Types of Positions
Clerkships are typically positions for a specific judge. Because these positions involve working in a particular judge's chambers on a daily basis and assisting the judge with his or her caseload, the positions are commonly referred to elbow law clerks or personal law clerks. While these clerks comprise a large percentage of the available positions, the other types of positions explained below should not be overlooked.
Staff or research attorneys work for the court as a whole, not individual judges. These positions are most common in state and federal appellate courts. Although some courts only hire experienced attorneys for these positions, many courts (such as the New York Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, and Second Circuit) hire recent law school graduates. These positions vary by court. Staff attorneys are often responsible for researching and drafting bench memoranda for substantive motions heard by panels of judges and pro se appeals, along with administrative duties such as reviewing correspondence. Staff attorney positions are usually for a one- or two-year term, but can also be renewable for a longer period.
Pro se Clerk
A pro se clerk is a type of staff attorney position common in the federal district courts. These clerks usually work within the staff attorney office or a separate office and handle pro se matters such as civil rights complaints, prisoner habeas corpus petitions, employment discrimination complaints, social security disability appeals, and other cases in which the plaintiff is not represented by an attorney. They are typically responsible for screening the court's pro secases and determining which cases do not have merit. Typical duties include drafting proposed sua sponte dismissals (initiated by the court), researching and drafting advisory memoranda, and serving as the court liaison with litigants. Candidates with a public interest background or strong interest in constitutional law are often preferred. As with other clerkships, these positions can be either term or permanent positions.
Senior Judges' Clerk or Pool Clerk
In some courts, judges collectively hire clerks to work for all of the judges or a group of judges, rather than each judge hiring his/her own clerk. For example, at D.C. Superior Court, two or three clerks, usually referred to as "senior judges' clerks", are hired to work for a group of senior judges. The judges within Connecticut Superior Court also employ a group of clerks, usually referred to as "pool clerks", to work for the court as a whole. Typically, these clerks have more personal contact with the individual judges than staff attorneys. Because the judges (whether senior or active) rely exclusively on these clerks to perform duties in chambers, these clerks usually have the same responsibilities as elbow law clerks and are exposed to the decision-making process within several judges' chambers.
Career or Permanent Clerk
Some judges and courts hire "career" or "permanent" clerks for an indefinite period of time. Often these positions are filled by attorneys with several years of experience, but career positions exist for recent graduates as well. Although these positions are difficult to identify, you can specifically search on the Federal Law Clerk Information System for "career" clerkships and some court websites (such as the California state court system website) list available positions.
There are several categories of positions that are referred to as "temporary" clerks. If a current clerk leaves during the term due to personal reasons, the judge or court will hire a "temporary" law clerk for the remainder of the term. Additionally, a "temporary" law clerk is a distinct type of position within the federal judiciary that is defined as an appointment approved by the circuit judicial council with a specific termination date. Although this type of temporary law clerk has the same duties as an elbow law clerk, clerks in these positions for one year or less are usually not eligible for health and life insurance.