How to Become a Law Clerk: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Learn how to become a law clerk. Research the education requirements, training information and experience required for starting a career as a law clerk.

Should I Become a Law Clerk?

Law clerks work for judges in the municipal, state and federal court systems. Law clerks draft memoranda and opinions, as well as doing legal research for judges. They verify legal citations, attend hearings and provide support for judges during court hearings. Clerks also prepare files for hearings and manage filing systems. They also assist with pro se issues in bankruptcy court and in prisoner cases. The position is generally a temporary position - one to two years - depending on the judge. Stress may be involved with meeting court deadlines.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Juris doctor
Degree Field(s) Law
Licensure Must have passed the bar examination
Experience 1-2 years
Key Skills Organizational skills, coordinate and prioritize multiple projects, word processing, online legal research sites (Westlaw), online case management filing programs
Salary (May 2014) $54,350 per year (Mean for all judicial law clerks)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Step 1: Obtain an Undergraduate Degree

Before enrolling in law school, a student must first earn an undergraduate degree. Law schools generally do not have requirements as to a degree field or course of study. Law schools can afford to accept only the best applicants, so the pre-law student should maintain a high grade point average in his or her undergraduate degree program.

Step 2: Take the LSAT (Law School Admission Test) and Apply to Law School

Before graduates can be accepted to law school, they must take the LSAT and pass with a minimum required score. This test features three multiple choice sections covering reading comprehension, analytical reasoning and logical reasoning. There is also a written essay section which is not graded but which is submitted to law schools along with the test scores. Applicants are generally required to sign up for the Credential Assembly Service (CAS), which administers the LSAT and assembles the student's Law School Report. This report contains the LSAT scores, the student's letters of recommendation and personal essay required by law school admission departments. It also includes their undergraduate transcripts and grade point analysis. The law schools to which the student applies then access this report when making admissions decisions.

Step 3: Get a Juris Doctorate

It generally takes three years of full-time attendance to graduate law school. Courses generally include civil and criminal law and procedures, contract law, torts, legal writing and research, constitutional law, ethics and specialty law courses. Those who aspire to work as law clerks should choose classes that will build their skills in legal research, writing and judgment.

Success Tip:

  • Achieve high academic standing. For students who hope to attain positions with judges should strive to keep up their grades since judges, especially those on the federal level, often seek candidates with strong academic records. Prospective employers may also look for law school graduates who were active participants in various student groups, such as moot court or trial team, or who wrote for their school's law journal.

Step 4: Pass the Bar Examination

Law school graduates must take the state bar examination before being able to practice as a lawyer. Since a judicial law clerk is often a lawyer, graduates who want to be law clerks generally must also pass the state bar examination. In some cases, a judge may hire a law school graduate who has not yet passed the bar, on the condition that the clerk take the bar examination.

Step 5: Gain Experience

Most judges prefer law clerks who have some experience with legal procedures and research. Serving an internship or working in a law office while preparing to take the bar examination can satisfy this requirement. The prospective law clerk should accept work that builds research and legal writing skills. Once hired by a judge, a law clerk my become a senior law clerk and mentor or train new clerks, or seek to advance their law careers by joining or starting a private law firm.

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