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This article is written is by Wardah Beg, student, Faculty of Law, Aligarh Muslim University.

What is a judicial clerkship

A judicial clerkship, as the name suggests, is a short-term clerkship opportunity in a court, under a judge. Previous judicial clerks have called it a great way to bridge the gap between law school and a litigation career. A judicial clerk is required to directly assist a judge in his day to day matters in the court. The position requires one to research, write and help the judge that he or she is assigned to, with his everyday cases. This allows a law student or a recent pass-out to gain a good, practical experience of how the judges’ minds work. It is, basically, an opportunity that allows one to look closely at the working of both the bar and the bench.

The opportunity, titled ‘Law-clerk-cum-Research-Assistant’ can be found on the Supreme Court’s official website. There are two types of judicial clerks on the basis of their process of selection. A judge is allowed to have two clerks at the most. One is selected through the court’s registry and the other is selected on the discretion of the judge. The standard and type of work is the same for both of them.

The job of a judicial clerk is a contractual position, that ends in one year. The court does not guarantee, and in most of the cases does not provide any opportunity for employment after the period of the contract is over. Nevertheless, a judge can extend a candidate’s clerkship period if his or her work is impressive and is of value.

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In some cases, clerkship was extended for 3-4 years and administration and research related jobs were created thereafter by registry for young lawyers.

What kind of work do you get to do as a judicial clerk

As a judicial clerk, one is required to conduct research, write bench memoranda, draft documents, etc. Previous judicial clerks have claimed that they get the opportunity to draft opinions too, for the judge, and this is a highly rewarding opportunity, since the clerks get to discuss extremely important issues with the judges, and that helps them learn and get to the core of the case.

Moreover, the judicial clerk is required to perform administrative tasks such as docketing, maintenance of the desk and the library of the judge, assembling documents, etc. Therefore, there is no ‘job description’ as such. The day of a judicial clerk generally starts when he or she reaches the court at about 10 am. After a whole day of proofreading, preparing briefs and researching, it ends at about 8 pm. All in all, one should expect a lot of clerical work. The advertisement also specifically provides that “The candidate may be required to work

even at odd hours and on holidays, if so required”.

One main duty is to make sure that there are no errors in the Orders or Judgements as they are typed before they are handed over to the judges since even a small comma can make a drastic change in how the Order or Judgement is read. Secondly, the law clerk is assigned with a lot of research work. This requires you to have very strong research and writing skills, and these will only further be honed as a law clerk. Thirdly, one will be required to read case files and make notes, that summarizes them in a very concise manner. This, as previous law clerks tell, requires a lot of practice.

Why should you do a judicial clerkship

A judicial clerkship is a very practical and rewarding learning opportunity, for the following reasons:

Learning the court procedure

There is no better way for a recent pass-out or a final year law student to learn the court procedure than through a judicial clerkship. There is ample opportunity of interaction with the esteemed judges.

The work of a judicial clerk at a trial court is more demanding and relevant than that of an appellate court, since trial courts are more close to litigation. As fresh cases come in, there is a lot of fact-finding, evidence collecting and settlements to do. A trial court clerk may be required to draft trial briefs, write opinions, etc. One also gets to directly be in contact with the witnesses and attorneys, and keep a close eye at the case. This is very beneficial for students who see themselves as litigators in the coming years. A lot can be learned from observation and interaction.

On the other hand, students interested in researching and writing may find a clerkship in an appellate court more appealing. Since the cases are of appeal, there is a lot of reading and reviewing to do. The judges and the clerks are mostly not in direct contact with the attorneys, except during oral arguments. The clerk, in this case, may be required to review the records from the trial courts, brief the matters to the judge and draft opinions for him.

CV building for higher studies and other opportunities

A judicial clerkship is going to helps you build your CV. While clerkships are not particularly popular in India, and might not really boost your application for an LLM, it is regarded very highly in countries like the USA. Harvard Law’s website clearly maintains that it gives preference to candidates with prior experience as judges/judicial clerks in their country, for their LLM program.

Moreover, a letter of recommendation from a Judge of the Supreme Court or the High Courts will take you a long way. Although judges do not compulsorily write their clerks a letter of recommendation, if your work as a judicial clerk is impressive, the judge you are working under may.  These are of great value when applying for an LLM abroad. Remember, that you cannot rely solely on this. Sometimes you may not be able to procure one.

Understanding how judges function so that you can be a better lawyer

As a judicial clerk, one gets the opportunity to work very closely with the judge. This helps one get a deep insight into how a judge’s mind works, and this can further assist him to become a better-experienced lawyer.

For instance, hearing the court proceedings, one may realize what kind of argument helps one’s case. For a student choosing to go for a litigation career, this may come in handy, especially in the initial years of practice. One gets to learn the strengths and weakness of a case.

Since a variety of cases arrive in the courts, a judicial clerk gets to enhance his knowledge and expertise on widely different areas of law in a short period of time. Law schools never provide this sort of practical experience.

Seeing the top lawyers and their modus-operandi first hand

As mentioned above, the clerk gets not just to study the cases closely, but also hear them. This means the clerk gets the chance to look very closely at the way top lawyers work, how they argue before the court and what strategies they use to destroy the opposite counsel’s case. From observing top lawyers argue, a student fresh out of law school is sure to learn a lot.

