U of C Law School feeds high court needs

By Dasha Vinogradsky

Since the 2000 U.S. Supreme Court term, 27 U of C Law School graduates have clerked or are slated to clerk for Justices.

The Law School, which tied with Yale Law School for the top number of graduates receiving clerkships, has been one of the leading law schools in federal clerkships per capita for a number of years, said Dennis Hutchinson, law professor and chairman of the Faculty Clerkship Committee.

Felicia Ellsworth, a 2005 U of C Law School graduate, will start clerking for Justice Stephen Breyer this summer. As a law student, she worked on the Law Review and sat on a mock Supreme Court that drafted an opinion on equal protection jurisprudence, Ellsworth said.

“The fake body of law that we came up with is not something I’ll use in my clerkship,” Ellsworth said. “The fact that to this day I remember each problem that we faced and decision that we made” means that learning to draft the opinion was invaluable.

Eric Murphy, a 2005 law school graduate, will begin his clerkship with Justice Anthony Kennedy this July.

“Working as a research assistant to Professor Richard Epstein was particularly memorable,” Murphy said. “He writes original and thought-provoking articles on a wide variety of topics, which helped me discover new areas of law.”

Supreme Court clerks perform myriad duties for the Justices. Depending on the Justice, some clerks do extensive written work, researching and writing background memoranda. Others help draft or edit opinions and serve as oral sounding boards, Hutchinson said.

Law students who decide they want to clerk for a Supreme Court Justice must go through a long application process beginning in the spring of their junior year. A 45-page “Judicial Clerkship Manual” guides students through the process.

A high-pressure and high-stakes position, the Supreme Court clerkship allows law school graduates to build close relationships, learn how to be effective lawyers, and influence judicial opinions. Clerkships also serve as an important prerequisite to an academic career, according to the manual.

Hutchinson attributes the high number of University of Chicago Law School graduates serving as clerks to the favorable experiences that Justices have with Chicago students. Such experiences lead Justices to accept clerks from certain schools, Hutchinson said.

“I believe Chicago gives law students the analytical skills they need to be effective lawyers,” Murphy said. “Whether debating with professors in the classroom or simply exchanging views with fellow students after class, the intellectual atmosphere at Chicago is alive and well. A student who leaves Chicago truly knows how to ‘think like a lawyer.’”

U of C Law School graduates do not only clerk for Supreme Court Justices. Many graduates clerk for the 1,000 federal judges across the country, each of whom takes on three or four clerks.

In the coming year, “we will have 42 alumni from various years clerking in the federal court, primarily at the court of appeals level,” Hutchinson said.