Why I Was a Judicial Clerk


(And You Should Be, Too)

By Erik Money


Smell is the sense most strongly linked with memory. It’s unsurprising, then, that I catch notes of chlorine when people ask why I decided to become a lawyer. 

Seventeen years of competitive swimming had left its mark on me in a big way. No, I am not talking about goggle marks. Okay, yes, you can still see them if you look closely. But more pertinently, I mean that swimming taught me the value of mentorship. A good coach is essential. Without one, a swimmer will remain blind to their weaknesses and can get stuck in a rut. A good coach is also a source of encouragement after a disappointing race and a partner in joy after a personal best. 

So, it was in part my pursuit of continued mentorship that brought me to the University of St. Thomas School of Law (known for its mentorship program), and then led me to apply for judicial clerkships. Fortunately, I was able to clerk for Chief Justice Gildea at the Minnesota Supreme Court and for Judge Bea on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. For me, these invaluable experiences confirmed what I already knew: new lawyers should strive to seek mentorship. If you have not already considered applying for a clerkship, I hope I convince you to seek mentorship there. 

Mentorship through a clerkship supplies a plethora of benefits. A clerkship can help develop your writing, research, and analytical skills. You will gain exposure to areas of law you may never have otherwise sought out. At the state level, clerks consistently address interesting issues of statutory interpretation—an important area of law that receives little attention in law school. 

Ninth Circuit clerks see cases that run the gamut, including immigration, social security, intellectual property, criminal, constitutional, habeas, and still other types of cases. You may find that you are interested in something you had never even considered before. You will watch arguments from experienced attorneys. And you can see firsthand which advocacy styles are effective. Perhaps even more important, you might see which ones are not. 

On top of those benefits, you will gain familiarity with the nuances of your Court’s rules that most practitioners lack. For instance, did you know that a failure to follow briefing rules can get your appeal dismissed in the Ninth Circuit? See Christian legal Society v. Wu, 626 F.3d 483, 485 (9th Cir. 2010). 

The reasons to clerk are not limited to technical development. Clerking presents an opportunity to break out of your bubble and experience someplace new. A lifelong Minnesotan, I was wary of leaving the North Star State for the West Coast. But after a year of San Francisco weather, food, and culture, I found it difficult to come back. 

In short, a clerkship could open doors you’ve never realized were closed. The application process can seem daunting. But there is little to lose and much to gain by applying—the value of a good mentor is incalculable for a new lawyer. If you haven’t yet thrown your hat in the ring for a clerkship, do it!

Erik Money is an associate attorney in Fredrikson & Byron’s business litigation group. Erik works on a broad range of matters, including partnership, contract, and trade secret litigation.
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