Great understanding of the entire legal eco-system – helps to decide future course of action

The opportunity also allows one to explore the field of litigation, right out of law school, and figure out whether a career as a litigator or a judge is something that he or she looks forward to do in his life.

An opportunity to network

During one’s work as a judicial clerk, one gets a good amount of networking opportunities, that can help one in their future career.

There is the day to day interaction with the top lawyers and judges, the most amazing legal minds the country has, and to learn from them.

An opportunity to enhance research skills

A judicial clerk is required to do a lot of research. This helps one pick up a good number of diverse subjects in a short period of time. The ability to speed read, make concise notes and efficiently find out information that seems impossible to find prima facie really develops.  

Stipend

A stipend of Rs. 50,000 is paid to the judicial intern (this can of course change during the course of the coming years, and the stipend for any year is notified in the advertisement for the position on the Supreme Court’s website).

Who can be a judicial clerk – Eligibility criteria

To apply for the position of a judicial clerk, you must:

  • Be a graduate with a Law degree (this can be your three year LLB degree or a five-year degree) from a University or College recognized by the Bar Council of India.
  • Candidates studying in the 5th year of their law course are also eligible to apply (as long as they are able to furnish proof of acquiring their law degree by the time of the interview).
  • Have basic knowledge of computers, and be skilled in using legal research tools like SCC Online, Manupatra, WestLaw, LexisNexis, etc.
  • Be more than 18 years and less than 27 years of age.

How to apply for a judicial clerkship

The notice for law-clerk-cum-research-assistant vacancies is released in the month of January, every year on the Supreme Court’s website. The last date to apply is generally the end of February. The application is online and costs Rs. 200 + transaction charges.

The period of internship is from the first of July to the beginning of Supreme Court’s Summer Vacation next year (in the month of May).

Here are the steps to apply for a judicial clerkship:

At the Supreme Court

To apply for a judicial clerkship in the Supreme Court, go to the SC’s website, and check recent notifications. The application is released in the Month of January every year. The results are generally declared within a month. Candidates then receive a notification inviting them for interview.

At High Courts

The process of application is fairly similar in the case of High courts. The High courts release a notification every year for positions by various names like ‘Judicial Assistant’, ‘Judicial Clerk’, ‘Research Assistant’, ‘Law Researcher’ etc. Please check the High Court’s website you want to apply to, for positions. Otherwise, contact the registry of the High Court.

Exams for Supreme Court judicial clerkship position:

There are two stages of the selection process:

  1. Written Test
  2. Interview

How to prepare for the written test

According to the SC website, the selection is based on the basis of a written test. On the basis of the marks secured by a candidate in the test, a merit list is drawn and candidates are shortlisted for an interview (the number of candidates shortlisted for the interview is three times of the number of available positions).

The written test is conducted in Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Kolkata. The applicants are

required to choose their Test Centre at which they want to appear while filling the online form.

  • The test comprises of 150 questions. There is one mark for a correct answer and a minus 0.25 for every incorrect answer.
  • Minimum qualifying marks for the Test are 60%  in aggregate with minimum 50% marks for each of the two Sections.
  • The two sections are General Section and the Law section (not necessarily named as such)

Section I is of 50 marks, and it has questions on:

  • General English
  • General Awareness

Section II is of 100 marks, with questions on:

  • Indian Constitution
  • Indian Penal Code
  • Indian Evidence Act
  • Civil Procedure Code
  • Criminal Procedure Code

Therefore, as is clear from the pattern, you just have to be aware and on the lookout for general current affairs, work on your writing skills, and English grammar and be well versed with your subjects in Law school.

How to prepare for the interview

The interview for the clerkship is taken by esteemed judges of the court. The interview is mainly about the claims made in a person’s CV, the internships done throughout law school, subject interests, etc. The interview carries about 30 marks and the minimum qualifying marks is 15.

How to excel as a judicial clerk

Put in hard work, and realize the gravity of the work you are doing. Make the most out of it by asking questions and asking for advice. Make sure you put in your best, as you are assisting the highest courts of the country in matters that are extremely significant.

A judicial clerkship, as the name suggests, is a short-term clerkship opportunity in a court, under a judge. Previous judicial clerks have called it a great way to bridge the gap between law school and a litigation career. A judicial clerk is required to directly assist a judge in his day to day matters in the court. The position requires one to research, write and help the judge that he or she is assigned to, with his everyday cases. This allows a law student or a recent pass-out to gain a good, practical experience of how the judges’ minds work. It is, basically, an opportunity that allows one to look closely at the working of both the bar and the bench.

The opportunity, titled ‘Law-clerk-cum-Research-Assistant’ can be found on the Supreme Court’s official website. There are two types of judicial clerks on the basis of their process of selection. A judge is allowed to have two clerks at the most. One is selected through the court’s registry and the other is selected on the discretion of the judge. The standard and type of work is the same for both of them.

The job of a judicial clerk is a contractual position, that ends in one year. The court does not guarantee, and in most of the cases does not  provide any opportunity for employment after the  period of contract is over. Nevertheless, a judge can extend a candidate’s clerkship period if his or her work is impressive and is of value.

In some cases, clerkship was extended for 3-4 years and administration and research related jobs were created thereafter by registry for young lawyers.

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