THE NATIONAL PULSE
year or two of experience,” Bressman says. “The reality
is there are going to be fewer spaces for rising 3Ls.”
OPTIONS TO CONSIDER
KIRSTEN SOLBERG, CLERKSHIP ADVISER AT HARVARD
University, has been encouraging third-years to apply
and to consider the array of options beyond the most
prestigious federal and appellate positions.
“A lot of people who would not have considered
clerkships before have new interest and are checking it
out as an option,” she says. “There certainly seems to
be an increase among law students concerned about the
future of law firms and associates out in practice who
are looking for alternatives in light of layoffs.”
A survey of state court systems released last July does
not directly address clerkships but suggests the number
of positions may be down, while state-by-state figures
tally both cuts in positions and a rise in applications.
The survey, conducted by the National Center for
State Courts and the Conference of State Court Administrators, found that for the 2010 fiscal year, courts in 27
states face reduced budgets and 12 more anticipate cuts
Ten court systems have seen cuts of at least 5 percent. As a result, 28 state courts have instituted hiring
freezes, 13 have frozen salaries, seven have encouraged
or imposed salary cuts, six have furloughed court staff,
and six have reduced court hours.
Massachusetts did not hire any new clerks for 2009-10
because of a hiring freeze but was able to retain 72 of
its 105 clerks who either did not have a position at a
law firm or whose hiring date was deferred because
of budget cuts, says spokeswoman Joan Kenney. The
Boston Globe reported that at least 24 recent graduates
who had been offered clerkships for 2009-10 had their
“The picture kept changing,” Kenney says. “The let-
ters [to those offered 2009-10 clerkships] clearly stated
that it would depend on funding.”
Despite facing cuts of more than 5 percent in fiscal
year 2009 and more than 8 percent in fiscal year 2010,
the New Jersey court system has not reduced its num-
ber of clerks, usually about 480.
The state does not provide an opportunity for a second year of clerkships, unless a New Jersey Superior
Court clerk applies for and receives an appellate or
supreme court position, says spokeswoman Winnie
Comfort. But that doesn’t mean the state’s clerkships
will be easy to land, especially for 2010-11.
The “law clerk book” the state sends to judges every
August filled with resumés of applicants swelled from
76 for the 2009-10 year to 243 and counting as of late
July, with a few more likely to trickle in, for the 2010-11
year, she says. Many applicants apply directly to judges,
and Comfort adds that she “wouldn’t have any readily
available system for gathering those numbers.”
Florida’s system has laid off nearly 10 percent of its
3,100-member workforce due to a $23 million budget
reduction in fiscal year 2009, according to the NCSC.
State courts administrator Lisa Goodner notes that
the trial courts have faced a hiring freeze for two years,
with clerkships vacated, while the appellate courts are
fighting through a “soft freeze” in which positions are
held open for one to six months.
She does not know whether more people are applying
for those positions, because Florida does not keep a
central repository. “Anecdotally, we know there are lots
of lawyers looking for jobs,” Goodner says.
In Oregon, the supreme court and court of appeals,
which brought in a total of nine clerks last September
and 11 starting this year, received 74 applications in
2008 and 123 in 2009, says staff attorney Lisa Norris-Lampe.
She’s aware of rare cases in which judges and clerks
extend terms because they simply enjoy working together, but none that have been extended for economic
reasons. “It’s not so much ‘I don’t have a job. Can I stay
on?’ ” Norris-Lampe says.
BUT IN NEVADA, WHERE COURTS SAW A 12 PERCENT BUDG-
et reduction in fiscal year 2009, requests for a second
year have been piling up because of the employment
picture, says public information officer Bill Gang.
“It’s just been a down market, and some firms have
closed [or] been swallowed up by other firms,” he says.
Gang did not have exact numbers, but “the judges and
law clerks just say there’s a bunch.”
One state supreme court clerk who graduated in 2008
from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, the only law
school in the state, left for an associate position in late
July but did not have it easy, Gang says.
“He started looking in October , knowing that
the economy was suffering, and he did not get an inter-
view until May ,” Gang says. “He has a stack of
rejection letters somewhere north of 4 inches. He ap-
plied to virtually everyone around.”
Mindy Baggish, director of career services at the
University of California at Davis School of Law, says
she’s not aware of clerkship cutbacks in the state but
definitely has seen more students and recent alumni
applying. “The economy is driving it,” Baggish says,
adding that “clerkships are a great opportunity.”
The economy produces ripple effects, says Dan
Filler, senior associate dean for academic and faculty
affairs at Drexel University. Top students end up in
midsize law firms, and those who might have landed
federal court clerkships end up in state court, he says.
“They’re pressed at both ends,” Filler says. “Fewer
clerkships are available. More people want them. I have
anecdotally heard from state court judges that they are
seeing applicants from law schools they’re not used to
seeing.” One judge told him: “I’m seeing applications
from Penn students. I haven’t seen that in years.” ■