Will Doing a Legal Clerkship Enhance My Marketability as an Attorney? | BCGSearch.com

Will Doing a Legal Clerkship Enhance My Marketability as an Attorney?


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A state court clerkship will generally enhance your marketability if you are planning on working in the state where you are clerking.
Will Doing a Legal Clerkship Enhance My Marketability as an Attorney?
A. Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes

I have been offered a clerkship with a state court of appeals.  Will taking that position enhance my marketability?  Currently I am a 2L, top 10%, in a second-tier law school.  Thanks for your help.

It depends.  As discussed below, a state court clerkship will generally enhance your marketability if you are planning on working in the state where you are clerking.  Nevertheless, the value of a clerkship should not necessarily be something that you view as a tool to make you marketable.  Most importantly, the skills and insight you will acquire during your clerkship will be something that should help you throughout your career.

A state court clerkship is likely to make you marketable if you are considering working in the state where you will be clerking.  It is useful to examine the different types of clerkships.  Each type of clerkship has its advantages and disadvantages.  In order to help you understand the role a clerkship will have in your marketability, the differences between federal and state clerkships are analyzed below.
Federal Clerkships At the Federal level, the order of prestige of clerkships is typically: (1) the Supreme Court, (2) circuit (appellate) clerkships, (3) federal district court (trial court) clerkships, (4) clerkships with United States magistrates (who do a lot of the "grunt work" for federal district court judges).  There are also several specialized courts (such as Federal Tax Court) that are of approximately the same prestige level as federal district court clerkships.

Appellate clerkships involve mainly research and writing about issues the trial court has already ruled upon and reviewing the district court's errors.  Appellate clerkships typically involve more arcane and novel issues of law than are typically litigated at the trial level.  In an appellate clerkship you are less likely to get to know the lawyers involved in the underlying litigation.

District court clerkships involve actual issues being litigated at the trial court level and typically have more in-court action.  In a district court clerkship you may see many of the same lawyers in the court day in and day out.  In a circuit court clerkship, you are likely to see the attorneys involved only when they present their appellate arguments in court.

There are also numerous distinctions between clerkships at the federal level.  For example, clerking for the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court is generally considered the most prestigious clerkship.  Similarly, a clerkship with a federal district judge in the eastern district of New York is more prestigious than a clerkship with a federal district judge in Bay City, Michigan, for example.   Attorneys who clerk for the most prestigious judges are typically those whose "marketability" is likely to be increased as a result.
Typically, the most prestigious clerkships have been those with federal judges.  At top national law schools, students compete very aggressively for federal clerkships and do so more so than they do for state judicial clerkships.  Given the prestige of a federal clerkship, it can often make you marketable far beyond the geographic area where you are clerking.

State Court Clerkships There are different distinctions in the state court system; ordinarily, you will also have a Supreme Court, appellate courts and trial courts.  The same prestige distinctions are also present at the state level, with a state Supreme Court clerkship being the most prestigious.  Just as certain federal district courts in various geographical locations are considered prestigious places to clerk in, so too are the state courts in different states.  In general, if you are clerking for an appellate court in a major state, this will be more prestigious than if you are doing the same thing in a smaller state.

The problem with a state court clerkship is typically something that is also an advantage.  While a state court clerkship will not necessarily increase your chances of being marketable anywhere throughout the United States, it can do you a tremendous amount of good in the area where you are clerking.  Clerking for a state court will make you a candidate with important local contacts.  The fact of the matter is that most litigation is actually conducted in the state courts.  Accordingly, a state court clerkship will provide you with a better understanding of state law than you would ever get as a federal clerk.  If you are planning on working in the area where you are clerking, the state court clerkship should be enormously valuable.

You need to remember that accepting a clerkship is much like the decision of where you decided to go to law school.  There are major national law schools that vary in prestige and there are smaller local law schools that vary in prestige.  For example, attending a law school like Yale is going to give you a serious advantage when you are applying to positions throughout the United States.   A law school like Yale might be compared to clerking on the Supreme Court. Conversely, a smaller more local law school like the University of Toledo is not going to give you as much an advantage throughout the United States.  This school will, however, probably give you good options in Toledo, Ohio.

Accordingly, before you accept your clerkship, I would recommend having a good understanding of whether or not you want to work in the area where you will be clerking.  The clerkship is most likely to make you marketable if you are seeking to work in the state where you are clerking.  I would also do some research into where the judge's former clerks ended up working.  By learning this you can also get a decent idea of what your marketability might be following the clerkship.

Additionally, you have stated a concern about being "marketable"; nevertheless, you have not told me where you would like to be marketable.  Do you want to be marketable in the area you are clerking in?  Do you want to be marketable to a law firm, corporation, public interest group, prosecutor's office?  You get the idea.  You should also think through the answers to these questions as you are deciding whether or not to clerk.

The value of your clerkship should not necessarily be viewed as a tool to make you marketable.  Clerking is something that gives you tools and memories that most clerks carry with them throughout their careers.  When you sit on the judge's side of the bench, you get the feeling that you are really part of the legal process and have the idea of how decisions are made and the implications these decisions have on peoples' lives.  Most clerks describe the year they spent clerking as the most relaxing, intellectually challenging and interesting year of their lives.  And this is really the essence of a clerkship.  It allows you to see the inner workings of the legal system, work closely with a judge and will provide you with a level of illumination about the legal system itself that you will carry with you throughout your legal career.

My belief is that you should not clerk simply because you think it is something that will get you a better position.  A clerkship is something that you should do because it will add depth and meaning to your future legal career.  I do not believe that a state court clerkship (especially with an appellate judge) can possibly hurt your marketability.  Indeed, the skills and understanding you pick up during your clerkship will be something you can carry with you throughout your career.

