Texas Lawyer has a piece this week profiling some of Texas’s “baby lawyers” (their term, not mine) — “First Steps: Baby Lawyers Set Off on Disparate Professional Paths.”
One of the profiled lawyers is Josh Fogelman, now a clerk for Justice Harriet O’Neill. The article contains some of Josh’s thoughts, as well as those of Justice O’Neill and her staff attorney Ginger Rodd, about the clerkship experience:
Law clerks will do an in-depth analysis and draw up an opinion on cases the court is considering, she says. O’Neill says she allows her law clerks a lot of diverse experience. …
“I will sit down with the clerks, and I will prepare a memo on how the case should be decided and how it should be written,” she says. “They will go do a draft, and I will work with them on the draft. We have a very hands-on chambers where we all heavily edit and are involved in the opinions.”
The law clerks are also allowed to sit it on conference, when the justices are reviewing and deliberating cases, opinions and petitions, she says.
“It’s a tremendous learning tool,” O’Neill says. “They hear all of the judges express opinions on cases. When clerks leave, they always say that was one of the highlights, watching the court deliberate.”
This is absolutely true. Watching nine Justices discuss petitions for review and draft opinions gives you a totally different appreciation for the appellate process. (Many other courts don’t open that process up to the clerks.)
Once you have clerked, you never think about a brief the same way. You’ve been a consumer of briefs, having to rely on briefs of widely varying quality to give answers on a range of questions. You start to realize how to be helpful to the Court (and how it can help your client if you are helpful to the Court). And you start to get a feel for what makes a legal argument persuasive and what makes an issue important enough to warrant review.
Fogelman agrees. “It’s interesting to take in the discussion and see how your writing struck them,” he says. “It’s great direct feedback.” He adds that the justices occasionally ask the law clerks for more information. “Sometimes, if there is an issue they recognize that you have not fully addressed or they are more curious about, they will ask you in conference,” he says. “They let you know what is on their mind.”
The law clerks also prepare study memos for the court that recommend whether the court should grant petitions for review, says Elizabeth V. “Ginger” Rodd, staff attorney for O’Neill. The clerks review the case arguments and make a recommendation about whether the court should hear the case. “It’s a whole lot of writing and analysis,” she says. Except for an occasionally busy week, the law clerks generally work from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Rodd says.
I’m told that three Justices still have openings for clerkships beginning in August 2009. The Court’s website describes the position in a more formal job posting and also has a brochure with other information.
If you’re a third-year law student with the grades to impress a Justice (or perhaps a young associate looking to shift gears toward appellate law or litigation), a one-year clerkship at the Texas Supreme Court is well worth it.