Law clerks work for judges in the municipal, state, and federal court systems. Law clerks draft memoranda and opinions and do 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 of one to two years, depending on the judge.
|Degree Level||Juris Doctor|
|Licensure||Must have passed the bar examination|
|Key Skills||Organizational skills, coordination and prioritization of multiple projects, word processing capabilities, online legal research skills, and knowledge of online case management filing programs|
|Salary (May 2015)||$59,910 per year (Mean for all judicial law clerks)*|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
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The process involved in becoming a law clerk can be broken down into five steps, ranging from earning a bachelor's degree, to completing law school, to gaining adequate legal experience.
Step 1: Obtain an Undergraduate Degree
Before enrolling in law school, a prospective law student must first earn an undergraduate degree. Law schools generally don't have requirements as to a specific degree field or course of study. However, law schools can only afford to accept the best applicants, so the pre-law student should maintain a high grade point average in his or her undergraduate program.
Step 2: Take the LSAT and Apply to Law School
Before being accepted into law school, aspiring laws students must take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) and pass with a minimum required score. This test features three multiple-choice sections covering reading comprehension, analytical reasoning, and logical reasoning. There's also a written essay section which isn't graded but rather submitted to law schools along with the test scores. Applicants are generally required to sign up for the Credential Assembly Service, which administers the LSAT and assembles the student's Law School Report. This report contains the applicant's LSAT scores, undergraduate transcripts, and grade point analysis, as well as the student's letters of recommendation and his or her personal essay. The law schools to which the student applies access this report when making admissions decisions.
Step 3: Earn a Juris Doctorate
Once accepted into law school, it's time to obtain a Juris Doctor degree. 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.
- Achieve a high academic standing. Students hoping to attain positions with judges should strive to keep up their grades since judges 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 exam 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 exam. In some cases, a judge may hire a law school graduate who hasn't yet passed the bar, on the condition that the clerk take it.
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 exam 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.
In summary, the five steps to becoming a law clerk include obtaining an undergraduate degree, taking and passing the LSAT, earning a law degree, taking and passing the bar exam, and gaining professional legal experience.