Editor's note: As of May 6, 2014, Michigan Law 3Ls and graduates have secured 118 clerkships for the 2014 term—surpassing the record 117 clerkships that were secured by Michigan Law students and graduates in 2013.
By Lori AthertonApril 2, 2014
Diana Cieslak, '10, can attest to the invaluable benefits of serving as a judicial clerk. After graduating from Michigan Law, she clerked for the Hon. Pierre N. Leval on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, then put the practical skills she gained to use as an associate at a law firm in Washington, D.C. She is now completing a second clerkship with the Hon. Cornelia T.L. Pillard of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
"I have had a wonderful experience clerking, and have enjoyed that it has exposed me to a wide variety of issues and subject matters," Cieslak said. "I have significantly improved my writing and analytical skills, and reading a variety of briefs and attending numerous oral arguments has given me a better understanding of what makes a strong oral argument. Working for a judge helps you to gain tremendous insight into how the process works behind the scenes."
Staff members in Michigan Law's Office of Career Planning are looking forward to this year's clerks enjoying an experience similar to Cieslak's. As of this writing, 110 Michigan Law 3Ls and graduates have secured clerkships for the 2014 term—a total that is on its way to surpassing the record 117 clerkships that were secured by Michigan Law students and graduates in 2013. This is the third time in a decade that Michigan Law is celebrating the 100-plus mark for clerkships.
"We anticipate this to be another outstanding year," said Greta Trakul, attorney-counselor and judicial clerkship adviser in the Office of Career Planning. "It's early in the clerkship process, and already we have at least one graduate placed in every U.S. circuit court for 2014."
Geographically, Michigan Law's clerks are spread out across the country and can be found at every level of the federal and state judiciaries, serving one- or two-year terms. Ashley Richardson, for example—the 100th Michigan Law student or graduate to secure a clerkship for 2014—never expected that her judicial clerkship would take her as far south as Mobile, Alabama, but come September, the 3L will be headed there to work for U.S. Magistrate Judge Sonja Bivins.
"It's a huge strength that we have alums clerking all over," Trakul said. "It provides incredible support for our students wherever their clerkship opportunities might take them."
Wherever graduates land, clerking provides them with a solid foundation for their legal careers. "A clerkship is a great launching pad, regardless of where you want your career to go," Trakul noted. "It provides a strong writing foundation, improves your analytical skills, and enables you to develop a mentoring relationship with the judge you work for. It's also one of the few things you can do that employers universally value; public interest, government, and law firm employers seek out clerks because of the exceptional and translatable skills a clerkship builds."
Those interested in applying for clerkships are advised to consult with Trakul and Joan Larsen, Michigan Law's longtime faculty clerkship adviser, who can help applicants navigate the clerkship process, from identifying where to apply and refining their resumes and cover letters, to assembling a strong application package and honing their interview skills.
"Start thinking early about what you need to apply for a clerkship and begin to build your portfolio," Larsen advises. "Get to know your professors, speak up in class, get writing samples from your 1L job or join a journal. Don't panic, though, if you begin the process a little late—there are always judges who will hire later in the clerkship cycle."
Having a bit of patience also helps, adds Richardson, who is excited about the opportunity to hone her legal research and writing skills and to gain a better understanding of the judicial system. "I began applying for clerkships last summer and didn't receive my offer from Judge Bivins until February. Students shouldn't give up early or get discouraged."
Do you have a clerkship for 2014, 2015, or beyond? If so, please contact Greta Trakul in the Office of Career Planning at firstname.lastname@example.org. We'd like to count you among our many Michigan Law success stories.
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