Judicial Clerkship Overview

The Value of a Judicial Clerkship

A judicial clerk works with a judge in his/her chambers after earning a J.D. The judicial clerk essentially acts as the judge’s personal attorney.

There are two types of judicial clerks:

  • Career clerks are hired by a judge for a permanent position.
  • The most common types of clerks are generally recent law school graduates who accept a clerkship for a term of one to two years.

Judicial clerkships are available at all levels of the state and federal court systems.

It is important to note that judicial clerkships are different from judicial externships. Judicial externs may work for a judge while still in law school. In fact, this is an excellent way to get hands on experience in a judge’s chambers if you are thinking about clerking after graduation. You can earn class credit while gaining a glimpse of what it might be like to be a judicial clerk. In addition, judicial externships allow you to make a connection with a judge and his/her clerks which often leads to future clerkship opportunities. To learn more about judicial externships, please visit our course list and scoll down to Judicial Externships

Responsibilities of a Judicial Clerk

A judicial clerk’s responsibilities can vary from court to court, but the law clerk generally acts as a liaison between the judge and the attorneys or litigants. Other typical responsibilities of a law clerk include:

  • Conducting legal research
  • Crafting bench memoranda for pretrial motions and advising the judge on the resolution of these issues
  • Assisting in the drafting of opinions and the conducting of conferences, hearings and trials
  • Depending on the judge, law clerks are responsible for various administrative and clerical duties


With the costs of attending law school rising, many students wonder about the financial aspects whether they can afford to do a clerkship. Before placing too much emphasis on the bottom line, consider the non-monetary benefits as well. One approach is to view a judicial clerkship as another year of law school a year that will likely give you a permanent boost to your career. Employers highly value judicial clerks and a clerkship may open doors to employment options or jobs that would not otherwise be available to you. Think of a clerkship as an investment in your career.

Compensation varies between courts. The following are links to resources detailing compensation for judicial clerks:

What Judges Are Looking for in a Law Clerk

Strong academic performance is important, but the clerkship process is not focused exclusively on grades. However, it is a very competitive process and it is important to be realistic about your application strategy. Different courts have different criteria for judicial clerks, some more competitive than others. The higher the court, the more competitive the clerkship application process.

Federal clerkships tend to be more competitive than state clerkships. Considerable weight is typically given to the applicant’s academic record and writing ability evidenced by law journal membership, other opportunities that allowed the applicant to develop his/her legal writing skills, e.g., courses that require papers or briefs, research assistant positions, participating in a writing competition, etc. Given that judges set their own hiring criteria and each applicant is considered individually, it is difficult give a definitive grade or experience cutoff.

To be a federal judicial clerk, an applicant must have completed his or her J.D. degree and be a U.S. citizen. A non-citizen of the United States may be employed by the federal judiciary to work for courts located in Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands, Northern Mariana Islands and Hawaii. For additional information regarding the employment of non-United States citizens consult the United States Office of Personnel Management web site.

Information on the hiring criteria for a number of federal judges is available at the OSCAR page on Qualifications, Salary, and Benefits for federal law clerks.

If you are interested in applying for a clerkship, make an appointment with CPD (lawcareers@stthomas.edu) to discuss specific questions about qualifications.