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While summer associates at Texas’ big name law firms are being wined and dined and paid an average of $1,543 a week, 34 law students in the first-ever summer clerkship program at the Texas Office of the Attorney General are witnessing autopsies, touring prisons and earning — at most — $1,821 a month. So why would a student opt to clerk for the attorney general? One reason, says a first-year law student in Attorney General John Cornyn’s new program, is the chance to be in the thick of things. “You’re part of what’s going on,” explains Harvard Law School student Guy Goldberg, who spent the first half of the summer clerking at Cornyn’s office. Goldberg says his assignments have included analyzing news reports, a study on the death penalty in Texas and assisting in audits of death penalty cases that may have been tainted by the testimony of Walter Quijano, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice former chief psychologist who allegedly cited race as a factor in predicting whether a defendant would be a future threat to society. “Our goal was to give the students a lot of hands-on experience,” says Elizabeth Saunders, the attorney general’s recruitment director. Although the AG’s office can’t offer the high-dollar salaries or the kind of perks that summer associates at large firms receive, the agency can provide a wide range of educational experiences, Saunders says. Saunders says a group of students interested in appellate work traveled to New Orleans last month to hear arguments before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in the state’s appeal of the ruling in Hopwood v. Texas, which prohibits racial preferences in law school admissions. Only three of the clerks made the New Orleans trip, but Saunders says most of the students have had opportunities to accompany attorneys from the agency to hearings, depositions, trials and the preparation of witnesses. One law clerk has accompanied expert witnesses on visits to maximum-security prisons to assist with interviews, and others have observed autopsies at the Travis County Medical Examiner’s Office, she says. Saunders says the clerks also participated in a two-day deposition skills training course that involves mock questioning of witnesses played by actors. Each clerk was videotaped and critiqued as part of the exercise. Students selected for the clerkships come from all nine of Texas’s law schools and from Harvard. To be considered for the program, a student must be in the top third of his class, have excellent writing abilities and a demonstrated interest in government or public service, Saunders says. At least two participants in the program wouldn’t be considered typical law students. Saunders says one of the clerks is a professor with a doctorate in nursing and another is a pediatric surgeon who had gotten bored and decided to try the legal profession. The clerkship program has attracted law students’ attention. Despite the relatively low pay — the monthly salary for a first-year law student is only $1,716 — about 200 applications were received from the University of Texas Law School alone, Saunders says. One of the clerks soon will see a significant increase in his paycheck. Goldberg will spend the rest of the summer clerking at Fulbright & Jaworski in New York City, where he admits his pay will be “much more.” Exactly how much more, Goldberg isn’t saying. First Assistant Attorney General Andy Taylor says the clerkship program is just one facet of the recruiting program initiated by Cornyn to attract “the best and brightest legal talent” that Texas and the rest of the nation have to offer. “If you don’t recruit year in and year out, eventually you’re going to become extinct,” Taylor says. The agency launched its Honors Program last year to attract new lawyers willing to work for the attorney general for the first two years after they graduate. Taylor says the program matches the $37,900 annual salary that the Texas Supreme Court pays its briefing attorneys. The program has slots for a dozen law school graduates. Two began last year and another 10 will go to work in the fall, Taylor says. The Fellows Program, another facet of Cornyn’s recruiting effort, also is expected to begin in the fall. That program is aimed at young attorneys willing to leave their firms to work at the AG’s office for two years. Taylor says a graduated salary schedule has been set up for the fellows, beginning at $37,900 for a lawyer who has been with a firm less than 12 months. He says the attorney general can’t compete with the salaries paid by the largest law firms, which offer some beginning lawyers as much as $100,000 a year, but the agency can offer novices a chance to get the kind of legal experience they won’t find anywhere else.

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