Judicial Law Clerk

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Duties: Provide legal support to a judge; conduct legal research; provide legal analysis; draft opinions and other legal documents; perform other duties as required

Alternate Title(s): None

Salary Range: $38,000 to $101,000, for federal clerks

Employment Prospects: Good

Advancement Prospects: Poor


Education or Training - A law (J.D.) degree; on-the job training

Experience - May require one year of legal experience; for career law clerks, experience as law clerks or practicing attorneys may be required

Special Skills and Personality Traits - Legal research, legal writing, computer, communication, analytical, interpersonal, and teamwork skills; be mature, detail-oriented, discreet, impartial, honest, flexible

Special Requirements - Be admitted to a state bar association


Law Student  >>  Judicial Law Clerk  >>  Attorney (in any work setting) or Other Law-Related Profession

Position Description

Judicial Law Clerks provide legal support services to judges in local, state, and federal courts. They work closely with judges in trial, appellate, and special courts (such as family courts) as well as in governmental administrative offices. Most clerks are recent law school graduates who have been personally selected to a one- to two-year term appointment by the judges they serve. Under the judges’ supervision and guidance, these law clerks perform a broad range of duties.

One major duty is conducting independent legal research. When judges require additional information to help them rule on a case, they assign Judicial Law Clerks to research the issues. These clerks conduct their search for relevant laws, court decisions, briefs, and opinions in law libraries as well as on computer and Internet databases.

Judicial Law Clerks are also responsible for providing judges with legal analysis. For example, clerks prepare bench memorandums to help judges decide on the proper disposition of cases. A bench memorandum sums up each party’s position in a case and the issues. Additionally, it offers recommendations about how to handle the case. Judicial Law Clerks are also involved with drafting opinions, orders, and other legal documents. Judges review and edit these first drafts into their final documents. The Law Clerks follow specific guidelines and formats for composing the various documents. They make sure that they use formal and precise language and that all citations are correct.

Judicial Law Clerks perform other duties which vary from court to court. For example, they might:

• review drafts of judges’ works for errors of fact and law 

 • proofread legal documents and correct grammar, spelling, punctuation, and typographical errors

• maintain law libraries

• review professional journals and recent opinions to keep themselves and judges up to date on current legal issues

• serve as the judge’s contact person for attorneys

• perform clerical and administrative tasks

Judicial Law Clerks are expected to work on different legal issues, handle various legal tasks simultaneously, and meet deadlines. Their job requires them to work closely with court attorneys and other staff members.

Law Clerks may be assigned to individual judges or work for several judges. Sometimes Judicial Law Clerks are hired to temporary appointments for one year or less for emergency reasons. Some federal appointments are for career positions of four years or longer.


Salaries for Judicial Law Clerks vary, depending on factors such as their employer, experience, and geographical location. Federal courts typically pay higher salaries than state and municipal courts.

Judicial Law Clerks in the federal court system earn salaries based on the Judicial Salary Plan. Information about this pay scale is unavailable, but it is roughly equivalent to the General Schedule (GS) scale, another federal pay schedule. Depending on their qualifications, new appointees earn salaries similar to the GS-9 to GS-14 levels. In 2006, the basic pay for these levels ranged from $38,175 to $101,130. Federal employees also receive locality pay that is based on the geographical location where they work. Those living in areas with higher levels of income typically earn higher wages.

Employment Prospects

Judicial Law Clerks are employed by state and federal courts as well as by administrative hearing offices in government agencies. Opportunities are available yearly to replace Law Clerks whose terms are ending. However, the competition for judicial clerkships is keen.

Judicial clerkships are typically temporary positions. On occasion, judges hire Law Clerks on a permanent basis.

Advancement Prospects

In general, Judicial Law Clerks use their experience as the beginning step leading to their attorney careers. Their next step may be in positions as law firm associates, solo practitioners, government lawyers, prosecutors, public defenders, corporate lawyers, or public interest attorneys. Judicial Law Clerks can also pursue other legal-related careers such as becoming legal researchers, legal reporters, or law professors.

Education and Training

Applicants for law clerkships must possess a juris doctor (J.D.) degree. Judges usually hire candidates who have recently graduated from a law school that is accredited by the American Bar Association or by the proper state authority.

Judicial Law Clerks receive on-the-job training.

Special Requirements

Judges may require that Judicial Law Clerks hold membership in a state bar association.

Every state (as well as U.S. territory and the District of Columbia) requires that lawyers must gain admission to the state bar in order to practice law in that state. For eligibility information, contact the state bar admission office where you wish to practice.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Qualifications vary with the different judges. Generally, candidates must be knowledgeable about legal principles, statutory and case law, court rules, and court procedures. Some judges prefer to hire candidates who have at least one year of legal experience. For career clerk positions, some judges hire only experienced law clerks or practicing attorneys.

Judicial Law Clerks need excellent legal research skills, including the use of Internet databases. They also must have superior writing and analytical skills. In addition they need strong communication, interpersonal, and teamwork skills. Being mature, detail-oriented, discreet, impartial, honest, and flexible are some personality traits that successful Judicial Law Clerks share.

Unions and Associations

Judicial Law Clerks join local, state, and national legal associations to take advantage of networking opportunities and other professional services and resources. In many states, membership in the state bar association is mandatory. Some special-interest bar associations that Judicial Law Clerks might join include the American Bar Association, the National Lawyers Association, the Federal Bar Association, or the National Bar Association.

Tips for Entry

1. Many judges prefer candidates who have moot court experience, worked on their school’s law review, or have published legal articles.

2. Contact the judges for whom you would like to work to learn about their specific requirements and application process.

3. Start your research into judicial clerkships in your first year of law school. Some judges offer clerkships to second-year law students. The clerkships would begin after graduation.

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