Jump to content

Clerkship AM(A)A


BlockedQuebecois
 Share

Recommended Posts

BlockedQuebecois
  • Lawyer
Canadian Law Forum logo
This post was recognized by the mods

Thank you for taking the time to share your knowledge and experience with the forum community!

I have been meaning to offer to field questions about clerkships for a while, but unfortunately have been busy with some hearings lately and didn't get the chance before (most?) applications closed. With that said, someone recently PMed me some questions about clerking and I thought it was worth sharing my answers more broadly (with their permission to include their questions as quoted). 

There are obviously questions I can't answer, including specific questions about my relationships with specific judges and anything about a specific cases, but I am happy to field questions about the application process, the interview process, and clerking in general. 

In terms of my experience, I interviewed at all three levels of court in four different jurisdictions and clerked at an appellate court, so I feel qualified to comment on interviews and the appellate clerkship experience generally. I also am close friends with several people who clerked at the trial and SCC levels, so I may be able to answer questions about those courts (but equally may not, and defer to anybody who clerked there). 

Now that disclaimers are out of the way, below are my answers to the questions I was PMed and please feel free to ask me (almost) anything. 

Quote

- If they exist at all, what are some things I could do to increase my chances--other than pulling good grades generally--of clerking?

In general, I think there are three things students can do to greatly increase their chances of clerking: (i) be on your school's law journal; (ii) work as a research assistant to a professor at your school; and (iii) moot (competitively or otherwise). 

The first two principally help by demonstrating legal aptitude (although to be honest, I never felt law journal required that much legal aptitude) and by allowing you to work closely with faculty who can serve as a reference for you. After your grades, I tend to think your reference letters are the most important part of your application. Everyone applying for clerkships will have a polished resume and cover letter. But there is a marked difference between the reference letter written by an established professor that knows you well, likes you, and thinks you're smart and one in whose first-year property class you got an A. 

Competitive mooting helps in much the same way, though it will depend on who your moot coaches are to an extent. If your moot coaches aren't one of your references or you only do non-competitive moots, you're still demonstrating a real interest and commitment to litigation, which is helpful.

With that said, don't panic if you do something other than RA work during your 1L summer or don't get on the journal or a moot team. All three are far from a prerequisite, and depending on your specific circumstances your alternative path may even lead to a better shot at clerking come 2L/3L. 

Quote

- What, if anything, do you feel like you got from the experience other than the connections you made/prestige of doing it in the first place?

I think clerking leads to an underrated increase in your advocacy skills (or at least, I underrated it). Clerks at all levels see and read a lot of terrible advocacy, and they also see some of the best advocacy. They also get the unique opportunity to speak with judges about how different advocacy styles come across, what is and isn't effective, and all sorts of other details that most lawyers will never be privy to. It's one thing to read a factum and think "this is a really well put point". It's another to read a factum and see how a lawyer's explanation lodges itself in the decision-maker's mind. 

In addition, while this is a bit of a "prestige" thing, clerking is an amazing career reset. From the SCC or appellate courts you can quite easily transition into most areas of law, even if you didn't have a demonstrated interest in them prior to law school. Firms are willing to take a chance on former clerks, and the variety of work you do makes it easy to spin a (truthful) yarn about how you no longer want to work at Blakes and want to do immigration law, or how your clerkship gave you a fresh appreciation for commercial litigation and you think Osler is the perfect place to do it. Some of my colleagues and friends did complete 180s out of clerking compared to their summer or articling gigs. 

Quote

- Did the Osgoode CDO help you out to any significant degree? What about your professors?

Osgoode's CDO was quite helpful with the clerking process, but I was also a strong candidate. In my year (and other years while I was there) Osgoode's dean sent a letter to competitive applicants inviting them to apply and offering to review application materials. Additionally, they invited us all to a clerkship session at which clerks and judges discussed the process. I found the comments on my materials quite helpful.

I know some students who were more fringe-candidates that felt Osgoode ignored them a tad, which is probably fair. Osgoode has its own interests in mind when trying to get students to land clerkship gigs, and those interests won't always perfectly align with any individual student's interests.

My professors were also very helpful, but I am also quite close with the ones who wrote my reference letters so I am hesitant to extrapolate from that experience.

Quote

- Is there anything I haven't asked that I probably should know at this point?

I think an underrated part of any job application process is being able to tell a story, and clerkship applications are no different. It's helpful to be able to craft a story about why you want to clerk in a compelling manner. 

