It’s hard to conjure up bad stuff to say about clerking. It’s an honor, and an all-expense-paid ticket on an exclusive legal gravy train. If you’re lucky enough to clerk for a federal district or circuit court judge, you can rest assured you’re looking good and feeling good.
You might even shoot the moon and sing with the Supremes. In that case, you’re good to go: You’ll never have to practice actual law again. You can sign up now to teach a seminar on “Law and Interpretive Dance” at Yale or attend sumptuous international human rights conferences hosted by African dictators. Life is good at the top. Imagine the stimulation of interacting one-on-one with the mind of a Clarence Thomas (and acquiring access to his porn collection.) You could be the clerk who builds an ironclad case striking down universal access to healthcare — or witness the day Justice T opens his mouth to speak during oral argument….
Several prominent judges, like Richard Posner (left) and Alex Kozinski (right), hire 'off-plan.'
Over the weekend, we mentioned a very interesting New York Times article on the chaotic state of the clerkship application process, and said we’d have more to say about it later. Well, now is later, quite a bit later — so let’s discuss.
The piece — by Catherine Rampell, who has written about the legal world before — paints a depressing picture of a dysfunctional system. Rampell reports that the clerkship process “has become a frenzied free-for-all, with the arbiters of justice undermining each other at every turn to snatch up the best talent.”
Let’s look at the reasons behind this, and discuss whether the process can be fixed….
Judge Wayne Phillips: He likes clerk butt and he cannot lie?
When I learned about this lawsuit out of Montana (via Morning Docket), I thought it might be from The Onion or an old episode of Ally McBeal. Reports the Billings Gazette: “A lawsuit has been filed against Fergus County District Court Judge E. Wayne Phillips by a female law clerk who alleges that the judge slapped her in the buttocks with a legal file.”
If the clerk’s allegation is true, was Judge Phillips’s action inappropriate? Certainly. Was it rude? Most definitely. But should it spawn a civil lawsuit, as well as possible criminal charges? Absolutely not.
And wait until you hear what the clerk is claiming in damages….
Now that Labor Day is behind us, fall is fast approaching. You can tell by the chill in the evening air.
Or is that just the cold offers we’re feeling? Last month, we asked you for stories about firms giving out cold offers to summer associates. As we explained, a “cold offer” or “fake offer” is, in the words of NALP, an employment offer made “with the understanding that the offer will not be accepted.”
This “offer,” made with a wink and a nudge, allows the employing law firm to report (and boast about) a 100 percent offer rate, when in reality it isn’t welcoming back 100 percent of its summer associates. It also has an advantage for the recipient: when she goes through 3L recruiting, she can truthfully say, “Yes, I received an offer from the firm where I summered.”
We recently heard a story about a pretty cold offer (not from summer 2011, but from not too long ago summer 2010). This summer associate, who wasn’t the most popular person in her class, received a full-time employment offer “contingent upon obtaining a federal clerkship.” Given how hard it is to land a federal judicial clerkship, that’s a pretty cold offer — especially considering that the student in question, now graduated, didn’t go to a law school known for cranking out lots of clerks.
Last month, the Supreme Court law clerks for October Term 2010 finished their clerkships, turning over their clerkly duties to the October Term 2011 class of clerks. As in past years, many of the OT 2010 clerks are joining private law firms — which welcome them with six-figure signing bonuses. These bonuses are paid on top of base salaries reflecting their seniority (many SCOTUS clerks join firms as second- to fourth-year associates), as well as the usual year-end bonuses.
For the past few years, at least since 2007, law firm signing bonuses for members of The Elect have hovered around $250,000. But this year, at least a few firms are offering even more.
Many prominent people, including Chief Justice John Roberts and Judge Harry Edwards, have raised their voices about the increasing irrelevance of academic writing to practicing lawyers and judges. Yet, despite railing at the academy, those judges — and law firms, and sophisticated purchasers of legal services — all rely on the academics to identify talented lawyers. Law schools brand the beef, and purchasers buy based on the brand. What do I mean, and why is that process natural and appropriate?
Let’s start with an example for people coming right out of law school: How should judges pick law clerks? One way — perhaps even the “fair” way — would be for judges to assume that each of the 45,000 people graduating from law school is equally likely to make a fine clerk. Judges would solicit applications from all 45,000 and then start the process of sorting the good from the bad.
That cannot work, of course. Judges don’t have the resources (or, necessarily, the ability) to study transcripts, read writing samples, conduct interviews, and do the other spadework needed to assess all of those candidates comprehensively. And judges can’t externalize the cost of the screening process; there’s no person or institution that would play that role for an acceptable price.
What are judges to do? They rely on law schools to brand the beef.
Rant as they may about scholars producing unhelpful scholarship, most judges rely essentially unthinkingly on those same scholars to have separated the potentially gifted lawyers from the crowd. Judges assume that the best students went to the best law schools; that, after arriving, the more talented law students outperformed the less talented ones; and thus that the best performers at the best law schools will make the best clerks. Judges typically pick their clerks from among the top graduates of the elite schools. Judges may think that professors are insane when they’re selecting topics for their scholarship and then devoting months to researching and writing on those subjects, but those same judges rely on the same professors to brand the beef astutely. Whatever criteria law schools are using within the asylum to rank their students, the outside world seems quite happy with it.
