I thought once I graduated law school, I would no longer have to explain to people what I do. It is still a fair question, however, since I am trying to figure that out for myself. As I have been receiving many similar questions about the next chapter in my life, and because I am still exhausted from training, here is an abbreviated FAQ.
Q: What are you doing?
A: I will be working as a judicial law clerk for a civil judge in Washington, DC.
Q: Civil? So no criminal stuff?
A: My judge handles primarily civil matters--which covers everything from slip and fall accidents to business disputes to complex property issues (I thought I would never see a foreclosure or record deed problem after the bar, how wrong I was). However, as I have learned this week, I also get to dabble in criminal law because my judge just came off of that calendar. So I see things like prison correspondence, parole violations, and conviction appeals.
Q: So is this a real job? Are you working for free again?
A: Even though a clerkship is only one year long, it is a "real job" with a pay check, benefits, a office (with a door!), etc.
Q: What does a clerk do?
A: Since I am a clerk for a trial level judge, I help manage his ~300 cases. That means preparing the judge for his trials (ie: preparing jury instructions), pre-trial conferences, status hearings, etc. I make sure that when he is up on the bench, he knows everything that is going on because I have either discussed the issue with him beforehand or prepared the file and a summary. Additionally, since each civil judge has usually ~100 pending motions at any given time (ie: motions requesting more time, motions to dismiss the case), I work with the judge to rule on motions, write out the order, add it to the docket, and file it with the court. It is my job to make sure that all the orders from the judge are perfect, hence the courtoon at the bottom.
Q: How many hours a week does that add up to? Are you going to be a hermit again like you were over the summer?
A: The outgoing clerk said that when she started the civil calendar, she was working from 9am to 6-8pm, depending on the day. Yes, more than many jobs but also less than many other legal jobs. And 1) the days go by quickly when you are working on such a variety of interesting things, 2) it feels great to go home and not have work looming over you like when you are studying for the bar. So yeah, I probably will not be able to do lunch or many happy hours my first few weeks, but I will be a lot more free than the past three years, especially weekends.
Q: How is your judge?
A: Obviously I would not trash-talk him on my blog if I did a problem with him. Luckily, I do not. He is great. Really funny, very smart, and wants my opinion on issues-especially when I disagree with him. Plus, he loves Vietnamese food and California.
Q: What are you going to do after the year is up?
A: I do not even want to think about applying for jobs again, but hopefully I will be a practicing attorney in California. We will see how the job market is.