Some people will read that advice and think they need to focus their entire law school experience on building a story about why clerking is their dream. But I think the key to being able to tell that story is just doing a lot of things and seeing what you like about them. Take courses that interest you, apply for jobs that you think will challenge you and make you grow, work in your school's clinic or take an intensive. I have generally found that if you are enjoying what you do and you have a sincere interest in the position, the story tends to figure itself out. 

  • Like 14
  • Thanks 3
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Ryn pinned this topic
hellothere
  • Law Student

@BlockedQuebecois Thanks for starting this thread! 🙂

I have a couple questions concerning the interview process.

1) How much notice do the courts generally give you in terms of letting you know if you will be interviewed? Does it vary from court to court? 

2) I know clerkship interviews are completely different from OCIs. I assume they are more substantive in nature. Would you be able to describe generally what first- and second-round interviews entail? I would also appreciate any advice you'd be willing to give on how to prepare for these interviews (if possible).

Edited by hellothere
Link to comment
Share on other sites

BlockedQuebecois
  • Lawyer
On 1/20/2022 at 2:36 AM, hellothere said:

1) How much notice do the courts generally give you in terms of letting you know if you will be interviewed? Does it vary from court to court? 

It definitely varies from court to court, but in general I found the timelines relatively tight (especially if you have to travel). From memory, I think I got the invite to the ONCA interview two Fridays before interview week, while the interview invite for both the BCCA interviews were ~ten days in advance. For the other courts I don't really recall how much warning there was. 

On 1/20/2022 at 2:36 AM, hellothere said:

2) I know clerkship interviews are completely different from OCIs. I assume they are more substantive in nature. Would you be able to describe generally what first- and second-round interviews entail?

This varies a lot by court. 

The Ontario Court of Appeal has a single interview conducted by two judges, legal counsel, and a law clerk. The interview involves discussion of your resume, cover letter, background etc. for about one-third to half of the interview, followed by discussion of one of two prepared cases that they put on their website. 

The BCCA has two. The first interview is "scripted", in that legal counsel has a list of questions they need to ask you and there won't be any back and forth (generally). The second is much more informal. Pre-covid, you would go to the court, get taken to the CJ's office then interviewed by a panel of judges (three or four, if I recall correctly). The discussion was wide ranging and focussed on current issues in the law, your resume, cases you agreed or disagreed with, etc. 

The SCC panel interview was a bit of a blend of the two stages at the BCCA. They clearly had a list of questions they needed to ask, but there was more discussion and back and forth on the topics raised. 

The interviews with individual judges at the SCC and FCA are so judge-driven that there's not much to be gained from discussing them. 

Quote

I would also appreciate any advice you'd be willing to give on how to prepare for these interviews (if possible).

To be honest, I'm not sure there's all that much preparation you can do. You should obviously be up to date on current events, hot topics in the legal community, and recent decisions from the court you're interviewing at plus the SCC. For ONCA, you obviously need to know the case you've briefed very well. But the interviews are so wide ranging that it's impossible to be truly fully prepared for them. 

At the end of the day, judges are just looking for someone personable, smart, and principled with the type of intellectual curiosity they generally have. They (or their colleague) will have to work closely with the clerk every day for a year, and they will probably be in touch with that person for many years after that. I think demonstrating that you have those characteristics is much more important than the substance of what you say. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

capitalttruth
  • Law Student

With respect to being privy on what is good and bad advocacy, would you get the same sort of experience clerking at a trial level court such as the FC or one of the Superior Courts?

Edited by capitalttruth
Link to comment
Share on other sites

BlockedQuebecois
  • Lawyer
19 minutes ago, capitalttruth said:

With respect to being privy on what is good and bad advocacy, would you get the same sort of experience clerking at a trial level court such as the FC or one of the Superior Courts?

Yes, although what constitutes good advocacy and bad advocacy are a bit different at different levels of court.

At the trial court level for most hearings judges don't have a lot of time to read in to a case, and so it's much more important to walk judges through the facts, bring them to the documents, etc. It's generally fairly rare for the law to be in issue at the trial court level, and it's the facts and the application of the law that matter. 

In contrast, appellate judges have a lot more time to read in and therefore will know the facts and have reviewed the key documents cited in your factum, as a general rule. So it's much more important to focus on the law and the alleged errors by the trial judge. 