Over the past few years, we’ve seen a number of novels focused on the clerkship, a professional rite of passage for many a prestige-obsessed young lawyer. In these books, plucky law-clerk protagonists have tried to do justice while also holding on to their jobs (and their sanity, and even their lives).
One of the first was The Tenth Justice (1998), a thriller by Brad Meltzer that went on to become a bestseller. More recent examples of “clerk lit” include The Law Clerk (2007), by Scott Douglas Gerber, and Chambermaid (2007), by Saira Rao. (Rao’s buzz-generating book, which generated controversy because it was seen as based heavily on her clerkship for the notoriously difficult Judge Dolores Sloviter (3d Cir.), was discussed extensively in Above the Law’s pages.)
Today we bring you news of a new novel featuring a law clerk protagonist: Tropical Depression, by Arin Greenwood. It tells the story of Nina Barker, a neurotic young lawyer toiling away at a large New York law firm, who decides — after losing her job and her boyfriend — to leave it all behind, by accepting a clerkship with the chief justice of a faraway tropical island.
Let’s learn more about Tropical Depression and its author, Arin Greenwood — who, like her protagonist, graduated from a top law school and worked at a leading law firm, before accepting a clerkship on a remote Pacific island….
Who says the Midwest is more laid back than the coasts? Who says Midwesterners are more polite than people who live in big cities? Who says working in a place like Iowa affords a higher quality of life and a better work/life balance than working in a place like Chicago?
Not United States District Court Judge Mark Bennett. No sir.
We’ve written about Judge Bennett before. He’s a funny guy. The last time we saw him, he was expressing his personal bias against “East Coast law firms,” in part because he think big city lawyers possess “unsurpassed arrogance.”
But Judge Bennett might be selling himself short. I don’t think the average East Coast lawyer’s arrogance even approaches what His Honor rolls with…
Here are two stories, from nearly thirty years apart. They’re bookends on the subject of why standard of review counts.
Travel back with me, if you will, to the summer of 1983. I’m ten minutes out of law school, and I’ve just arrived in the chambers of Judge Dorothy W. Nelson of the Ninth Circuit, for whom I’ll clerk. Our wise and sagacious predecessor-clerks — out of law school for an entire year! — are introducing us to the job. (We overlapped for one week.)
One of my predecessor-clerks, John Danforth, asked the new group: “Do you think standard of review matters in appeals?”
I knew the answer, and I was about to pop off: “Of course not! Once you convince the court that your side is right, the judges will do whatever it takes to rule in favor of your client. Standard of review is just a silly lawyers’ game.”
Fortunately, Danforth talks quickly. Before I was able to make a fool of myself, he said: “Standard of review decides cases. It decides cases. That’s the most important thing I’ve learned in a year of clerking. Standard of review makes all the difference in the world.”
Ed. note: The Asia Chronicles column is authored by Kinney Recruiting. Kinney has made more placements of U.S. associates, counsels and partners in Asia than any other recruiting firm in each of the past six years. You can reach them by email: email@example.com.
We currently have a very exciting and rare type of in-house opening in China at one of the world’s leading internet and social media companies. Our client is looking for an IP Transactional / TMT / Licensing attorney with 2 to 6 years experience. The new hire will be based in Shenzhen or Shanghai. Mandarin is not required (deal documentation will be in English) but is preferred. A solid reason to be in China and a commitment to that market is required of course. This new hire will likely be US qualified (but could also be qualified in UK or other jurisdictions) and with experience and training at a top law firm’s IP transactional / TMT practice and could be currently at a law firm or in-house. Qualified candidates currently Asia based, Europe based or US based will be considered. The new hire’s supervisors in this technology transactions in-house team are very well regarded US trained IP transactional lawyers, with substantial experience at Silicon Valley firms. The culture and atmosphere in this in-house group and the company in general is entrepreneurial, team oriented, and the work is cutting edge, even for a cutting edge industry. The upside of being in an important strategic in-house position in this fast growing and world leading internet company is of the “sky is the limit” variety. Its a very exciting place to be in China for a rising IP transactional lawyer in our opinion, for many reasons beyond the basic info we can share here in this ad / post. This is a special A+ opportunity.
If your firm is in ‘go’ mode when it comes to recruiting lateral partners with loyal clients, then take this quiz to see how well you measure up. Keep track of your ‘yes’ and ‘no’ responses.
1. Does your firm have a clearly defined strategy of practice groups that are priorities of growth for your office? Nothing gets done by random chance, but with a clear vision for the future. Identify the top practice areas for which you wish to add lateral partners. Seek input from practice group leaders and get specifics on needs, outcomes, and ideal target profiles.
2. In addition to clarifying your firm’s growth strategy, are you still open to the hire of a partner outside of your plan? I’ve made several placements that fit this category. The partner’s practice was not within the strategic growth plan of my client, but once the two parties started talking with each other, we all saw how it could indeed be a seamless fit. Be open to “Opportunistic Hires.” You never know where your next producing partner might come from, so you have to be open to it. I will be the first to admit that there is a quirky element of randomness in recruiting.
The traditional job application and interview process can be impersonal, and applicants often struggle to present themselves as more than just the sum of their GPAs, alma maters, and previous work history. ATL has partnered with ViewYou to help job seekers overcome this challenge. ViewYou NOW Profiles offer a unique way for job seekers to make a personal, memorable connection with prospective employers: introduction videos. These videos allow job candidates to display their personalities, interpersonal skills, and professional interests, creating an eDossier to brand themselves to potential employers all over the world. Check it out today!