Roundtable discusses judicial clerking experiences, benefits
Throughout law school, students are told many times that most disputes these days end with negotiation and settlements, and days spent in front of a judge will be few and far between. However, there is one opportunity that allows for a constant presence in a courthouse, and unparalled access to a judge.
That opportunity is a judicial clerkship, and on Tuesday, Feb. 1, the North Central Florida Chapter of the Federal Bar Association, along with the Center for Career Development, hosted a Federal Judicial Clerk Roundtable to present information on clerking.
The roundtable included three graduates of the University of Florida Levin College of Law. Larry Dougherty (JD 09) served as editor-in-chief of Florida Law Review before clerking for Judge Charles Wilson of the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit and now practices in Tampa.
Lindsay Saxe (JD 09) was also a member of Florida Law Review, where she served as research editor and then executive notes and comments editor. She is clerking for Judge Steven Merryday of the United States District Court of the Middle District of Florida.
Midori Lowry (JD 94) has made clerking her career, and has clerked for Judge Stephan Mickle, of the United States District Court of the Northern District of Florida, since 1998.
Also participating in the roundtable was Stephen Smith, a 2010 graduate of Vanderbilt University Law School. Smith clerks for Magistrate Judge Gary Jones of the United States District Court of the Northern District of Florida. Judge Jones, who is also the current president of the North Central Florida Chapter of the Federal Bar Association, attended the event, and gave opening remarks.
Dougherty said his experience with the law taught him that one of the most important abilities that an attorney can possess is being able to predict how cases will be resolved.
While clerking, he said that he was able to constantly observe why and how decisions were made, and that opportunity has allowed him to understand the law and the processes of the court system much better.
This allows for more accurate advice, and as Dougherty said, “your counsel, your judgment and your advice are obviously the most important things you can offer your client.”
The decision to clerk instead of practice immediately is an important decision, and one that requires a great deal of thought. Lowry was able to get a taste for clerking while in law school when she served as a clerk in Ocala for the 5th Judicial Circuit after being chosen by the Florida Bar Young Lawyers Division, which sponsored the clerkship.
She also volunteered as a clerk in Gainesville for the 8th Judicial Circuit before clerking for Judge Mickle. The chance to look at cases from an objective standpoint was one of the things that first drew Lowry to clerking.
“One of the best things about it is that if you are lawyer, you’re always trying to put the law in the light most favorable to your client,” Lowry said. “But when you’re working for the court system, you remain neutral and just go with where the law takes you. So there’s something very pure about it, and it’s just wonderful to do.”
The advantages to clerking don’t stop after the clerkship is over, either. Firms and other employers hold former clerks in high regard, as do other employers, so clerking can be an excellent addition to one’s resume.
Saxe said that in law school, she would often interview with firms who would ask why she was interested in practicing in their area of Florida. Being from Ohio, and having worked in Washington, D.C., prior to law school, she was not able to come up with much other than being at UF and liking Florida.
“I’ve been in the process of looking for a job in Tampa, and have found that it has made a huge difference,” she said. “I know I would not have gotten some the interviews I’ve been able to get without the clerkship.”
Considering the advantages that clerking provides, it should come as no surprise that clerkships are highly sought after, and that getting one is not easy for anyone. Smith recommended that students get to know their professors well, as letters of recommendation can be very important.
“I’m not saying go to office hours every single week,” he said, “but I think something that is important is getting to know your professors, even if that’s only going up after class and introducing yourself after the first week or so.”
Smith was speaking from experience, saying that he had not done this enough during his first two years of law school. “When they told us to start looking around for people to recommend us, I was caught off guard.”
At this point, Judge Jones chimed in to say that he called the professors who had recommended Smith, and had had an in-depth conversation with them.
“I think more and more judges are doing that,” Jones said, “and that was certainly a very valuable part of Steve’s application.”
Jones also mentioned the importance of references being able to say something about the applicant as an individual, and not merely mention that the student received a high grade in class.