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MLaw Hits 100 Clerkships for 2013

By John Masson
June 7, 2013

For the second time in a decade, at least 100 recent Michigan Law graduates have secured coveted clerkships in judges' chambers across the country—and overseas, as well.

Many of those chosen will serve as "elbow clerks" in courts including the U.S. Supreme Court; federal appellate, district, and bankruptcy courts across the country; and state supreme courts. But Michigan grads are also heading to the European Court of Justice, the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany, and the International Court of Justice.

For students and recent alumni who were selected—this year's breakdown was 49 students and 51 graduates from 2012 or earlier—it's a chance to earn priceless experience, an influential, lifelong mentor, and a built-in network of older and younger attorneys who share similar experiences with the same judge.

"The process of applying and interviewing for a Supreme Court clerkship was both exciting and a bit nerve-wracking, and I felt that no matter what happened afterward, it was a remarkable experience to sit down with a Supreme Court Justice and talk about the law," said 2011 grad Michael Huston, who recently completed a clerkship with Judge Raymond Kethledge, '93, of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. Huston will clerk for Chief Justice John Roberts of the U.S. Supreme Court starting this fall.

"Michigan Law provided tremendous assistance throughout the process," Huston added. "The incomparable Joan Larsen is surely one of the most effective clerkship advisors at any American law school, and she provided invaluable guidance."

Teamwork is the key to placing so many students so successfully, said Attorney-Counselor Robin Kaplan of Michigan's Office of Career Planning.

"Faculty and staff have really taken clerkships under their wing," Kaplan said. "The professors know how to do this. They know how to advocate for students by writing these very personalized letters of recommendation, as well as calling judges on students' behalf."

Sarah Zearfoss, a 1992 Michigan Law grad and the Senior Assistant Dean for Admissions, Financial Aid, and Career Planning, agreed.

"This is a satisfying achievement precisely because it's a team effort," said Zearfoss, who began her career at Michigan Law as the school's judicial clerkship adviser. "Our career staff worked with students to help them identify opportunities and perfect their materials; students and alumni worked diligently to pursue these great opportunities, and faculty and their assistants worked hard to make sure judges got strong and detailed letters of support. And of course our alumni clerks and judges have shown their usual dedication in seeking out great Wolverine candidates."

The Law School provides support in several ways beyond letters of recommendation, as well, Kaplan said. Larsen, a former clerk for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, draws on her own experience in working closely both with OCP and with students who are seeking positions.

Larsen said one significant advantage for Michigan is its culture of collegiality. Cooperation, not competition, is key in the close environment of a judge's chambers, where both brilliance and diplomacy are valued qualities.

"I know this sounds cliché, but there really is a 'Michigan Difference,' " Larsen said. "Our students are interested in, and certainly attain, academic excellence, but at the same time they're amazingly supportive of one another. They collaborate more than they compete, and if you're a judge, that's exactly what you're looking for: three or four extremely bright people who will do the work in a cooperative fashion and make your day-to-day interesting and pleasant. Our students are just made for that kind of environment."

Furthermore, Larsen added, each year's placements build even more success in the future, because judges remember their exceptional clerks—and they remember where those clerks went to law school.

"The judges who hire our students come back to us, year after year, because our students are just different," Larsen said. "We've got this unique culture that makes them not only exceptionally bright, but exceptionally pleasant, as well. So this year's 100 will beget more."

But this year's success doesn't mean it's time to relax, said Susan Guindi, '90, Michigan Law's assistant dean for career planning.

"It's been fun to have the sense that we were heading toward this major milestone of 100 clerkships all spring long," Guindi said. "Of course, now that we've hit that milestone—and maybe especially since it's the second time we've hit it—I think we should all keep working as a team and go for 200."

Check out past years' clerkship placements here.

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