In 2006, The University of Texas School of Law launched a program to encourage students to consider judicial clerkships and to help them through the application process. A judicial clerkship team was created, consisting of two faculty clerkship advisors, a director of judicial programs in the Law School’s Career Services Office and a clerkship administrator in the dean’s office. This team centralized the clerkship application process, streamlined the obtaining of faculty recommendation letters, met one-on-one with applicants, and organized a series of presentations by judges and current and former law clerks. These initiatives have dramatically increased student awareness of and excitement about clerking. In the words of a 2007 graduate who clerked for Judge Phyllis Kravitch of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, this institutional attention to judicial clerkships “helped to generate a buzz among the students that didn’t exist before.”
The Law School gets students thinking about clerkships early on, holding an informational meeting for 1Ls before they register for their second-year classes. The clerkship advisors and a panel of judges and clerks explain what clerks do and how students can best position themselves to be attractive candidates. Subsequent meetings with interested upper class students prepare them for the application process. During spring semester, the clerkship advisors meet individually with prospective applicants to advise them on those clerkships for which they are best positioned. The students must also make a special appointment to speak with each of their faculty recommenders, so that the faculty can provide more detailed letters of recommendation. Over the summer, the students submit their preliminary list of judges to the clerkship advisors and to their recommenders for review.
To further generate enthusiasm about clerking, and to give students the opportunity to learn what judges are like, the clerkship advisors organize a number of events that put students in direct contact with sitting judges and current and former judicial clerks. In some years, these events might include clerkship panels and luncheons with judges focusing on federal courts or on Texas state courts. In other years, the Law School puts on a more formal two-day Judicial Clerkship Workshop. This generally involves bringing in ten judges from around the country representing different federal courts and sometimes state courts. Whether at the panels or the Workshop, the judges discuss with students what they and their clerks do, and the students have the opportunity to interact with the judges individually at seated lunches or dinners. These events provide students many opportunities to speak to the judges, and, as one participant put it, “to get to know these judges as people and not as the oracles of the law that we might imagine in class.”
To help prepare students who receive clerkships for their upcoming jobs, the Law School has created two semester-long courses, one focused on writing for trial court judges and the other on writing for appellate court judges. Students use actual case material – briefs, motions, and records – to learn to draft orders, bench memos, and opinions. They also learn about the specific issues and key areas of the law that often come up in their courts. The goal is to ensure that UT Law graduates make outstanding judicial clerks.
During the spring semester, the Law School also offers a course for second-year students interested in clerking. This course is taught by former Texas appellate justice Bea Ann Smith. Justice Smith works closely with a small group to improve the students’ writing and analytical skills and teach them about judicial writing style.
The University of Texas School of Law believes in the value of judicial clerkships. We actively encourage our students to consider these opportunities, and we are working to provide judges with well-prepared applicants and clerks.