  • Like 3
Link to comment
Share on other sites

capitalttruth
  • Law Student
41 minutes ago, BlockedQuebecois said:

Yes, although what constitutes good advocacy and bad advocacy are a bit different at different levels of court.

At the trial court level for most hearings judges don't have a lot of time to read in to a case, and so it's much more important to walk judges through the facts, bring them to the documents, etc. It's generally fairly rare for the law to be in issue at the trial court level, and it's the facts and the application of the law that matter. 

In contrast, appellate judges have a lot more time to read in and therefore will know the facts and have reviewed the key documents cited in your factum, as a general rule. So it's much more important to focus on the law and the alleged errors by the trial judge. 

I know in the past you've mentioned that successful students will generally have an A average, but what if the student has significant research experience? Such as multiple RA'ships, law review, publications in journals? If a student has, say, an A- average instead of an A average, would that student still have a decent chance at an offer depending on how their interview goes?

I currently have an A- average but I do have multiple RA'ships and am on the law review. I am working with one of my profs to publish a paper I wrote for them last year.

Edited by capitalttruth
Link to comment
Share on other sites

BlockedQuebecois
  • Lawyer

I assume you're asking about the appellate level, since an A- would generally be competitive for trial level clerkships.

At the appellate level, sure, anything is possible. I don't want to discourage anyone from applying. 

The thing is that when you're looking at students who have appellate clerkships, it's not that they either have stellar grades or strong applications. It's that they have stellar grades and strong applications.  My clerkship class had three gold medallists, and I would be surprised to learn that anyone I clerked with finished outside the top ~5% of their class. I would be shocked if anyone was outside the top 10%. I was probably one of only a handful of clerks who hadn't published something or had a paper accepted for publication by the time we were clerking. At least 75% of the people I clerked with had RA experience. 

So while I think everyone who is interested should generally shoot their shot—for most courts, you can only apply twice—it's likely a good idea to manage your expectations and have a realistic understanding of the accomplishments of your peers. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

capitalttruth
  • Law Student
4 minutes ago, BlockedQuebecois said:

I assume you're asking about the appellate level, since an A- would generally be competitive for trial level clerkships.

At the appellate level, sure, anything is possible. I don't want to discourage anyone from applying. 

The thing is that when you're looking at students who have appellate clerkships, it's not that they either have stellar grades or strong applications. It's that they have stellar grades and strong applications.  My clerkship class had three gold medallists, and I would be surprised to learn that anyone I clerked with finished outside the top ~5% of their class. I would be shocked if anyone was outside the top 10%. I was probably one of only a handful of clerks who hadn't published something or had a paper accepted for publication by the time we were clerking. At least 75% of the people I clerked with had RA experience. 

So while I think everyone who is interested should generally shoot their shot—for most courts, you can only apply twice—it's likely a good idea to manage your expectations and have a realistic understanding of the accomplishments of your peers. 

Fair enough. I'm happy where I am and what I've achieved so far, but I can't have everything and that's OK. I'm going to see if I can get my average up to an A and then apply twice to any available appellate clerkships. I'm also going to try my hand at the Federal Court. I understand clerks who did their clerkship at the trial level aren't as much of a hot commodity in the legal world as appellate clerks, but I'd still imagine trial clerking teaches some important career lessons.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

QMT20
  • Lawyer
On 1/19/2022 at 9:36 PM, hellothere said:

1) How much notice do the courts generally give you in terms of letting you know if you will be interviewed? Does it vary from court to court? 

 

2 hours ago, BlockedQuebecois said:

It definitely varies from court to court, but in general I found the timelines relatively tight (especially if you have to travel). From memory, I think I got the invite to the ONCA interview two Fridays before interview week, while the interview invite for both the BCCA interviews were ~ten days in advance. For the other courts I don't really recall how much warning there was. 

 

For FCA, it varies from judge to judge but can range from a week of notice to three days. 

36 minutes ago, BlockedQuebecois said:

The thing is that when you're looking at students who have appellate clerkships, it's not that they either have stellar grades or strong applications. It's that they have stellar grades and strong applications.  My clerkship class had three gold medallists, and I would be surprised to learn that anyone I clerked with finished outside the top ~5% of their class. I would be shocked if anyone was outside the top 10%. I was probably one of only a handful of clerks who hadn't published something or had a paper accepted for publication by the time we were clerking. At least 75% of the people I clerked with had RA experience. 

