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Julia Kiraly doesn’t fit the profile of a judicial clerk, the Ivy Leaguer who jumps directly from law school to a judge’s chambers. After hopscotching from Venable to Hogan & Hartson and back to Venable in her first four years of practice as a litigator in the District, Kiraly did the unthinkable for many young lawyers looking to scale the law firm ladder: She passed up a growing six-figure salary to clerk for Chief Judge Thomas Hogan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. However unconventional, Kiraly, now entering her second year clerking for Hogan, is emblematic of a growing number of lawyers leaving private practice to clerk on one of the most competitive circuit courts. Though the graying of Supreme Court clerks has been well documented (think Justice Samuel Alito Jr.’s first-term pick of Adam Ciongoli, former senior vice president and general counsel of Time Warner Europe, as his clerk), the increasingly older talent pool applying for federal circuit court clerkships has risen over the past couple of years as lawyers seek to boost their r�sum�s. The trend also reflects the growing number of federal judges who have done an about-face by requiring, or strongly preferring, law clerks who draft opinions and research questions of the law to obtain some real-world experience beyond school. “I think I’m clearly in the growing minority,” says Judge Richard Leon, of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, about requiring his clerks to work at least a year prior to their clerkships. “Each clerk is monitoring as part of his or her job 125 to 150 cases across the entire spectrum of the law. I just find that the law clerks are much more confident, able, and their writing skills have been perfected after working for a couple of years.” A HUGE ADVANTAGE Applying for a clerkship after entering the marketplace hasn’t always been in vogue. For decades, judges relied on the nation’s top law schools to fill clerk positions. Even five years ago it was almost unheard of at most Washington firms to clerk after becoming an associate. But in-house recruiters and hiring partners say they have seen a distinct change in the number of associates exiting for clerkships. “We have at least three and we may have four first-year associates who are leaving to clerk next fall,” says Brian Brooks, a partner in O’Melveny & Myers’ Washington office. “Three years ago it would have been zero.” Brooks, who is hiring partner in the firm’s D.C. office, was the firm’s first nontraditional clerk in 1997 when he left after working for two years to clerk for Judge Danny Boggs on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit. Since then, he’s used his experience to help mentor associates applying for clerkships. “There’s a huge advantage once you’ve practiced for a year in deciding what kind of [clerk] experience you want,” says Brooks. “It’s very tough to choose which judges are right; you have much more of a sense of what areas of law interest you, geography, and things you might have in common with the judge.” O’Melveny isn’t alone. Firms such as Kirkland & Ellis, Arnold & Porter, and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher all say they’ve noticed the increase in judges picking associates from inside their law firms. Instead of viewing associates departing for clerkships as a negative trend, law firms have framed it as a recruiting tool to lure clerks back to firms with incentive packages. Latham & Watkins, for example, typically offers federal judicial clerks hoping to join the firm a one-year credit and a $35,000 signing bonus. Arnold & Porter’s Deborah Feinstein, who is on the firm’s management committee and is a former hiring partner, says the firm usually allows associates to hold an offer with the firm if the judge allows or otherwise tries to recruit them back after their service. The Code of Conduct for Judicial Employees leaves the decision of whether a clerk can hold an offer at a firm up to the individual judge. Although the reasons vary among lawyers looking to exit private practice, many current and former clerks point to paying off student loans and starting at a high government salary as incentives to wait at least a year before applying for a clerkship. “I actually didn’t apply as a third-year mainly because I just couldn’t afford the application process,” says Kiraly, who graduated from William & Mary’s Marshall-Wythe School of Law in 2001 during the associate salary boom. Lawrence VanDyke, a former Gibson, Dunn associate who clerks for Judge Janice Rogers Brown of the D.C. Circuit, says the financial pressures of being married with three kids also played into his waiting a year before applying. Associates also use clerkships as an easy transition to leave a firm or to get expertise in a different practice area. Although Schan Duff, now a fifth-year associate at O’Melveny, returned to the firm after a one-year clerkship with Chief Judge Anthony Scirica on the 3rd Circuit, he says he was able to transition away from litigation and antitrust work into the firm’s financial services and regulatory practice. A COMMON BACKGROUND Judges with prior law firm experience appear more apt to choose associates as clerks. D.C. District Judge Leon, a former partner at Baker & Hostetler and Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease, still hires clerks during their third year of law school but requires them to work a year or two post-law school before coming on board. Judge Rosemary Collyer of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, formerly a partner at Crowell & Moring, also requires at least one year of experience. “I have clerks that come from the courts of appeals, but mostly I have clerks who have spent anywhere from about 18 to 35 months in a law firm environment, and then they decide they want to be a clerk,” says Collyer. Weil, Gotshal & Manges partner Gregory Coleman sees the practical experience as a bonus for judges. Coleman, who clerked for both Judge Edith Hollan Jones of the 5th Circuit and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, accepted a position with Weil before clerking for Jones and then returned to Weil before departing again to clerk for Thomas. “I think I brought a more practical perspective, so when you read things and petitions and other things, I tended to be a little more skeptical of certain types of claims, and also you can kind of see how the procedural aspects build up better,” Coleman says. Collyer agrees. “I spent many years in law firms hiring people right out of law schools, which is what law firms do mostly, and I think that the first year out of law school [they] have a lot of settling in to do,” says Collyer. “If a judge who has been used to hiring out of law school happens to hire somebody with a little more experience, [the judge] discovers what a difference it makes.”
Anna Palmer can be contacted at [email protected].

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