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 its second annual 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 2008 J.D. graduating class that was employed as clerks by federal judges. Yale's law school, not surprisingly, came out No. 1 and Stanford University finished No. 2.
Because clerkships give lawyers considerable knowledge of the law and court system, they can provide a significant edge in today's very tough 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.
Becoming a U.S. Supreme Court clerk remains the most difficult and competitive to obtain. Clerking for the U.S. Supreme Court is viewed by many law school graduates as the ultimate achievement and it can be the catalyst for a successful legal career. Dean Jim Chen of University of Louisville law school, who is himself a former Supreme Court clerk, says: "The Supreme Court clerkship remains the most elite credential available to an American lawyer. Law firms are willing to pay substantial bonuses to associates who bring the experience or perhaps just the cachet to work."
As part of our clerkship table, we are also publishing the percentage of the 2008 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 school in fall 2009 and very early 2010, 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, such as Seton Hall University, University of Colorado-Boulder, University of Montana, and University of Idaho concentrate on state and local clerkships and put little, if any, emphasis on federal clerks.
At this time, U.S. News does not have plans to incorporate the clerkship ranking into the methodology for the America's Best Law Schools rankings.