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What does a Law Clerk Do?

Law clerk is a title given to law students who generally work for a law firm and who are paid. This is different from a summer associate, which is a term of art applied to law students who spend a summer working in BigLaw.

Law clerk is also a title given to attorneys or law school graduates who work for federal or state-appellate level judges. For more information about that, click here.

Loosely, law clerks are sort of like first-year associate attorneys, but with a lot less responsibility.

This article will focus on law clerk job duties and what it’s like to work as a law clerk. For the answer to the question, “what is a law clerk,” click here.

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Law Clerk Duties and Responsibilities at Law Firms

Law clerks receive assignments from partners and associates. Their duties can vary widely, but they are usually given portions of projects that attorneys feel comfortable delegating.

Law Clerk Responsibility: Drafting Memoranda

Depending on the firm, law clerks will generally have the opportunity to draft memorandum. Every first-year law student will become intimately familiar with legal memorandum because this is a fundamental part of law school Legal Research and Writing courses.

Legal memoranda generally answer a question for the reader, like analyzing how case law might impact the outcome of a particular case. While knowing how to conduct legal research and draft a corresponding memorandum is an important skill, not all law clerks will be given this responsibility. This is because some areas of law, but not most, require very little legal research.

Law Clerk Duty: Assisting with Discovery

Law clerks are frequently tasked with assisting with the discovery process. This is because there are a variety of tasks law clerks can handle.

For example, a law clerk might be asked to review documents produced by the other side, or they might be given instructions to redact documents that the firm will produce.

Law clerks can also handle parts of discovery like drafting witness lists, requests to admit, or interrogatories, which are written questions asked to the other side.

Finally, law clerks may assist with preparing for a deposition by creating a deposition binder or otherwise preparing documents.

Helping with Motions, Briefs, and Legal Research

It’s rare that a law clerk will have the opportunity to draft a complex motion or brief, but they may be assigned portions of either or otherwise asked to conduct research for the brief.

In addition, law clerks may be asked to pull, number, and/or organize exhibits. And they might be assigned tasks, like finding a case that says [blank].

Various Law Clerk Duties

In addition to those listed above, law clerks will likely be asked to perform various other tasks. Attorneys will generally assign law clerks tasks for which they are unable to bill or jobs that they don’t have time to do themselves.

Law clerks may also have the opportunity to sit in on depositions, motion calls, or hearings.

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What it’s like Working as a Law Clerk

Your experience as a law clerk will ultimately depend on the firm and attorneys you work with. Every firm is unique, with some firms being more serious and others more laid back.

Working as a law clerk can be fun, but it can also be stressful. Law students who work as clerks at firms are balancing law school and the stress of learning new things and meeting deadlines at work.

Since law school is all-consuming, this can be quite challenging.

Related: All you Need to Know About Billable Hours

Benefits of working as a Law Clerk

A lot of students wonder whether their law clerk position will train them to practice law, and the answer is no. I discuss the reasons why here.

But there are many benefits to working as a law clerk. Law students who work as law clerks gain exposure to what it’s like working in a firm or a professional environment. While a law clerk job won’t train you to be an attorney, it will teach you certain tasks that will be easier when you encounter them again in the future.

Law clerks also have the opportunity to network with attorneys, and this networking could lead to a post-graduate position.

Whether a law clerk position leads to a job at the firm, will depend on the size of the firm and its need. The smaller the firm the less likely it is to hire its law clerks into full-time attorney positions upon graduation. But even if your firm is unable to hire you, one of the attorneys may have a connection that leads to employment.

Finally, working as a law clerk is an excellent resume builder. It shows employers that you have the ability to balance multiple responsibilities. And while you won’t learn to be an attorney, you will gain a valuable set of skills while working as a law clerk.

Related: A billable hours chart to make life as a law clerk a little easier

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