Every year, Illinois Law graduates land the most highly sought-after positions one can aspire to coming out of law school – judicial clerkships. We recently spoke to a handful of 2015 and 2016 graduates who are either currently serving in or soon-to-be serving in clerkship positions at both the state and federal level. In their own words, the following profiles detail their reasons for pursuing a clerkship, how the College assisted them in the process, and advice they would offer to students considering a clerkship.
Betsy Farrington ’16
Clerking for Judge Nanette Laughrey, a Federal District Court Judge in the Western District of Missouri (Jefferson City) for one year, and then clerking for Judge Helene White, a U.S. Court of Appeals Judge for the Sixth Circuit (Detroit) for one year.
“First and foremost, since I want to litigate, I wanted the experience of analyzing a case for its merits, for its most compelling arguments and advocacy, and a look into the Judge’s decision making process before I try and advocate myself. Especially at the appellate level, I’m also really looking for the year-long intensive writing work, to become a more succinct and effective writer by way of seeing what separates a good brief from a great brief. Finally, to start my legal career working so closely with judges—professionals at the top of their game—that’s an option unique to the legal field, and it’s an opportunity too good to pass up.
“The faculty here at the College of Law really take an “It Takes a Village” approach to clerkships; knowing that there are factors wholly out of students control, and knowing that clerkship hiring is still a bit of a black box, different professors (some I never even had for class!) helped me by conducting mock interviews, reaching out to colleagues with connections, making phone calls to chambers, extending research opportunities, etc.
“I’ve spoken to many attorneys and professors that clerked, and every single one said it was one of—if not the single—best and most important years of their career, for a host of different reasons. To reach out to that many professionals and receive unanimous praise really tells you how special this experience is. Reach out to recent alumni and professors that have clerked and get a better handle on where to apply (and when), and then apply!”
Abby Twenter ’16
Clerking for Judge Laura Denvir Stith, Missouri Supreme Court, for one year
“I had received a lot of advice from professors that a clerkship would allow me to work closely with a judge and benefit from their own personal expertise. I also read through some of my judge's decisions, and I only applied to this particular judge on the Court because I agreed with most of them. I wanted to create an invaluable relationship.
“I took a less traditional route. I knew (from 1L) that Professor Pea knew an alumni contact in St. Louis that had clerked on the Missouri Supreme Court. I contacted him and he sent my materials directly to Judge Stith. I worked with Career Services to fast-track my application packet because the Judge had already done her interviews and was considering her selection.
“I would advise students to reach out to alumni. U of I has a great alumni network that has always been willing to help me in the process, especially considering I was interested in out-of-state work. Foster relationships with your professors as well because they are essential to the process. Basically, don't be afraid to ask for help.”
Heidi Brady ’16
Clerking for The Hon. Judge E. Grady Jolly of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in Jackson, Mississippi, for one year
“I wanted to pursue a clerkship because it would provide me with an opportunity to survey the law and to understand many areas of the law deeply. I also wanted to be intimately involved with the evolution of the law, especially because it impacts actual people’s lives. Further, the opportunity to work at the elbow of a judge who has shaped the law is one of the greatest privileges anyone could have out of law school.
“The College of Law’s Career Services Office and professors were very helpful in my clerkship search. The Career Services Office originally reached out to me and encouraged me to apply for clerkships. Throughout the process, Jolynn Caroline and Dean Miarecki were always available, providing advice, discussing strategy, and helping prepare me for interviews. Professors were also instrumental in helping me reach my goal. Not only did they write letters of recommendation, but they also provided advice, while some, like Professor Robin Fretwell Wilson, who I worked for as a Research Assistant, reached out to judges on my behalf.
“Focus on your grades and writing. They must be excellent, but you also need to be able to show that you are well-rounded. Make sure that you are checking off boxes that judges look for, such as Law Review. One of the best things that you can do to help yourself is get to know your professors. Try to work closely with at least one (particularly one who has clerked before) and strive to do an outstanding job for them. You want them to be able to give you a sparkling recommendation and to want to go above and beyond to help you. Finally, don’t be too narrow in your clerkship search. If you are open to going to different places and working with different judges, you will have more opportunities and might be pleasantly surprised to find that the best fit for you is not the place or judge you originally imagined.”
