Law Clerks & Legal Interns
Law Clerks are paid employees of the U. S. Courts. All unpaid individuals who volunteer their time are considered interns. Interns who are not receiving payment from an outside party in relation to their voluntary service are considered employees of the Court.
Law clerk applicants should first check the OSCAR system to determine which judges may be hiring clerks and the timing of those clerkships. Some judges will not be bringing in new clerks or interns during each “hiring” season. If a judge is not using the OSCAR system, then it is advisable to contact that chambers to learn whether or not applications by mail are appropriate. A Court directory which provides contact information for each chambers is provided at the bottom of this page.
Law clerks are typically hired for a one or two-year term, with hiring decisions usually made one-two years prior to an intended employment date.
Value of Federal Law Clerk Experience
A judicial clerkship provides direct insight into the judicial process and is a valuable and enriching experience. A law clerk gains practical experience by attending judicial proceedings, performing legal research and providing other assistance to the judge. Law clerks are also exposed to the methods and customs of practitioners and learn the level of professional behavior expected of lawyers. Many former law clerks find the prestige and experience associated with service as a federal judicial law clerk broadens their future employment opportunities.
Duties of Federal Law Clerks
The duties and functions of a federal judicial law clerk are determined by the employing judge. In most chambers, law clerks concentrate on legal research and writing. Typically, the broad range of duties assigned to a law clerk includes conducting legal research, preparing bench memos, drafting orders and opinions, proofreading the judge’s orders and opinions, verifying citations, communicating with counsel regarding case management and procedural requirements, and assisting the judge during courtroom proceedings. Some judges also may assign maintaining the chambers library and other administrative duties to the law clerk.
Judicial law clerks are also expected to work cooperatively with chambers staff and court personnel. The employing judge must be confident in the law clerk’s professionalism in interacting with counsel, litigants and the public. A law clerk is bound by the ethical standards established by the judge and the Code of Conduct for Judicial Employees.
Types of Appointments and Benefits
There are different types of law clerk appointments in the federal judiciary.
- Term Appointment is the most common. Term law clerks serve an appointment understood to be less than four years, but are generally one or two year appointments. Individuals who hold this job title are covered by Social Security and are eligible to participate in health and life insurance programs including long-term care insurance, and pre-tax health and dependent care supplemental insurance programs. Term law clerks are not eligible to participate in the retirement system or Thrift Savings Plan.
- Career Appointment includes an expectation that employment will last for four or more years. Career law clerks are entitled to participate in all benefit programs offered including health and life insurance, long-term care insurance, pre-tax health and dependant care supplemental insurance, retirement system and the Thrift Savings Plan.
Qualifications and Salary
The salary available to a law clerk depends upon legal work experience subsequent to graduation from law school and bar membership.
- JSP Grade 11: Law school graduates (or those certified as having completed all law school studies and requirements and merely awaiting conferment of degree) with high academic achievement.
- JSP Grade 12: In addition to the above qualifications, one full year of post-graduate legal experience and bar membership.
- JSP Grade 13: In addition to the qualifications for Grade 11, at least two full years of post-graduate legal experience and bar membership.
- JSP Grade 14: At least three full years of post-graduate work experience which includes at least two full-time years as a federal judicial law clerk. A chambers may only employ one full-time law clerk at the JSP Grade 14 pay rate.
Employment of Non-Citizens
Under the new law, appropriated funds may not be used to pay compensation to non-citizen employees with duty stations in the continental United States, unless they qualify under one of the following exceptions:
- lawful permanent residents (i.e., green card holders) who are “seeking citizenship as outlined in 8 U.S.C. § 1324b(a)(3)(B);”
- persons admitted as refugees or granted asylum who have filed a declaration of intention to become a lawful permanent resident and then a citizen when eligible; or
- persons who owe “allegiance” to the United States (e.g., nationals of American Samoa, Swains Island, and Northern Mariana Islands, and nationals who meet other requirements described in 8 U.S.C. § 1408).
Non-citizens may be interviewed and considered for future employment. An offer of employment can only be made if the non-citizen candidate is a lawful permanent resident who is ‘seeking’ U. S. citizenship. A lawful permanent resident ‘seeking citizenship’:
- may not apply for citizenship until he or she has been a permanent resident for at least five years (three years if seeking naturalization as a spouse of a citizen),
- at which point he or she must apply for citizenship within six months of becoming eligible, and
- complete the process within two years of applying (unless there is a delay caused by the processors of the application).
See the Court’s directory for a listing of Southern District judicial officers and their chambers address.