Judicial Co-ops and Clerkships: Exploring Law Through the Eyes of a Judge

By Melissa Tapply, Judicial Co-op and Clerkship Advisor, Center for Co-op & Professional Advancement

Are you looking for a co-op where you can sharpen your research, writing and analytical skills while exploring different areas of the law and gaining exposure to the court system? Read on to find out how to find it…  

Consider a judicial co-op. A judicial internship is an excellent way to hone your core legal skills while experiencing judicial decision-making first hand. Judicial interns work closely with judges to assist with their caseloads. Assignments vary depending on the judge and type of court, but interns can expect to gain plenty of research and writing experience, knowledge of local practice and procedure, and exposure to different areas of the law. In addition, judicial interns have the invaluable opportunity to view the law through the eyes of a judge and see the inner workings of the judicial system.

Judicial co-ops can benefit almost all students. No matter what your post-graduate aspirations are, working for a judge for one of your co-ops is an excellent way to build your legal skills, learn litigation and appellate practice, make valuable connections and develop solid references. And yes, even if you are heading to a transactional practice or a policy position after graduation, a judicial co-op is a highly valuable behind-the-bench education. For transactional practice, learning how judges view business documents and contracts helps attorneys better advise and represent their clients.  For policy work, seeing how judges interpret legislation and utilize legislative history in their decisions improves legislative drafting and lobbying efforts.

Judicial co-ops also can be stepping stones to post-graduate clerkships.

Many judges will consider hiring interns as post-graduate clerks, and those who don’t will often give references to their colleagues for outstanding co-op students. Like judicial interns, post-graduate law clerks work closely with judges performing research and writing, playing a significant role in the decision-making process. Law clerks typically hold one or two year terms. The positions are highly regarded by employers.

Caitlin Perry, NUSL 2015, began to develop an interest in judicial clerkships while she was interning at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans for her second co-op. Her co-op confirmed how much she enjoyed research, writing and appellate work, compelling her to apply for post-graduate clerkships. She was hired as a clerk at Alaska Court of Appeals where she worked exclusively on criminal cases, her main area of interest. Caitlin had never been to Alaska, but she was up for the adventure. She had an incredible experience during her one-year term, not only with the interesting and rigorous work she was doing for the court, but also exploring Anchorage and its remote communities.

As her clerkship in Alaska was coming to an end, Caitlin decided to apply for another clerkship with Massachusetts Superior Court where she currently works with multiple justices at the trial level on a variety of civil and criminal matters.  She reports, “So far, the diversity of the issues and the faster pace of the work has been as enjoyable as I’d hoped. Working for the Massachusetts trial court has also been an opportunity to reacquaint myself with the Massachusetts legal community and pursue opportunities closer to home.”

A variety of different courts hire interns and law clerks.

             Judicial co-ops and clerkships are available in federal and state courts, at both the trial and appellate level. In addition, there are opportunities in specialty courts and administrative courts handling such topics as land; family and probate; environment; water; bankruptcy; international trade; federal claims; veteran¹s appeals; immigration; labor; housing; juvenile; energy; mining; disability; special education; discrimination, and tax.  Working in such a court provides the opportunity for you to confirm an interest in a certain practice area while learning substantive law and procedure.

If you are considering a judicial co-op or clerkship, faculty and staff are here to help!

CCOPA advisors can get you pointed in the right direction. Melissa Tapply is an advisor whose position is dedicated to helping students secure internships and post-graduate positions in courts. Your professors also are an excellent resource for you. Many of them have had experience working in courts. They can help you select your best writing sample and provide recommendations that you will need for your applications, both for co-ops and postgraduate clerkships.

NUSL has a Clerkship Committee comprised of faculty members, CCOPA staff and student representatives. We work to identify clerkship opportunities, develop programming for students, foster connections in the judiciary and support students in building strong clerkship applications.

Please connect with us to learn more about these exciting and fulfilling opportunities in the courts. We look forward to working with you!


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