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To Clerk or Not to Clerk? That is the Question…

July 3, 2007

After hearing about Paul’s decision to leave his firm and join the United States Attorney’s Office it made strongly consider whether or not I wanted to start my legal career at a firm. Recently I’ve began to look at the possibility of a federal clerkship as something that I want to do (irrespective of how difficult it is to land such a position), so I spoke to those who I know who have charted that path, in particular Sozi and Jocelyn. Their advice was simple and clear…It was a GREAT experience!!! So, why am I writing this post? Because I feel like I’m not the first (nor will be the last) law student to feel compelled to take that high paying law firm job just to pay the bills. I see a lot of attorneys who have to make the choice between handling more pro bono or public interest activities. I know that this is a reoccurring topic, but why does this dichotomy exists? Are we really perpetuating the growing gap between lawyer and the indigent or those attorneys who want to follow their true interests? So, what do you think, follow the money trail or go with what I’m interested in?

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Abbie permalink
    July 3, 2007 3:22 pm

    I think you are on the right track. I worked at a firm, then in public interest and now I have a clerkship. I definitely have perspective on what you are saying.

    If you can get a federal clerkship, definitely take it. Even though it’s not a “high paying” firm job, it’s only one year and it’s a great experience. I don’t know anyone who is sorry that they clerked for a federal judge instead of going straight to a firm.

    Common Pleas clerkships are not as prestigious, but are also a great experience and may lead to opportunities that you didn’t have coming out of law school. The downside is that the pay is laughable, but it’s for a limited time period and if you live very frugally, it’s manageable.

    As for public interest (and I know a lot of public interest lawyers would disagree with me), unless you really want to be a public interest attorney, I would recommend going to private practice first. I loved working in public interest, but as I am trying to continue with my legal career, I’m finding that a lot of firms have a stereotypical view of public interest, which makes it difficult to get hired. I hear this in almost every interview, “We are concerned that you aren’t a hard worker and won’t be able to handle the hours.” It’s unfortunate that they have that view of public interest, but it is something to keep in mind if you eventually want to work at a firm.

    Ultimately, this is a very personal decision and there isn’t a right or wrong answer. Good luck!

  2. July 3, 2007 4:14 pm

    I agree with Abbie. And in the end, YOU will have to be the one making this decision. There’s something else you could consider. You can go work for a firm for a year and then clerk for a federal judge for a year. You can always go back to the firm after the clerkship. Federal clerkships are now paying more money to those with firm experience, and you will always have a position to go back to at that firm. Best of luck.

  3. darshan1979 permalink
    July 6, 2007 9:02 pm

    Before I started my federal clerkship, I was told, by several people, that this would be the best year of my life. It was a massive pay cut for me and I failed to see how a clership would be able to meet the “high” of being able to afford anything I wanted.
    Well, I completed my clerkship last year, and I can officially say: It was the best year of my life. It was incredibly challenging. Yet, both the Judge, and his permanent clerk patiently guided me through the learning process. I felt that I learnt as much last year as I did in the three years of law school.
    If you have the option, definately clerk for a federal court judge. I would be very surprised if you regretted it.

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