What Is a Law Clerk? (How to Become One and Skills List)
By Indeed Editorial Team
Published September 18, 2022
The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.
Judges and lawyers typically employ law clerks to help them perform administrative functions and prepare the arguments and documents they use in court. If you're interested in a career that supports efficient and fair legal proceedings, you could consider becoming a law clerk. Understanding the duties and responsibilities of a law clerk might help you decide if it's a viable career path for you. In this article, we answer "What is a law clerk?", outline the duties of these professionals, discuss the role's requirements, highlight the work environment, examine the career prospects, and provide a job description for this role.
What is a law clerk?
If you want to build a career in the legal field, you may wonder, "What is a law clerk?" Law or judicial clerks are legal professionals who perform independent legal duties, including managerial tasks. A law clerk's primary responsibility is to assist lawyers with routine administrative and legal tasks. They typically work under a lawyer's direct supervision or support a group of lawyers with trial preparation, case research, and practice management.
What does a law clerk do?
A law clerk may assist with criminal or civil cases. Their specific duties vary depending on whether they work in a court or a legal firm. Some of a law clerk's most common duties include:
Researching legal precedents and laws to guide a lawyer's arguments or judge's decisions
Advising lawyers and other legal team members on the facts surrounding cases
Interviewing witnesses and taking statements, managing evidence, and providing assistance to judges and lawyers in the courtroom
Drafting legal documents, including trial briefs and records of legal proceedings
Delivering subpoenas to experts and witnesses
Maintaining the judge's chamber library and supervising chamber staff
Reviewing and verifying briefs and legal authorities
Essential skills for law clerks
Here are some skills you can develop to succeed as a law clerk:
Understanding how to communicate with judges, lawyers, and other colleagues is essential for law clerks. These professionals also require knowledge of legal terms and principles to allow them to explain legal processes and regulations to clients in a manner that's easy to understand. Besides verbal communication skills, law clerks require the ability to draft legal documents, including briefs, legal decisions, settlement contracts, memoranda, and other associated documents. Law clerks typically work in teams with other legal professionals, so it's important for you to understand how to collaborate with others and respect the suggestions and opinions of others.
Knowledge of the legal system
Developing your understanding of laws and court procedures makes it easier to acclimate to a law clerk role. You could learn about relevant federal and provincial laws by completing an undergraduate or Juris Doctor degree. Attending court proceedings can help you learn about legal processes and procedures. Understanding laws and legal systems enables you to draft documents and cite the relevant laws in your briefs correctly and understand where to find the appropriate solutions for clients.
Law clerks typically apply their research skills to finding and analyzing relevant information in statutes and case laws. Knowing how to review multiple documents to find the necessary information for a particular case or brief is essential. Employers advertising vacant positions typically prefer candidates familiar with legal research software, so it's important to gain proficiency using common software programs.
It's essential for law clerks to demonstrate empathy and emotional intelligence when dealing with clients, judges, lawyers, and other colleagues. Developing emotional intelligence includes using your active listening skills to ensure you understand clients' and colleagues' requests. Emotional intelligence can help you learn how to work with colleagues and anticipate their needs in a fast-paced legal environment.
Law clerks typically work on multiple tasks that require their attention simultaneously. It's essential to develop excellent multitasking and prioritization skills when managing high volumes of work tasks and large caseloads. It's also important to understand which tasks to prioritize and how to manage multiple tasks.
Related: How to Prioritize Work Tasks
Law clerks typically use digital technology in their daily duties, making it valuable for you to understand how to use relevant software programs to perform tasks effectively. For example, it may be necessary to navigate filing software, legal databases, spreadsheets, and other legal-based software. Knowing how to use such software programs can improve your employment prospects and help you succeed as a law clerk.
Law clerks require strong organizational skills because they handle multiple documents daily, such as classifying, organizing, and cataloguing clients' and supervisors' documents. Law clerks also manage caseloads for various clients, so recording and tracking documents for the duration of these cases is vital. Learning how to handle confidential information while ensuring that documents contain all core information is essential.
Education, training, and certification for law clerks
Law clerks can prepare for this role by earning a Juris Doctor (JD) degree. Some employers may accept candidates with relevant college diplomas and in-house training from a law firm or other legal establishment. Aspiring law clerks often enrol in a flexible certification program to learn additional specialized skills they require to succeed in this role. Individuals building a career in this role can also earn an advanced qualification, such as a master's degree, to help advance their progression.
Aspiring law clerks often work for a lawyer or judge in temporary roles for one or two years, although some individuals may start their careers by applying for a permanent law clerk role. They usually receive training on the job, with law firms or chambers instructing them on practices and processes related to the relevant federal, provincial, and territorial legal systems. Their training also typically includes using various computer systems and software.
Law clerk work environment
Law clerks usually perform most of their duties in an office. They may also spend time in court, depending on their employers' needs, so the role may also require them to travel. A law clerk's physical environment often involves sitting for long periods reviewing digital and physical legal documents. These professionals usually work standard hours of at least 40 hours per week. They may also accrue overtime when working on complex cases. Typical employers of law clerks include:
In a law firm setting, clerks perform routine legal and administrative support for one lawyer or a team of lawyers. This typically depends on the size of the firm and the law clerk's level of experience. Some law firms employ junior and senior law clerks, providing opportunities to advance within the organization.
Law clerks may work in various areas and levels of government bureaucracy, such as federal and provincial government agencies. For example, they may assist lawyers in preparing for tribunal hearings in administrative tribunals. Their duties might also involve corresponding with the public and ensuring that public agencies follow internal practices and procedures.
Corporate and legal departments
Some corporate organizations employ law clerks to provide clerical assistance for in-house legal counsel. Although these roles are more common in large cities where businesses build their headquarters and corporate offices, you may also find them in smaller towns. Law clerks in corporate and legal departments perform administrative duties and ensure the organization meets its filing requirements and complies with regulations. They may also collaborate with other departments, such as public relations and marketing.
Job outlook and prospects for law clerks
Canada Job Bank predicts 14,200 new job openings for paralegal and related occupations between 2019 and 2028. These opportunities are likely to arise from replacement and expansion demand. It also reports that 13,600 new applicants, including relocations, school leavers, and immigrants, are likely to fill these roles. Here's the Job Bank's outline of the job opportunities for law clerks over the next three years:
British Columbia: Good
New Brunswick: Fair
Newfoundland and Labrador: Fair
Northwest Territories: Undetermined
Nova Scotia: Good
Prince Edward Island: Fair
Yukon Territory: Undetermined
Related: How Much Does a Paralegal Make?
Law clerk job description example
Here's an example job description for a law clerk position:
Our provincial law court seeks a hard-working and diligent law clerk to assist the court judge. Daily duties include performing legal research, working closely with the judge, and preparing court orders, memoranda, and other legal documents. The judge may also require the candidate to perform other clerical and administrative duties as necessary. If you're a recent law graduate or current law student with outstanding grades and a flexible schedule, send your application to email@example.com. This role is full-time and includes the opportunity for overtime hours.
Please note that none of the companies, institutions, or organizations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.
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