Professor Johnston encourages students to apply for judicial clerkships

Published: April 19th, 2010

Category: News

For Levin College of Law Assistant Professor Lea Johnston, leaving a large-firm practice for a clerkship with Judge Richard C. Tallman of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit became a life-altering decision that inspired her to pursue a career in academia. Now, Johnston wants to encourage UF Law students to apply for judicial clerkships so that they have the same opportunity for professional development and growth as she did.

At the mention of her clerkship, Johnston’s face immediately lights up to discuss the experience she calls “second only to teaching.”

“Clerking was invigorating, and uncovered my insatiable curiosity about a variety of legal topics,” Johnston says of her experience and added, “I developed a strong relationship with Judge Tallman and my co-clerks, and these relationships continue to this day.”

Johnston cites under-representation of Levin College of Law alumni in clerking positions as a primary reason for encouraging students to apply for judicial clerkships.

“The Levin College of Law is the best law school in Florida, and one of the best schools in the southeast, [so we] should be sending more students [into clerkships],” Johnston explained.

To this end, the dean appointed a Judicial Clerkship Committee, consisting of members of the administration and faculty. The committee has launched several initiatives aimed at increasing the number of students who apply for clerkships and promoting the candidacies of UF Law students.

One new resource available in the Center for Career Development for students wishing to apply for a judicial clerkship is a database of past and present clerks who are alumni, which gives students considering clerking the chance to benefit from the experience and advice of a past or present clerks and make better-informed decisions about applying.

Concerning the timeline for students who wish to serve in a judicial clerkship immediately following graduation from law school, Johnston advised that, ideally, first-year students would take steps with clerking in mind, such as getting to know professors, writing for a journal, and selecting classes that could be useful. Then, during the spring of a law student’s second year, he or she should contact faculty for letters of recommendation, choose a writing sample, and ensure that all documents to be included in the application packet are completely devoid of spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors.

Johnston stated that, as a clerk, she stopped considering a candidate if his or her resume contained any inconsistencies or errors in punctuation. She also advised that students requesting letters of recommendation from faculty members consider providing them with a one- or two-page statement of interest explaining why he or she wishes to clerk so that they have the information needed to write a more personal and compelling letter.

Johnston also stressed that law students who may not have an excellent academic record or journal experience may still be competitive candidates for judicial clerkships after a year or two of work experience. The Center for Career Development continues to work with graduates interested in clerkships and the CCD encourages graduates to contact them when they wish to begin their judicial clerkship search.

“Judicial clerkships offer a unique opportunity to assist in administering the law, engage in a close relationship with a judge, develop writing and litigation skills, and gain an impressive credential that can open professional doors. ,” said Johnston. “I encourage all students with a strong academic background to consider applying to clerk for a federal or state judge.”

UF Law Assistant Dean for Career Development Linda Calvert Hanson added that “a judicial externship provides an ideal way to gain an inside perspective.”

Students interested in judicial clerkships are encouraged to attend a roundtable discussion on Tuesday, April 6, at noon in the faculty dining room where the following federal judicial law clerks will discuss their experiences: Larry Dougherty (JD 09), U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeal; Michael Dupee (JD 92), U.S. Northern District of Florida; and U.S. Middle District of Florida law clerks Jason Marques (JD 07), Lundi McCarthy and staff attorney Janine Toner (JD 04).