Clerks are assigned to one judge or justice and are charged with reviewing briefs and conducting research for pending cases.
The ranking system takes into account both the percentage of graduates employed as clerks in any court and the percentage of graduates employed as clerks in Article III courts, which include the U.S. Supreme Court, the 12 U.S. Courts of Appeals, and the 94 U.S. District Courts.
“Clerkship is a terrific training opportunity and exposes a young lawyer to the inner workings of the judicial system,” said Craig Primis, a 1994 Harvard Law School alumnus now employed at Kirkland and Ellis, LLP.
After graduating from law school, Primis clerked for Judge J. Michael Luttig on the U.S. Court of Appeals, 4th Circuit, before taking a clerkship for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Primis noted that clerking is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that can “distinguish and advance one’s legal career.”
According to the rankings, 41.4 percent of 2007 Yale Law School graduates were employed in judicial clerkships, with 37.0 percent of the class clerking in Article III courts. In contrast, 20.6 percent of the Harvard Law Class of 2007 worked in judicial clerkships, with 18.2 percent of the class in Article III courts.
Law schools are often judged on the basis of how many of their graduates clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justices, though they are not formally ranked on this metric. Despite being about a third the size of Harvard Law, Yale currently has 10 clerks at the Court, while Harvard has nine.
This year, due to errors in reporting of data, some law schools were assigned abnormally high rankings—an irregularity that saw the University of North Dakota School of Law placed above Harvard Law School for a short time.
Robert J. Morse, director of data research at U.S. News & World Report, stated that law schools filled out questionnaires mailed to them in late 2008 or early 2009 and that some schools “gave the wrong percentages.” Morse stated that in the case of the University of North Dakota, when the dean realized the information was wrong, she contacted him and asked him to correct it.
Rob Carolin, director of alumni and public relations at the University of North Dakota School of Law, said that the error was completely unintentional and that he was “not sure where the number came from or where the mistake came from.”
Some Harvard Law students expressed doubt about using clerkship percentages to determine rankings.
Nicholas A. Price, a first-year law student, said that “Yale and Stanford are known for attracting people who want to go into academia,” so it would make sense that their students would have a higher interest in clerkships.
Rachel M. Sanchez, also a first-year, stated that Yale and Stanford are “more geared towards having their students become judges,” while Harvard is better known for producing corporate lawyers.
Sanchez also noted that the rankings do not reflect clerkships taken by students after being employed in law firms and that they do not speak to the acceptance rate of clerkship applicants.