Law Clerk

Law Clerk in the United States

A young lawyer who provides key support services for a judge. Law clerks function at all levels of the Judiciary (Judicial Personnel issue), but are most important at the appellate level. Illustrative are the several functions law clerks perform for the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court. The most critical is the screening of petitions from parties seeking review of their cases by the Court. The law clerks summarize the information in the petitions and court records, an invaluable function given the number of cases seeking review. Law clerks also do legal research on the issues contained in the cases selected for review. Law clerks are often given responsibility for drafting the opinions that accompany the Court’s decisions. Each of the nine Supreme Court justices has three or four law clerks. The clerks are usually recent graduates of prestigious law schools. Law clerks generally have served as clerks with a lower federal court prior to appointment with the Supreme Court. Law clerks remain with a justice only a year or two before moving on.

See Also

Judge (Judicial Personnel issue).

Analysis and Relevance

The impact of law clerks on the decision making of Supreme Court justices is considerable, but it varies with each justice. Some justices delegate a great deal of work to law clerks while other justices retain a greater amount for their own attention. It is clear, however, that law clerks have an impact in two important ways. First, justices depend on law clerks to screen requests for review of cases by the court. The sheer volume of cases precludes the justices from screening them all. Justice Stevens, for example, has his law clerks review all the petitions and pass on to him only the most substantial ones. He estimates this to be less than 25 percent of the total number of petitions. Other justices personally review greater numbers of petitions themselves, but consult extensively with their law clerks as they do so. Second, the availability of law clerks to outline or draft opinions encourages justices to file greater numbers of concurring or dissenting opinions. Furthermore, these individual opinions are likely to be more comprehensive and complex because of the availability of such high quality legal assistance.

Notes and References

  1. Definition of Law Clerk from the American Law Dictionary, 1991, California

Law Clerk: Open and Free Legal Research of US Law

Federal Primary Materials

The U.S. federal government system consists of executive, legislative, and judicial branches, each of which creates information that can be the subject of legal research about Law Clerk. This part provides references, in relation to Law Clerk, to the legislative process, the federal judiciary, and the primary sources of federal law (cases, statutes, and regulations).

Federal primary materials about Law Clerk by content types:

Laws and Regulations

US Constitution
Federal Statutory Codes and Legislation

Federal Case Law and Court Materials

U.S. Courts of Appeals
United States courts of appeals, inclouding bankruptcy courts and bankcruptcy appellate panels:

Federal Administrative Materials and Resources

Presidential Materials

Materials that emanate from the President’s lawmaking function include executive orders for officers in departments and agencies and proclamations for announcing ceremonial or commemorative policies. Presidential materials available include:

Executive Materials

Federal Legislative History Materials

Legislative history traces the legislative process of a particular bill (about Law Clerk and other subjects) for the main purpose of determining the legislators’ intent behind the enactment of a law to explain or clarify ambiguities in the language or the perceived meaning of that law (about Law Clerk or other topics), or locating the current status of a bill and monitoring its progress.

State Administrative Materials and Resources

State regulations are rules and procedures promulgated by state agencies (which may apply to Law Clerk and other topics); they are a binding source of law. In addition to promulgating regulations, state administrative boards and agencies often have judicial or quasi-judicial authority and may issue administrative decisions affecting Law Clerk. Finding these decisions can be challenging. In many cases, researchers about Law Clerk should check state agency web sites for their regulations, decisions, forms, and other information of interest.

State rules and regulations are found in codes of regulations and administrative codes (official compilation of all rules and regulations, organized by subject matter). Search here:

State opinions of the Attorney General (official written advisory opinions on issues of state law related to Law Clerk when formerly requested by a designated government officer):

Tools and Forms

Law in Other Regions

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