I definitely agree that appellate courts are looking for students with strong grades and strong applications. I found the Courts to be a bit more generous in terms of grades than what you've mentioned though. Certainly for ONCA I find you pretty much have to be a medalist (except at maybe U of T and some Oz) to land, though you could get an interview if you're top 10%. SCC will probably expect you to be a medalist and to have published or to have done a prior clerkship. However, for the other appellate courts like BCCA and FCA I found top 10% gives you a decent chance to land. Of course on top of being top 10%, you should also do research, law journal and moots. If you have a genuine interest in administrative law, IP or tax, that definitely also helps your chances for the FCA. 

35 minutes ago, capitalttruth said:

 I understand clerks who did their clerkship at the trial level aren't as much of a hot commodity in the legal world as appellate clerks, but I'd still imagine trial clerking teaches some important career lessons.

Appellate clerks have more doors opened to them but many of the firms that do a formal clerkship recruit (LS, McCarthy's, Juristes Power) also solicit applications from the trial courts. If you have an interest in something like IP, doing a clerkship at the FC would still be a good boost to your profile and there are firms that specifically recruit IP litigation associates from the FC clerkship class every year. 

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

capitalttruth
  • Law Student
On 1/21/2022 at 8:17 AM, QMT20 said:

 

For FCA, it varies from judge to judge but can range from a week of notice to three days. 

I definitely agree that appellate courts are looking for students with strong grades and strong applications. I found the Courts to be a bit more generous in terms of grades than what you've mentioned though. Certainly for ONCA I find you pretty much have to be a medalist (except at maybe U of T and some Oz) to land, though you could get an interview if you're top 10%. SCC will probably expect you to be a medalist and to have published or to have done a prior clerkship. However, for the other appellate courts like BCCA and FCA I found top 10% gives you a decent chance to land. Of course on top of being top 10%, you should also do research, law journal and moots. If you have a genuine interest in administrative law, IP or tax, that definitely also helps your chances for the FCA. 

Appellate clerks have more doors opened to them but many of the firms that do a formal clerkship recruit (LS, McCarthy's, Juristes Power) also solicit applications from the trial courts. If you have an interest in something like IP, doing a clerkship at the FC would still be a good boost to your profile and there are firms that specifically recruit IP litigation associates from the FC clerkship class every year. 

In terms of FCA applications, top 10 percent of the class will obviously vary but I would imagine it's roughly an A- average? 

Also, do FCA clerks typically complete a second clerkship at the SCC? Or does being outside of the top 5 percent of your class hinder your chances? I am wondering if, for instance, I completed an FCA clerkship and had research and law review experience, but my grades were slightly below an A average.

Edited by capitalttruth
Link to comment
Share on other sites

BlockedQuebecois
  • Lawyer
19 minutes ago, capitalttruth said:

In terms of FCA applications, top 10 percent of the class will obviously vary but I would imagine it's roughly an A- average? 

Since Ottawa curves half its 1L classes and all its upper year seminars to a B+ (7.0) average—and the other half plus all non-seminars are curved to a very high B (6.5) average—I would expect an A- (8.0) to be lower than top 10%. A normal distribution would likely have the top 10% getting around an A (9.0) with the top 1 or 2% getting above a 9.5 average. 

20 minutes ago, capitalttruth said:

Also, do FCA clerks typically complete a second clerkship at the SCC? Or does being outside of the top 5 percent of your class hinder your chances?

No court's clerks will "typically" complete a second clerkship at the SCC. There are too many appellate clerks and too few SCC slots. Maybe a quarter or so of clerks from a given court will go to the SCC for a second clerkship (granted, many opt out of applying). 

With that said, the FCA will send some clerks to the SCC. All things being equal, they're likely to be the more competitive clerks (a gold medallist at the FCA would obviously be preferred over a weaker candidate who just really hit it off with their judge), but there's also a degree of randomness in SCC selections each year. 

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

capitalttruth
  • Law Student
17 minutes ago, BlockedQuebecois said:

Since Ottawa curves half its 1L classes and all its upper year seminars to a B+ (7.0) average—and the other half plus all non-seminars are curved to a very high B (6.5) average—I would expect an A- (8.0) to be lower than top 10%. A normal distribution would likely have the top 10% getting around an A (9.0) with the top 1 or 2% getting above a 9.5 average. 

No court's clerks will "typically" complete a second clerkship at the SCC. There are too many appellate clerks and too few SCC slots. Maybe a quarter or so of clerks from a given court will go to the SCC for a second clerkship (granted, many opt out of applying). 

With that said, the FCA will send some clerks to the SCC. All things being equal, they're likely to be the more competitive clerks (a gold medallist at the FCA would obviously be preferred over a weaker candidate who just really hit it off with their judge), but there's also a degree of randomness in SCC selections each year. 

uOttawa has an application cut off for appellate clerkships - they won't accept applications below an 8.0. I'm not sure if that marker corresponds to class rank. I wouldn't be applying with an 8.0 - I would be applying with a GPA somewhere between an 8.0 and an 8.5, although of course it's too early to tell.

Edited by capitalttruth
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Kid Presentable
56 minutes ago, BlockedQuebecois said:

Since Ottawa curves half its 1L classes and all its upper year seminars to a B+ (7.0) average—and the other half plus all non-seminars are curved to a very high B (6.5) average—I would expect an A- (8.0) to be lower than top 10%. A normal distribution would likely have the top 10% getting around an A (9.0) with the top 1 or 2% getting above a 9.5 average.

To be clear, this is not how it works in practice. The threshold for summa cum laude at Ottawa is 8.5. Statistics on how many students achieve that are hard to come by, but I think it's highly unlikely that it's more than 10% of the class. 8.0 is magna cum laude, so I think top 10-15% is a fair estimate (though the Covid-era compassionate grading rules might temporarily inflate that number somewhat).

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

easttowest
  • Lawyer
8 hours ago, capitalttruth said:

uOttawa has an application cut off for appellate clerkships - they won't accept applications below an 8.0. I'm not sure if that marker corresponds to class rank. I wouldn't be applying with an 8.0 - I would be applying with a GPA somewhere between an 8.0 and an 8.5, although of course it's too early to tell.

It came up either here or on the old forum that this is not strictly enforced and you can get a Dean’s recommendation without an 8.0. I was invited to apply but didn’t because I wouldn’t have had an 8.0 in time. The lesson there is to never self-select out (though I would have been a long shot applicant at the the time). 

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

easttowest
  • Lawyer
6 hours ago, Kid Presentable said:

To be clear, this is not how it works in practice. The threshold for summa cum laude at Ottawa is 8.5. Statistics on how many students achieve that are hard to come by, but I think it's highly unlikely that it's more than 10% of the class. 8.0 is magna cum laude, so I think top 10-15% is a fair estimate (though the Covid-era compassionate grading rules might temporarily inflate that number somewhat).

I think what you responded to was a fair comment on the new guidelines, which I believe started in fall 2020. Previously, all classes except seminars and the 1L thematic were curved to a 6. Now they’re 6.5. They made no corresponding change to the criteria for the honorifics so with more As and A-s to go around they’re probably a little easier to obtain than before. 

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Kid Presentable
5 minutes ago, easttowest said:

I think what you responded to was a fair comment on the new guidelines, which I believe started in fall 2020. Previously, all classes except seminars and the 1L thematic were curved to a 6. Now they’re 6.5. They made no corresponding change to the criteria for the honorifics so with more As and A-s to go around they’re probably a little easier to obtain than before. 

Yeah, I was more responding to the notion that the top 10% has a 9.0 or higher. While the mean and median grade will increase, I'm pretty sure A+s remain very rare, so while there may be one or two above a 9, it's highly unlikely that it's a significant percentage of the class, and it's certainly not a requirement to be competitive for an appellate clerkship.

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

chaboywb
  • Lawyer
8 hours ago, BlockedQuebecois said:

Since Ottawa curves half its 1L classes and all its upper year seminars to a B+ (7.0) average—and the other half plus all non-seminars are curved to a very high B (6.5) average—I would expect an A- (8.0) to be lower than top 10%. A normal distribution would likely have the top 10% getting around an A (9.0) with the top 1 or 2% getting above a 9.5 average. 

Even with the new guidelines, I'd be surprised if this is accurate. There were only a few summa cum laude grads last year (out of the massive uOttawa class, meaning they were top 1-2%) and that's only an 8.5 and above, and it included 1.5 years of being able to receive P/F grades. I'd be surprised if even the top student gets above a 9.0, let alone a 9.5.

Magna cum laude/8.0+ should put you comfortably in top 10% range, by my understanding. Regardless, it automatically gets you the Dean's letter, so no reason not to go for it.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

BlockedQuebecois
  • Lawyer
16 hours ago, capitalttruth said:

uOttawa has an application cut off for appellate clerkships - they won't accept applications below an 8.0. I'm not sure if that marker corresponds to class rank. I wouldn't be applying with an 8.0 - I would be applying with a GPA somewhere between an 8.0 and an 8.5, although of course it's too early to tell.

