Courting Clerkships Full Report: Findings of the Judicial Clerkship Study

Historic Data: Clerkship Study Findings

Courting Clerkships: The NALP Judicial Clerkship Study

Section 1. Historical Data:
Findings of the Judicial Clerkship Study

Examination of Historical Employment Statistics
Racial and Ethnic Patterns in Judicial Clerks
Gender Distribution in Judicial Clerkships
Analysis by School Characteristics
The Story Behind the Numbers


Examination of Historical Employment Statistics

Since 1974, NALP has collected detailed employment data on the first job taken by new law school graduates. NALP, through its member law schools, gathers information about the J.D. graduates of the ABA-accredited law schools, including standard demographic characteristics, employment status at six to nine months following graduation, and information on the job itself such as employer and job type, location, and starting salary. These data are used to compile an annual extensive report on the employment experiences of new graduates.

For the Class of 1998, the ABA Section of Legal Education reported that 39,452 students earned J.D. degrees from ABA-accredited law schools. Of these students, women comprised 17,659, or almost 45%, and minorities (defined as Native Americans, Africans or African Americans, Asian and Pacific Islanders, and Hispanics of any race) numbered 7,751, or almost 20% of the total. (See Table 1 for ABA demographic data on the law school classes of 1994-1998.) Of the 181 ABA-accredited schools, 173, or 96%, responded to NALP's annual request for data on their graduating class. The 1998 survey data cover a total of 38,003 graduates from the Class of 1998; for a more in-depth discussion of the complete findings of the data on graduate employment, see "Jobs and J.D.'s: Employment and Salaries of New Law Graduates — Class of 1998," National Association for Law Placement (1999).

In the area of judicial clerkships, the employment data are particularly enlightening. Nationwide, approximately one in nine employed members of the Class of 1998 accepted judicial clerkships, corresponding to 11.3% of the reported jobs for this class (including full and part-time jobs). By level of government, out of the 3,598 judicial clerkships for the Class of 1998, 53.7% were in state courts, 38.4% were in federal courts, and 7.2% in local courts. These figures are quite remarkable, particularly given the increasing differential in salary generally between clerkships and other types of employment. The recognized desirability of clerkships stems from the widespread belief that, although salaries are comparatively low, clerkships provide valuable credentials and incomparable experience that can greatly enhance long-term employment options.

The first portion of the NALP study analyzes the retrospective employment data compiled by NALP for the past five years (1994-1998) to determine the differences in the frequency of judicial clerk positions among men, women and graduates of color as federal, state and local clerks, and the frequency of law graduates in these clerkship positions by certain school characteristics.

Racial and Ethnic Patterns in Judicial Clerks

Table 2 compares the racial and ethnic distribution of students accepting clerkships over the last five years, broken down by level of clerkship (federal, state, or local). The data show a trend towards a slightly decreasing percentage of white law clerks in federal courts, from 87.3% in the Class of 1994 to 85.3% in the Class of 1998, and a corresponding increase in the percentage of minority law clerks.

However, not all minorities have fared the same. The Hispanic federal law clerk population has been as high as 3.7% (Class of 1997), but still considerably lower than the 5.4% representation of Hispanics in the general law school population for the same class year. In contrast, Asian-Pacific Islanders in the federal clerk population range from 4.9% in 1996 to 6.9% in 1998, increasingly maintaining a representation equivalent to or even exceeding their numbers in the law school class, which for 1998 graduates was 6.1%.

Across court types, the percentage of African-American law clerks remains fairly constant at around 5% for federal clerks. Within state courts, the percentage hovered around 5.5% until 1998, when it rose to 6.7%. The percentage among local clerks varies the most, but the overall number of clerks represented is quite small. Within state and local court clerkships, the representation of Hispanics is generally similar to that for the federal courts. Overall during this five-year period, the percentage of white state and local clerks exceeds their representation in the classes by three to six percentage points.

