Help me decide what I should do when I grow up.
April 3, 2008 6:50 AM   Subscribe

About to graduate from law school, planned to go right to work at a firm, got a last minute opportunity to interview with a magistrate judge in US District Court. OK, so I know what the Magistrate judge does, but day to day, what does his clerk do? Really, anyone with first hand experience (or second hand, even): is there much time to see the proceedings in court, are you doing paperwork all day, are you drafting parts of opinions or just doing research. I know much of this is individual depending on how the judge runs his courtroom, but what kind of year might one expect to have in terms of hours, workload, job satisfaction, type of work, etc.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I loved clerking and if I could have made a career of it, I would have. I learned more about the practice of law and the metaphysics of law in one year clerking than I did in all of law school and in my first two years in firm practice. I had full access to proceedings: sometimes I was required to sit in, so I could run and provide immediate bench research on a point an attorney had just raised; sometimes I just set aside my work in order to sit in. I both researched and drafted opinions for my judge. Sometimes I just acted as a sounding board for her.

I fielded questions from attorneys about procedures in her court room and had great access to local attorneys to just talk to. Sometimes I scheduled pretrial matters; I had minimal administrative tasks, however.

Your experience clerking, however, will depend entirely upon your judge. I worked a basic 8:00-4:30 day, only rarely putting in extra hours, but I've known clerks who put in much longer hours. I've also known clerks who were given almost no opportunity to draft opinions.

You should talk with the firm that has given you an offer--most will defer your starting date if you are offered a clerkship. A clerkship--as you surely know--is like gold-plating on a first-year associate.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:36 AM on April 3, 2008

Federal magistrates hear cases from two sources: (1) referals from federal judges (where the judge peels off a subset of a case for the magistrate to handle, usually relating to discovery disputes between the parties); and (2) cases that the parties have agreed can be tried before a magistrate. So your experience will be similar to that of a clerk for a federal judge (legal research, preparing bench memoranda, drafting decisions, and attending hearings) but the subject matter will skew heavily toward pre-trial discovery disputes. Your hours and workload will vary wildly depending on the habits of your magistrate judge.
posted by A Long and Troublesome Lameness at 7:52 AM on April 3, 2008

The life and workload of a federal court clerk depends greatly on the individual judge, and I suspect that the judge would expect questions about this stuff in the interview. I often (but not always) see the clerks in the courtroom when I am before magistrates. I have seen some magistrates who have their clerks run in-chambers civil scheduling conferences (with the judge sometimes coming in for the last few minutes to resolve disputes and "bless" the schedule).

Clerks often do the first draft of (some) of the substantive opinions generated by the Court. Some judges edit more heavily than others. While much of a magistrate's docket is filled with discovery motions, resolving many of these motions requires fairly hefty evaluation of legal research and opinion writing.

An interesting question in the interview might be how many cases have been tried before your magistrate in the past year, and what the role of the clerks was leading up to and during the trial. Trial caseload varies considerably between judges, I think.

For an example of how YMMV, a former colleague of mine who clerked for a magistrate did almost no criminal support work (the judge handled that all himself).
posted by QuantumMeruit at 8:44 AM on April 3, 2008

A great regret of mine is that I never tried to get a job as a clerk. Just about every lawyer I know who has clerked found it to be rewarding, and each had a set of skills that could not be easily developed in a law firm setting. Also, your firm will most likely love you for clerking and will pay you as a second year associate when you come out.

Aside from those things already identified, magistrate judges often are used for pretrial settlement conferences. It would be pretty cool to watch/participate in those, as you could both sharpen your negotiation skills and see both sides of the bid/ask.
posted by AgentRocket at 10:12 AM on April 3, 2008

my roommate and i both worked for federal magistrate during a semester of law school. the workload largely depends on the judge, but either way you'll be busy. as a student clerk, i had plenty of time to watch proceedings. my roommate hardly had any. the full time clerks, as you would be, didn't have as much "free time," but loved the work, and had great variety in the workload. it looked like a dream job to me.

the types of cases heard also could vary among judges. some of the judges had conflicts of interest or other reasons they wouldn't hear some case or type of law. for example, one judge wouldn't take the criminal docket (which rotated among the other judges, 2 wks/judge) since she was related to a prosecutor or something.
posted by ncc1701d at 12:49 PM on April 3, 2008

Nthing "it depends on the judge." You'll be spending a ton of time with said judge, so make sure you're going to enjoy it.
posted by craven_morhead at 12:30 PM on April 29, 2008

« Older Consolidating HID/RFID/Proxi Cards   |   I don't live there, give me my package! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.