Behind every great judge is his or her law clerk. Judicial clerkships are considered very prestigious. However, they are very difficult to obtain because they are highly coveted by law school graduates. Federal clerkships are considered the most prestigious, making them that much harder to get.
With this in mind U.S. News has just published our first-ever ranking of which law schools are sending the largest proportions of their graduates on to judicial clerkships for federal judges. The ranking is sorted by the percentage of the 2007 J.D. graduating class that was employed as clerks by federal judges. Yale, not surprisingly, came out No. 1.
Since they give clerks considerable knowledge of the law and court system, clerkships can provide a significant edge in today's very competitive legal job market. In addition, some clerks are more highly prized by potential employers because of the valuable contacts that they develop during their clerkships.
What do clerks do? According the Indiana University Guide to Judicial Clerkships:
"The judicial clerk is a full-time assistant to the judge and usually performs a wide range of tasks including, legal research, drafting of memoranda and court opinions, proofreading and cite checking. A judicial clerk is often responsible for various administrative tasks such as maintenance of the docket and library, assembling documents or other administrative tasks necessary to meet the many obligations of the judge."
At this time, U.S. News does not have plans to incorporate the clerkship ranking into the methodology for the America's Best Graduate Schools Law School rankings. But some have suggested we do so. Judge Ed Carnes of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit wrote us and suggested that "incorporating the clerkship hiring decisions of federal judges into your ranking will provide you with what is, in a sense, a survey of the quality of law schools as reflected in the actions, not just the opinions, of a group of highly selective employers."
And Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia spoke recently about how difficult it is for law school graduates to get the ultimate credential—a Supreme Court clerkship. Justice Scalia discussed how the justices choose only the best and brightest from the nation's top law schools to be their clerks.
As part of our clerkship rankings table, we are also publishing the percentage of the 2007 graduating class that was employed as a clerk by a judge at any level of the judiciary—federal, state, or local. The data, which U.S. News collected directly from each law schools in fall 2008 and early 2009, show that some law schools have a culture of sending a relatively large percentage of their graduates to clerkships. The data also show that some law schools, like Seton Hall University and University of Arizona, concentrate on state and local clerkships and put less emphasis on federal clerks.