United States: The Road Less Traveled - Clerking As A Mid-Level Associate

I can still feel the phantom burden on my shoulders of the post-graduation choices I had to make when I was a 3L. Do I go back to the firm where I summered? Do I seek out an opportunity in public interest and advocate on behalf of the underrepresented while benefiting from the student loan forgiveness program? Do I look for a judicial clerkship and continue to "hone" my legal and writing skills in an environment where I will be exposed to a myriad of issues? I felt both immobilized by indecision and the need to execute the steps necessary to pursue each option during any given moment, on any given day, throughout the fall and spring semesters of my 3L year.

I entered law school as a nontraditional student. Since the age of 16, I had worked two jobs—at times, out of financial necessity and, at others, out of a pursuit of fulfillment. Over a period of 10 years, I completed my undergraduate degree in English and spent another three years obtaining my juris doctorate and master's degree in education with a certificate in disability studies from Syracuse University College of Law (SUCOL).

Although the manner in which I expected I would apply my law and master's degrees changed throughout my law school career, the overarching goal of making the most of those three years never wavered. I formed meaningful relationships with my classmates, faculty, and administration. I competed in every oral advocacy competition that I was able to compete in, served as class president all three years, and invested in the community through service projects and pro bono work. I wanted to take advantage of every opportunity in a way I was not able to while pursuing my bachelor's degree, while also giving myself options after law school. As I entered my 3L year, I believed I had succeeded at both, but as I had heard with a significant degree of reliability, the legal field was one that was both saturated and highly competitive. I still doubted whether the "options" that I thought I had were ones that were actually within my control to choose among. Moreover, I was keenly aware of the need to determine my next steps.

Between finishing my classes, preparing for graduation and the bar exam, and managing my other extracurricular responsibilities, there were only so many hours left in the day to pursue what I considered to be my post-graduation "options." So I had to decide which path to pursue. Returning to the firm where I summered was the simplest solution, but I was not sure if it was the best fit for me.

The decision was daunting, in part, because I thought I was making a choice that would dictate the next 10 years of my life or would at least dictate the next 1 to 2 years of my life, only to then have to make a decision about the next 10 years of my life. If I went the public interest route, I would need to stay in that field for at least 10 years to take advantage of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. If I went into private practice, I felt I needed to be at a firm where I would want to stay for at least 10 years—the time it generally takes to make partner—and some place where I would want to work with others as a partner. If I clerked—well, I would have a year or two of reprieve, only delaying the inevitable decision of eventually still needing to choose between private or public practice. Unbeknownst to me, I had unnecessarily limited my options.

What I could not fully understand then, and frankly what I am still learning today, is that there is not a single path to success in the law. The law, like life, is about building relationships, investing in people, and being "present" enough in your current circumstance to learn and grow from the people and situations you encounter. That presence necessarily informs, colors, and changes previously defined goals and the pursuit of those goals. You do not know what you do not know, and what is originally viewed as an end point may turn out to be just a pit stop along the way to another end point.

SUCOL runs an intercollegiate appellate competition, known as Mackenzie Hughes, each year. It was the only intercollegiate oral advocacy competition I was unable to participate in as an oralist during law school. Instead, I assisted with the administration of the competition as a member of the Moot Court Honor Society Board. Each year, several distinguished judges from state and federal bars judged the competition, including a SUCOL alum, the Honorable Theodore A. McKee, former chief judge of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. After the competition, the board members and finalists had dinner with the judges and attorneys from the firm of Mackenzie Hughes, L.L.P.

At that dinner, Judge McKee and I got to know one another. Afterward, he checked in with me from time to time, asking about my job search and whether I had any interest in a judicial clerkship. He gave me suggestions for firms to consider and put me in touch with individuals who had clerked with him over the years so that I could learn about their current positions, the paths they took to get there, and where they saw themselves in 5 to 10 years.

I later learned that while I was tailoring my cover letters to various firms and speaking with Judge McKee's former clerks, Judge McKee was speaking with my teachers and school administration about my performance in class, the oral advocacy competitions I had won, and my school and community involvement. Apparently liking what he heard, Judge McKee offered me a clerkship with him for 2019–2020. Yes, that is correct: 2019–2020, which was four years away at that point. I recall Judge McKee telling me, "I know it's several years away still and it doesn't help you with a job after graduation, plus I may be dead by then, but if you want it, I'd be happy to have you." I immediately accepted. Here was an opportunity to apply and shape the law in one of the second-highest courts in the nation, with someone who had generously and selflessly taken a personal interest in my success. It also did not hurt that he has a decent sense of humor.

But, to Judge McKee's point, I still needed to find a job after graduation. A four-year gap in my legal résumé between graduation and my clerkship would not be good for my career and would likely decrease the value I wanted to bring to my clerkship. I was also fairly certain there was not a four-year forbearance option for student loans. By that point, however, I at least knew I wanted to work in a more metropolitan area that was closer to family, so I limited my job search to New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. I believe in a targeted approach to a job search, so I focused my efforts on a small education law boutique firm, two general litigation boutique firms, two mid-size law firms with multiple practice areas, and a "Big Law" firm. I was invited to interview with each firm and received universal interest in my upcoming clerkship as well as a willingness to hold my position during my clerkship year. While I worked hard to build a solid résumé during law school, I know without a doubt that my clerkship added a certain je ne sais quoi to my résumé.

Now having practiced for two years, had I the ability to go back to my 2L or 3L year, I would actively seek out judicial clerkships that I could fulfill as a mid-level associate. I have a friend who is currently clerking for Judge McKee after having worked for one year in a mid-size law firm. She has told me that the year of practiceshe had before going into her clerkship has proved invaluable. I can only imagine how much more that will be the case after having practiced for four years. In the past two years, the amount that I have learned about the actual practice of law cannot be overstated. I have participated in a federal civil rights pro bono trial, a trial involving the federal racketeering statute, and a preliminary injunction hearing in a state court of common pleas, and I have drafted a brief to the Third Circuit. The experience base with which I will enter my clerkship is far greater than it would have been as a recent law school graduate. My summer associateships provided valuable insight into the practical side of lawyering, but it is different than the day-to-day grind of discovery, motion practice, global case strategy, and trial preparation. As a mid-level associate going into a judicial clerkship in my fourth year of practice, I will be able to better appreciate the issues I encounter and the manner in which they are presented by attorneys. I will also gain insight into the judicial process and the manner in which an experienced judge approaches those issues at a time in my career when I not only will have expanded my practical understanding of the law but will also have seven years of legal knowledge under my belt.

My path to a judicial clerkship was by no means traditional, but now that I am on it, I would have it no other way. I believe that practicing law is an art, and the people you meet along the way, the cases you try, and the clerkships you may take, all add depth, texture, and color to that practice. For me, a clerkship particularly informs that artistry, as it is the best insight one could gain into the judiciary without being a judge. I also believe a judicial clerkship after first practicing as an attorney is a path not only worthy of consideration but worthy of becoming a "traditional" pursuit.

Originally published in American Bar Association

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Topics
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Mondaq Sign Up
Gain free access to lawyers expertise from more than 250 countries.
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Newsalert
Select Topics
Select Regions
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions