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What is a Law Clerk?

Did you know there are two types of law clerks? 1) law students who work for a legal employer, and 2) graduates who work for a judge, usually at the federal or state-appellate level.

What is a Law Clerk During Law School?

Law students who work for a legal employer that does not have a traditional summer associate program are generally called law clerks.

Law clerks are usually paid around $20 per hour in 2022, but this pay rate can vary depending on location, practice area, year in school, and other factors. Unpaid law school positions are typically called internships.

For more information about opportunities available to law students, click here.

What are their job duties?

Law student law clerks typically handle a variety of tasks. These tasks can include, conducting research and drafting memorandum. Some second- or third-year law clerks may have the opportunity to draft motions and do some briefing, but this tends to be unusual. Law clerks may also draft witness lists and other pleadings, and some have the opportunity to attend depositions and hearings.

Law Clerk vs. Summer Associate

Summer associate programs are held over the summer. Therefore, some students (and legal employers) will erroneously refer to their summer employees as “summer associates.”

However, summer associate programs have distinctive features, such as: 1) they pay much more than most law clerk opportunities, and 2) they almost always lead to post-graduate employment. This is unlike law clerk positions, which may or may not lead to post-grad employment, pending on the employer’s need for a new attorney.

If you’d like to learn more about summer associate programs, click here.

Post-Grad Law Clerk Positions with Judges

Law school graduates who work for a federal or state appellate level judge are generally called Law Clerks, Judicial Clerks, or Clerks. Some state and district level judges call their “clerks” law clerks. However, they are often titled Staff Attorney or Judicial Attorney.

Judicial Law Clerk vs. Intern

Some law students who work for a semester or summer with a judge mistakenly call themselves law clerks. But the correct title is Intern.

Why does this matter? It can confuse others, especially if you are seeking work. For example, if you communicate to a judge’s chambers that you are interested in a law clerk position, they may not understand the position you are really seeking.

What type of work do judicial law clerks handle?

Judicial law clerk positions are highly sought after and competitive because these graduates have the opportunity to work directly with the judge. Among other things, they often attend hearings, and, most impressively, they research and assist in drafting judicial opinions.

What about judicial interns?

Judicial interns have similar responsibilities, but, understandably, their duties will be much lighter. Interns often observe hearings and other court proceedings, and they have the opportunity to assist the judge’s law clerks with research and drafting.

Quick Recap of What is a Law Cler

  1. Law Clerk (student): law students working for a firm or other legal employer, who are not summering at a firm with a traditional summer associate program.
  2. Law Clerk (judicial): Law school graduates who work for federal or state appellate level judges (and sometimes lower state courts.
  3. Intern: Law students who work in unpaid positions, including working for a judge.
  4. Summer Associate: Law students who spend a summer working in BigLaw or at a large law firm with a summer associate program.

If you liked this article . . .

Check out these great resources for pre-law and 1L students, and then read some serious truths about on-campus interviews.

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