we’re going to gather some additional data on the subject of law clerk hiring and clerkship bonuses.
This week, our ATL / Lateral Link survey asks about how clerks are faring in the marketplace. We’ll use the information obtained from the survey to update the ATL Career Center (and we’ll bring you the results in a subsequent post, too).

If you have information about your firm that you want to share with other career center users, please email us at careercenter@abovethelaw.com. Thanks.
Earlier: What’s Up with Clerkship Bonuses?

clerks screwed in recession.jpgHistorically, clerks have had a pretty sweet deal. A year spent with a judge increases their attractiveness to law firms; in the past, this translated to big bonuses for going into Biglaw. During the recession, the deal got slightly less sweet, as firms went a little sour on clerks.
Over the last month, a number of readers have anxiously emailed us about clerkship bonuses. One example:

Have you heard anything about whether firms are lowering or maintaining their clerkship bonuses? My firm said although they gave $50k last year, they are “waiting to see what other firms do first.”

In 2008, our then-survey-guru Justin Bernold created this handy guide to clerkship bonuses, laying out the going rates — ranging from $10,000 to $70,000 — for these attractive recruits. (Of course, the most attractive recruits — Supreme Court clerks, aka the Elect — command six-figure signing fees.)
So what’s happening with clerkship bonuses in 2010? We’ve talked to a few experts and a few tipsters. There’s been some scaling back already. Experts say the market rate for clerkship bonuses may come down, but in their usual fashion, firms appear to be waiting for a big dog to take the lead on that. Could Cravath be that dog?

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sonia sotomayor above the law.jpgThe most recent New Yorker features a profile of the newest resident of the High Court, Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Given the tone of the piece, you might think One First Street is turning into Melrose Place. Journalist Lauren Collins describes Sotomayor as “the first celebrity Justice”: a “diabetic, a divorcée, a dental-bill debtor, a person who, the night before her investiture ceremony, belted out “We Are Family” in a karaoke bar at a Red Roof Inn.”
The profile covers some familiar territory, highlighting attacks on Sotomayor’s intellect during the confirmation process and indignation over her aggressive questioning during oral arguments since taking a seat on the High bench.
Overall, though, it’s more favorable in tone than the profile of John Roberts in the magazine last year. As the WSJ Law Blog notes, Sotomayor comes across as “eminently personable” and as a “stickler for preparation.”
Tina Brown of the Daily Beast, a former editor of the New Yorker, is a bit more graphic in her reaction to the piece for NPR:

Brown says the justice comes across as an “up-from-the-bootstraps woman who loves to bust out a poker game and knock back a scotch.” But, Brown adds, she also comes across as meticulous, rigorous and heavily influenced by her mother, a nurse, who emphasized education above all else…
“Sotomayor is not a great prose styler, not a fancy-flourish merchant,” says Brown. “She’s not a person who’s going to reinvent the philosophical approach to law, but she does believe that the law is to be understood by the common man in the street. And I think that there’s a lot to be said for that, actually.”

We concur with Brown’s ruling on the piece. We’ve excerpted our favorite anecdote from the profile after the jump. Clerking for Sotomayor sounds fun….

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