Preparing for Federal Judicial Clerkships at Notre Dame

Each year, a number of Notre Dame Law School graduates serve as judicial clerks in federal and state courts across the nation.  Among the most prestigious employment opportunities for a new or recent law school graduate, clerkships provide lawyers with the rare opportunity to participate in the judicial decision-making process from inside the court system.

The Notre Dame Law School maintains a strong commitment to preparing students for federal judicial clerkships through its academic programs.  In particular, the Program of Study in Public Law provides a plan of study for students interested in judicial clerkships, as well as government lawyering, criminal justice, constitutional litigation, administrative regulation and adjudication, public policy, and other public law fields.

In addition, Notre Dame law students routinely work one-on-one with faculty members in independent study projects to prepare for clerkships.  Called “directed readings,” these for-credit opportunities allow students to work closely with a faculty member with clerkship experience and expertise in related fields of law.  Over 20 Notre Dame faculty members have clerked for federal judges, including ten members who have clerked for justices of the Supreme Court of the United States.

Professor A.J. Bellia, who clerked at all three levels of the federal judiciary (the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals, and the District Court), works each year with students preparing for federal judicial clerkships.  “Typically, I have a student work on cases that are currently pending before the court to which the student is heading.  Thus, a student heading to a Court of Appeals may draft a bench memorandum, an opinion resolving the appeal, and a dissent from that opinion—at the same time that the case is proceeding through the actual court system.  In this way, the student experiences the true work of the court, no holds barred.”

Along the way, Professor Bellia pushes students to take both their analytical skills and their writing abilities to the next level.  “I heavily edit student drafts, even when they don’t need it.  Lawyers never stop sharpening their skills, and I push our students to push themselves to develop habits of continual improvement.”

For Professor Bellia, the rewards are well worth the effort.  “It has been a privilege to work with students preparing for clerkships at all levels of the judiciary.  The true reward comes when we see our graduates successfully complete their clerkships—no longer students, but colleagues—well-prepared to do not just well, but good.”