The increasing representation of Asian-Pacific Islanders in the federal law clerk population is also revealed in Table 3, which examines the racial and ethnic distribution of federal clerks in the various circuits. It is interesting to note their significant representation over the five-year period in the Ninth Circuit, ranging from 10.7% in 1996 to 14.0% in 1997, which may correspond to the general population demographics of the western region. In the Seventh Circuit, the representation of this group surged from 1997 to 1998, from 3.9% to 10.1%, respectively.

Gender Distribution in Judicial Clerkships

An analysis of gender distribution by type of court over this five-year period (Table 4) shows a greater percentage of men than women as federal clerks, although the gap has decreased slightly through the years. Generally, these figures compare favorably to the general law school population, where women comprise 44.8% of the J.D. candidates in the Class of 1998, according to ABA figures (17,659 out of 39,452).

Most notably, in the state and local courts, the representation of women among the law clerk population is significantly greater than men. Although decreasing from the 1994 figure of 59.2%, the percentage of women as local clerks in 1998 was 54.1%, versus 45.9% for men. For the state courts in 1998, 53.5% of state clerks were women, compared to a figure of 46.4% for men. Thus, the gap between women and men in local and state courts was 8.2 and 7.2 percentage points, respectively, in 1998. In view of the reverse law school demographics, the disproportionate number of women in local and state courts appears particularly striking. For the Class of 1998 as a whole, the percentage of women reporting employment as judicial clerks stands at 14.0%, versus 10.4% for men in the Class of 1998. (See Table 5.)

Since the relative percentage of men serving as federal law clerks has historically been higher than the corresponding number of women in these positions, data on the gender distribution of federal clerkships by circuit has also been compiled. (See Table 6.) Interestingly, vastly different patterns emerge by circuit, both with the relative percentages of men in comparison to women, and with the degree of variation in these distributions year to year.

Analysis by School Characteristics

To observe whether the data demonstrate any employment patterns by school characteristics, two charts that present factors traditionally held to be of particular importance for law school administrators have been prepared.

In a comparison of private and public law schools on the types of clerkships taken by their graduates (Table 7), several clear trends emerge. Federal clerkships comprise a significant percentage of the judicial clerkships taken by graduates of private law schools. For example, 43.6% of the clerkships taken by these graduates in 1998 were at federal courts and 49.4% were at state courts. In contrast, for public schools the distribution is sharply skewed toward state clerkships, 59.6%, versus 31.3% federal clerks for the Class of 1998. Both school types show a relatively small, constant proportion of local clerks.

When the law schools are aggregated according to size of their total J.D. enrollment, other patterns can be observed. (See Table 8.) As a whole, the law schools in all of the size categories report a higher percentage of state clerks than federal clerks, with the smallest portion being local clerks. However, in the smallest school size (500 or fewer students), prevalence of state clerkships significantly outweighs the other levels. For example, the Class of 1998 data show that 64.8% of the clerkships accepted were at state courts, as contrasted with 23.9% federal clerks and 10.9% local clerks. A similar trend is evident for the other years as well. The percentage of federal clerks is highest in the intermediate school size (501-750 students), where it approaches most closely the state clerk population; in 1998, 43.4% of clerkships obtained were federal versus 48.7% for state courts.

The Story Behind the Numbers

After studying the data from the annual employment reports for new law graduates, NALP designed and implemented three comprehensive surveys to elicit critical information from each of the three target groups: law school administrations/career service professionals, third-year students, and alumni law clerks, as discussed above. Responses to these surveys were received from more than 80% of the ABA-accredited law schools and from thousands of law students and alumni. The complete findings of each, encompassing comprehensive quantitative and qualitative data from an extensive sample pool, are presented in the following documents.

Executive Summary and Action Plan
Section 1. Historical Data
Section 2. Findings of the Administrative Survey of the Law Schools
Section 3. Findings of the Law Student Survey
Section 4. Findings of the Alumni Law Clerk Survey
Survey Participants

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