Related: The Exacting Merrick Garland—As Told By His Clerks

To prep them for an interview, “I tell my students to be themselves,” Starr said. “Judge Garland, I think, can see through someone who’s putting on a show.”

It’s not unusual for Garland to call every professor on a student’s transcript, said several former clerks, including Nora Freeman Engstrom, a Stanford Law School graduate, now professor. She clerked for Garland beginning in 2003 and now recommends students to the judge, she said. He has hired 14 clerks from Stanford Law from 1999 to 2015.

Garland the feeder judge

Garland’s vetting diligence and gravitation to a small law school pool to find clerks sets many young lawyers up for a Supreme Court clerkship. Forty-six have moved from Garland’s to a Supreme Court justice’s chambers, and six of those lawyers served two justices.

Garland’s influence as a feeder judge has existed since he started on the bench in 1997, yet it took off along with the Roberts court. Beginning in 2006, and for four consecutive years thereafter, every Garland clerk went on to serve a Supreme Court justice. The streak occurred again for the four Garland clerks in 2011-12 and for the four in 2013-14.

“I think they felt that Judge Garland did such due diligence that they trust him,” said David Pozen, a Columbia Law School professor who clerked for Garland and for Justice John Paul Stevens. Pozen’s three D.C. Circuit co-clerks in 2008-09 moved on to Justices Sandra Day O’Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer.

Boies, Schiller & Flexner partner Karen Dunn, of the 2006 clerk phenomenon, remembers telling Garland in her D.C. Circuit clerkship interview she wasn’t interested in applying to the Supreme Court. She changed her mind in the middle of her year working for him, then landed a Breyer clerkship.

“It clearly didn’t matter to [Garland] whether or not I wanted to apply. He hired me anyway,” she said.

The connection between Garland and certain Supreme Court justices is stronger than others: Breyer took 12 of Garland’s former clerks. Justices Elena Kagan and Stevens have both worked with eight former Garland clerks; Ginsburg, seven. Four lawyers each have worked for Justices Anthony Kennedy and Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. after their Garland clerkships. Justice Sonia Sotomayor has worked with two former Garland clerks.

However, the late Justice Antonin Scalia and Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito Jr.—all conservative justices—hired none of Garland’s clerks.

Eleven years ago, David Cooper was the first Garland clerk to work for Kennedy, who is considered one of the conservative members of the Supreme Court.

“I was definitely aware that Garland never sent anyone to Kennedy. It’s hard to get that first one,” Cooper, now a Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan of counsel, said. “I definitely felt glad that Garland was sending me and hopefully others in the future beyond quote-unquote liberal justices.” Cooper said he never thought of Garland as either liberal or conservative.

Where they are now

Although politics among clerks might not matter to Garland, public service does. The judge valued the time he spent as a federal prosecutor and counseled his subordinates to work in government, several of his former clerks said.

“I only went into government service because of Judge Garland,” said law professor Craig Green, who after his clerkship worked at the Department of Justice and completed the prestigious Bristow Fellowship, which allows young lawyers to work in the solicitor general’s office. Garland has been a stepping stone for a handful of Bristow Fellows.

At least six former Garland clerks now are appellate attorneys in various federal Justice Department divisions and at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Seventeen former clerks work at Main Justice or in U.S. attorneys’ offices.

Sixteen teach at law schools, while 20 former Garland clerks currently work for law firms. (The map below shows where Garland’s former clerks reside now.)

Paul Schlaud, a partner at Reeves & Brightwell in Texas and a 1999-2000 Garland clerk, admitted “I’m probably a chambers disappointment a little bit. I try to take pro bono. I don’t think I’ve had a conversation about my career where he hasn’t pushed me to think about that.”

Among the law firm landing pads, Jenner & Block has most consistently collected former Garland clerks. The firm has seven at its Washington office, and four additional former clerks worked there previously.

“I think Jenner is a place that shares a lot of the same values that the judge does. It’s sort of a commitment to excellence, as well as a commitment to service and pro bono work,” said partner Jessica Ring Amunson, a former Garland clerk now on the firm’s hiring committee. Other law firms that employ multiple former Garland clerks include O’Melveny & Myers, with three lawyers from the judge, and Hogan Lovells, with two.

Arnold & Porter, where Garland was a partner, has fewer connections to the judge’s clerks than other firms. Three former clerks have worked there, with only one, associate Elisabeth Theodore, currently at the firm.

Christopher Rhee, now a freelance writer who does not practice law, recalled looking for a private-practice job after his Garland clerkship and five years at work for the government. Arnold & Porter wasn’t hiring midlevel associates, yet Garland called the firm and asked its managers to hire Rhee, he said. He stayed at the firm for nine years and was a partner before he left in 2014.

Even with their focus on professional achievement, former Garland clerks have felt his support in their nontraditional life decisions. Nearly every clerk the NLJ spoke with said they wouldn’t make a career decision without first talking it through with Garland.

Meaghan VerGow, who clerked for Garland in 2004-2005, moved to Bahrain with her husband, on active duty for the Navy. She stopped practicing law for two years, but only after she asked Garland what he thought.

“I think I was getting some bad advice at the time on whether it was feasible or possible,” VerGow said. Garland “came back with examples of other people who had made similar choices and prospered” professionally after coming back.

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