It is a wonderful experience to serve as law clerk to a judge. It’s fun to meet other law clerks, judges, and members of the bar. Clerks get to know each other in a variety of ways, forming friendships that can last a lifetime.
Here is a photo from Archives Courtesy of Federal Circuit Historical Society showing the law clerks of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit and their opponents from the Finnegan law firm in a friendly softball game in the summer of 1985.
Many of these individuals have succeeded notably in law practice and in life. Chief Judge Howard T. Markey and at least one other subject of the photo, namely, Andy Nilles, have passed away after productive careers.
I joined the Federal Circuit staff as a law clerk a few weeks after this photo was taken. I was fortunate to clerk for the Honorable Edward S. Smith, a good man and a distinguished jurist. (I joined the softball team, too, though I had absolutely no talent in the sport.)
How many of these clerks can you name?
The softball photo reminds me of a story told to me by one of Judge Smith’s later clerks. After she worked for the Judge for six months, the Judge gave her a performance review.
After praising her work, he pulled out a photo of all the law clerks who worked in the courthouse, and he asked her how many she could identify by name.
She admitted that she couldn’t name many of them.
The Judge told her that the clerks would be her future colleagues at the bar, and he suggested that she should get to know them. She followed his advice, and years later, she was grateful for his helpful suggestion.
With her permission, I told her story at Judge Smith’s official memorial service at the Hugo Black Courthouse in Birmingham, Alabama in 2001. It is published in the “Memorial Court Proceedings for Judge Smith,” Journal of the Federal Circuit Historical Society, Vol. 4, at page 46 (2010).
I don’t mean to suggest that a Federal Circuit clerkship is all fun and games. Quite the contrary: It’s cerebral work. The highlight of activity is oral argument. Most of the rest of the month is devoted to reading briefs, doing legal research, scouring the appendices, and drafting memos and opinions. The phone seldom rings in chambers. The work of a jurist, after all, is to sit in judgment.
To judge is to sit
Judge Edward S. Smith was right: It’s a good idea for lawyers to get know one another. I was reminded of that fact just this morning as I exchanged e-mails with one of the individuals portrayed in the photo above. We’re working together to advance the law in the U.S. and internationally. That’s one reason why I go to bar association meetings like the ABA annual meeting in Chicago this week. Let me know if you’ll be there: Perhaps we can get together.
Judge Smith, Judge Markey, and the many other jurists who have gone on to their eternal reward would be pleased to see us honor their memory with respect for the bench and bar.
Good for lawyers to become acquainted
Do you have thoughts on judicial clerkships, relationships between lawyers, or bar associations? Post a comment.