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Judicial Clerk: Job Duties, Requirements and Career Outlook

Judicial clerks require significant formal education. Learn about the education, job duties and application requirements to see if this is the right career for you.

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Entry-level positions for judicial clerks requires a Juris Doctor degree, and all applications for employment must be directly submitted to a judge. Employment opportunities for judicial clerks is projected to decline over the next several years, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), making it a very competitive position.

Essential Information

Judicial clerks are full-time administrative and legal research assistants to federal and state judges. They are usually recent graduates of accredited law schools who have maintained very high grade point averages and made notable accomplishments on law reviews, in moot court competitions and in other extracurricular activities. Aspiring judicial clerks must submit an application to a judge, and clerkships usually last from 1-2 years. Candidates may or may not need to pass the bar exam before beginning their clerkship, depending on the preference of the judge they serve.

Required Education Juris Doctor (J.D.)
Other Requirements Employment applications submitted directly to a judge
Licensure Passage of the bar exam required in some cases; varies by judge
Job Growth (2014-2024)* -6%
Median Salary (2015)* $50,740

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Judicial Clerk Duties

The duties of a judicial clerk may depend on the kind of judge whom he or she is assisting. Clerks who work for trial court judges typically deal with the day-to-day workings of litigation. In addition to conducting research and writing briefs and opinions, they may also provide administrative assistance. This may include helping the judge settle disputes, assisting with the discovery process and communicating with witnesses and trial lawyers.

On the other hand, judicial clerks assisting appellate judges focus primarily on legal research and writing, since most of their work is based on deciding the legality of an opinion previously made by a trial court. Appellate clerks are primarily charged with reviewing the records and legal briefs from the trial court proceedings, researching pertinent laws and putting the appellate judge's decision in the form of a memorandum or an official legal opinion.

Job Requirements for a Judicial Clerk

A Jurist Doctor (JD) degree from a law school approved by the American Bar Association is typically required in order to become a judicial clerk. Graduates may mail their applications for clerkship directly to a judge. Applications generally include a cover letter, resume, writing sample, law school transcript and 3-4 letters of recommendation. The letters may be from professors, law school faculty members and/or legal professions with intimate knowledge of the applicant.

Typically, successful applicants are law students who were at the top of their classes academically and were heavily involved in extracurricular activities such as writing and/or editing for the school's law review. Aspiring judicial clerks may also consider participating in moot court competitions and volunteering legal services in the community to add to their resumes. Individual judges vary on whether or not they prefer their judicial clerks to have passed the bar exam prior to beginning their clerkship.

Judicial Clerk Career Outlook

A judicial clerkship may be considered a temporary stepping-stone for many clerks, typically valued more for its prestige and its ability to open lucrative career doors in the future. Nonetheless, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median annual salary for judicial law clerks was $50,740 as of May 2015, and that the number of job openings was projected to decline 6% from 2014 to 2024 (www.bls.gov). It should be noted that both salary and employment outlook may be subject to change depending on a range of factors, such as a prospective clerk's law school alma mater, location, academic background and the type of court to which he or she applies.

Judicial clerks are responsible for assisting a judge by completing duties such as administration, communication, research, and reviewing records. Many successful applicants have enhanced their employability by involving themselves in law-related extracurricular activities at school and by finishing at the top of their academic class.

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