Conclusions In order to determine whether you should take a state court clerkship, it will be important that you analyze whether or not you want to work in the area of the country where you may be clerking.  While a state court clerkship is typically not as prestigious as a federal one, it is something that can provide you with important local contacts and knowledge of state law.  More importantly, I seriously doubt that a state court clerkship will hurt you.  Instead, a state court clerkship will provide you with tools and an understanding of the legal system you can carry with you throughout your career.

While I have saved this for last, I believe that an important component of your question involves a brief discussion in this conclusion.  You are a second year law student and it is only December.  If your goal is to be marketable to a law firm, you may be "barking up the wrong tree" at this point by simply seeking a clerkship.  Instead, you should accelerate your job search and apply to more law firms and look at more sources of information if working in a law firm is something you want to do.  If you are considering accepting a clerkship just to make yourself more marketable, you are not doing yourself, the judge you will be working for, or the justice system itself any favors.

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About Harrison Barnes

Harrison Barnes is a prominent figure in the legal placement industry, known for his expertise in attorney placements and his extensive knowledge of the legal profession.

With over 25 years of experience, he has established himself as a leading voice in the field and has helped thousands of lawyers and law students find their ideal career paths.

Barnes is a former federal law clerk and associate at Quinn Emanuel and a graduate of the University of Chicago College and the University of Virginia Law School. He was a Rhodes Scholar Finalist at the University of Chicago and a member of the University of Virginia Law Review. Early in his legal career, he enrolled in Stanford Business School but dropped out because he missed legal recruiting too much.

Barnes' approach to the legal industry is rooted in his commitment to helping lawyers achieve their full potential. He believes that the key to success in the legal profession is to be proactive, persistent, and disciplined in one's approach to work and life. He encourages lawyers to take ownership of their careers and to focus on developing their skills and expertise in a way that aligns with their passions and interests.

One of how Barnes provides support to lawyers is through his writing. On his blog, HarrisonBarnes.com, and BCGSearch.com, he regularly shares his insights and advice on a range of topics related to the legal profession. Through his writing, he aims to empower lawyers to control their careers and make informed decisions about their professional development.

One of Barnes's fundamental philosophies in his writing is the importance of networking. He believes that networking is a critical component of career success and that it is essential for lawyers to establish relationships with others in their field. He encourages lawyers to attend events, join organizations, and connect with others in the legal community to build their professional networks.

Another central theme in Barnes' writing is the importance of personal and professional development. He believes that lawyers should continuously strive to improve themselves and develop their skills to succeed in their careers. He encourages lawyers to pursue ongoing education and training actively, read widely, and seek new opportunities for growth and development.

In addition to his work in the legal industry, Barnes is also a fitness and lifestyle enthusiast. He sees fitness and wellness as integral to his personal and professional development and encourages others to adopt a similar mindset. He starts his day at 4:00 am and dedicates several daily hours to running, weightlifting, and pursuing spiritual disciplines.

Finally, Barnes is a strong advocate for community service and giving back. He volunteers for the University of Chicago, where he is the former area chair of Los Angeles for the University of Chicago Admissions Office. He also serves as the President of the Young Presidents Organization's Century City Los Angeles Chapter, where he works to support and connect young business leaders.

In conclusion, Harrison Barnes is a visionary legal industry leader committed to helping lawyers achieve their full potential. Through his work at BCG Attorney Search, writing, and community involvement, he empowers lawyers to take control of their careers, develop their skills continuously, and lead fulfilling and successful lives. His philosophy of being proactive, persistent, and disciplined, combined with his focus on personal and professional development, makes him a valuable resource for anyone looking to succeed in the legal profession.

About BCG Attorney Search

BCG Attorney Search matches attorneys and law firms with unparalleled expertise and drive, while achieving results. Known globally for its success in locating and placing attorneys in law firms of all sizes, BCG Attorney Search has placed thousands of attorneys in law firms in thousands of different law firms around the country. Unlike other legal placement firms, BCG Attorney Search brings massive resources of over 150 employees to its placement efforts locating positions and opportunities its competitors simply cannot. Every legal recruiter at BCG Attorney Search is a former successful attorney who attended a top law school, worked in top law firms and brought massive drive and commitment to their work. BCG Attorney Search legal recruiters take your legal career seriously and understand attorneys. For more information, please visit www.BCGSearch.com.

Harrison Barnes does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for attorneys and law students each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can attend anonymously and ask questions about your career, this article, or any other legal career-related topics. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom

Harrison also does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for law firms, companies, and others who hire attorneys each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom

You can browse a list of past webinars here: Webinar Replays

You can also listen to Harrison Barnes Podcasts here: Attorney Career Advice Podcasts

You can also read Harrison Barnes' articles and books here: Harrison's Perspectives

Harrison Barnes is the legal profession's mentor and may be the only person in your legal career who will tell you why you are not reaching your full potential and what you really need to do to grow as an attorney--regardless of how much it hurts. If you prefer truth to stagnation, growth to comfort, and actionable ideas instead of fluffy concepts, you and Harrison will get along just fine. If, however, you want to stay where you are, talk about your past successes, and feel comfortable, Harrison is not for you.

Truly great mentors are like parents, doctors, therapists, spiritual figures, and others because in order to help you they need to expose you to pain and expose your weaknesses. But suppose you act on the advice and pain created by a mentor. In that case, you will become better: a better attorney, better employees, a better boss, know where you are going, and appreciate where you have been--you will hopefully also become a happier and better person. As you learn from Harrison, he hopes he will become your mentor.

To read more career and life advice articles visit Harrison's personal blog.

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