By Michael Collier
A growing portion of Berkeley Law graduates are winning coveted judicial clerkships, and the class of 2014 is having a banner year with more than 50 students clerking for judges in California and several other states.
Fifty-three members of this year’s class—nearly one in five graduates—will clerk for one or more judges after they graduate, said Eric Stern, director of operations in the Career Development Office. The rate of placement is the highest in recent years.
The jobs have become even more competitive because federal judges have increased their hiring of clerks with one to four years of post-graduate practice experience, Stern said. At the same time, this year’s Berkeley graduates “not only survived the trend, but thrived,” Stern added.
A judicial clerkship is “an invaluable opportunity to see how the law is made from the perspective of a judge as opposed to an advocate,” said Assistant Professor Andrew Bradt, a co-chair with Professor Amanda Tyler of the faculty committee overseeing clerkships. “There is no other way to get that perspective.”
“Beyond that,” Bradt said, a clerkship is a “chance to work closely with an incredibly accomplished person who becomes a mentor for life.”
Berkeley Law graduates from 2014 will work for judges including Alex Kozinski, chief judge of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and Claudia Wilken, chief judge of the U.S. District Court in Northern California.
Graduate Amanda Karl won two clerkships, one this fall with Ninth Circuit Judge Richard Paez and the other with Wilken in 2015. Karl believes the posts will advance her career goal to address systemic social problems as a litigator.
At Berkeley, Karl participated in community law clinics and worked at plaintiff-side litigation firm Lewis Feinberg in the Bay Area. She also served as managing editor of the California Law Review.
“I am excited to learn about how judges make decisions and to gain exposure to different styles of lawyering,” she said. Karl plans to use her clerkship to sharpen her research and writing skills and to connect with former clerks for the judges who are in careers involving social justice issues.
Tyler said one reason why more Berkeley students are landing clerkships is that they are applying to courts across the nation. She credits the career office’s efforts to make clerkships a priority for the school by assisting applicants from start to finish.
Another help, Tyler and Bradt agreed, is that more students are reaching out to Berkeley Law alumni who worked as judicial clerks, getting advice about judges and a sense of how the experience shapes careers.
There is another reason why more Berkeley students are receiving clerkships, Tyler said: It is about their quality and character.
“Our students are succeeding in obtaining great clerkships in larger numbers because members of the federal and state judiciaries increasingly recognize that Berkeley Law students are truly special and that they are graduating with the finest legal training.”
Rukayatu Tijani ’14 is one of three Berkeley Law graduates this year who are heading for clerkships that would make them the first in their families to become professionals. After a year as an associate at Ropes & Gray in New York, she will begin a two-year stint with U.S. District Judge Kimberly Mueller in the Eastern District of California in Sacramento.
The job “will give me the tools needed to change my community in general, as well as the socio-economic circumstances of my family in particular,” she said.
Tijani grew up in a single-parent home in a low-income neighborhood in Brooklyn, N.Y., where her childhood, she said, “was wrought with the constant worry of having ‘more month than money,’” she said.
Her clerkship, she said, will provide her with “the foremost opportunity to actively engage in the process of becoming a better writer, scholar and advocate. Because I will be expected to become intimately familiar with the legal and factual record, I will have the opportunity to figure out what is right for the parties in the dispute.”
The experience, she said, “will help me become the lawyer that I dreamed of being when I was five years old.”