Nate Wackman ’15
Currently clerking for Judge Edith Jones on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans, through August of 2016
“The main reason I pursued a clerkship was that my professors raved about the experience. Uniformly, they talked about the skills and insight you gain while clerking. Those seemed like things I wanted, so I decided to apply.
“The experience has been fantastic. I think my writing and analytical abilities have improved a great deal. I have gotten the chance to work on a wide variety of interesting and difficult cases. There is a great camaraderie in chambers between the Judge, my fellow clerks, and Pam, the Judge’s assistant. Finally, Judge Jones is a great boss to work for.
“Career Services was essential to my process. Jolynn and Rebecca not only encouraged me to apply for clerkships, but polished my application so that I truly put my best foot forward. Probably the most important help I received, however, was from Professor Leipold and an alumnus named Andy DeVooght. Without their constant encouragement and excellent advice, I know I would not be clerking.
“Talk to your professors and alumni about clerking. The College of Law community is wonderful and those who are former clerks know a great deal about the process of applying and interviewing. Be persistent and don’t give up. I applied to literally hundreds of judges. Apply as broadly as you can—you never know where you might end up.”
Julia Holcer ’16
Clerking for Chief Justice Rita B. Garman of the Illinois Supreme Court in Danville, Illinois, for two years
“I pursued a judicial clerkship because of the rigorous training opportunity it presents. During law school, I enjoyed legal writing and research. Having externed for Judge Jeffrey Ford, I was exposed to a spectrum of legal issues that I had not previously encountered. My legal writing and research necessarily improved because I had to rely upon these skills to navigate unfamiliar topics instead of background knowledge. I knew that a full-time clerkship would lead to further refinement of my legal writing and research abilities and general knowledge of the law.
“I received help in the application process from a variety of sources. My career counselor helped me assemble my application materials and choose the most appropriate writing sample. Multiple professors provided advice as to what to expect from a judicial clerkship. I received letters of recommendation from two professors and Judge Ford.
“My advice to those considering a clerkship is to extern for a judge during law school. If you love it, then you know you will want to pursue a clerkship. If not, then you still come away from the externship with experience and law school credit.
“I am enthusiastically looking forward to beginning my law career with a judicial clerkship.”
Anna Gotfryd ’16
Clerking in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois for one year, and then clerking in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit for one year.
“I chose to pursue a clerkship because of the incredible experience that I had as a federal judicial extern the summer after my first year of law school. I was fortunate enough to extern for a Judge in the Northern District of Illinois. My summer externship provided me with ample opportunities to witness effective trial advocacy, hone my research and writing skills, and most importantly, to interact with and learn from the Judge. This experience made me realize the unparalleled value of clerkships.
“The University of Illinois clerkship counselor, Jolynn Caroline, and my assigned career counselor, Rebecca Szajna, were both incredible in helping me polish my cover letters, resume, and prepare for interviews by conducting mock interviews with me. Career Services will mail your first 100 applications for free, which is awesome. I also reached beyond Career Services: Ellen Rund of the legal externship program was able to connect me with a former clerk, as well as current and past judicial externs, who provided me with first-hand accounts of working in chambers. Professors - those who wrote me letters of recommendation, connected me with clerks, conducted mock interviews with me, and simply spoke with me offering their advice and encouragement (including our Dean) - were absolutely crucial in the process. Professor Robin Fretwell Wilson, for whom I was a Research Assistant, was eager to call on my behalf, without even asking her to do so, and for that I am very grateful. Finally, I spoke with some of my dearest and most trusted friends who are currently clerking throughout the country, seeking their candid advice.
“I would advise students who are considering a clerkship to give the clerkship application process 100% of their efforts. I think that the value of speaking with former clerks and other students who have or are currently pursing clerkships, and are therefore interviewing, cannot be overstated. I was lucky to have received both positions for which I interviewed, but I certainly did my homework before meeting with each Judge. This included speaking with upwards of ten people who have clerked in the respective district or circuit courts. Naturally, I felt nervous, but simultaneously, I felt prepared and confident, and I knew that both clerkship positions would be excellent fits for me.”