For reasons that are hopefully obvious (i.e. I didn't go to Ottawa and was just looking at what a normal distribution would be), you should prefer what others say on the curve issue. 

Moving past the curve debate, if Ottawa is using an 8.0 as the general cut off to consider people for SCC and ONCA clerkships, I would encourage you to apply to those courts plus whatever other other appellate courts you want to. Once you're in the general range of being a competitive student, the other parts of your application (and your performance in any interview) become much more important. And I would hate to think someone was discouraged from applying merely because of my speculative thoughts. 

The other thing I would add is that if you are unsuccessful in your first application cycle—even if you are unsuccessful in getting interviews—I would encourage you to apply again in 3L. There is an increasing trend at the appellate courts of people completing their clerkships in the year following articles rather than in lieu of articles. Anecdotally (and without meaning offence to any of my friends who clerked after articling, all of whom were brilliant), it seems as though the grades and/or "school prestige" threshold is a tad lower for those students than for students looking to clerk in lieu of articles. That's likely because they are able to apply with stronger applications, as they will have had another year of grades (and grades tend to tick up for students in upper years), they will likely have worked a law job during their 2L summer and may get a strong reference from their employer, etc. 

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...
hellothere
  • Law Student

Would anyone be able to speak to the differences (on a more granular level) between the work a clerk at a trial court would do vs. that of an appellate court? I know what the differences are at a high level, but I'm currently trying to decide between the BCSC or BCCA since they will ask at the first-round interview. 

Thank you! 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

BlockedQuebecois
  • Lawyer
6 hours ago, hellothere said:

Would anyone be able to speak to the differences (on a more granular level) between the work a clerk at a trial court would do vs. that of an appellate court?

 

 

 

So on a granular level, I think the big differences are: 

  1. Number of judges – at provincial superior courts, you’re likely to have a larger number of judges you’re assigned to, and you’re also likely to work in a more “pooled” fashion, where work from your colleagues’ judges gets shifted over to you if you have capacity and you don’t. That’s contrasted with an appellate court, where you’re likely working with ~2 judges (note this doesn’t apply to the FC/FCA). 
  2. Fact finding – appellate courts rarely find new facts, but that’s honestly most of the work of a trial judge. By extension, trial-level clerks are going to be much more involved in fact finding exercises, which means attending hearings to listen to the evidence, reviewing more of the documentary evidence, watching videos or reviewing photographs, reviewing financial statements in family law or commercial cases, etc.
  3. Sentencing – its relatively rare for an appellate court to overturn a sentencing decision alone (and thus for it to substitute its own sentence). That means clerks at the trial level generally are more involved in assessing the proper range of sentences, although this is one part of the job judges are unlikely to heavily rely on their clerk for.
  4. Workload – trial level clerks seem to be more consistently busy, although some of my appellate friends were overwhelmed. The workload of appellate clerks is almost entirely judge driven.
  5. Humanity – the appellate decision making process is pretty academic.  An appellate judge I know heard oral testimony as an appellate judge for the first time in his 20+ year career recently. For most appeals, the parties won’t attend the hearing. That makes it a lot easier to put the very human implications of a decision out of mind. I don’t think trial-level clerks have the same experience. 

I should say, I don’t think any of those are really pros or cons. Different people will find different levels of court fit them best, and I don’t think it’s possible to say the work at one is more or less enjoyable. 

  • Like 2
  • Thanks 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Fiona Apple
  • Lawyer
17 hours ago, BlockedQuebecois said:

So on a granular level, I think the big differences are: 

  1. Number of judges – at provincial superior courts, you’re likely to have a larger number of judges you’re assigned to, and you’re also likely to work in a more “pooled” fashion, where work from your colleagues’ judges gets shifted over to you if you have capacity and you don’t. That’s contrasted with an appellate court, where you’re likely working with ~2 judges (note this doesn’t apply to the FC/FCA). 
  2. Fact finding – appellate courts rarely find new facts, but that’s honestly most of the work of a trial judge. By extension, trial-level clerks are going to be much more involved in fact finding exercises, which means attending hearings to listen to the evidence, reviewing more of the documentary evidence, watching videos or reviewing photographs, reviewing financial statements in family law or commercial cases, etc.
  3. Sentencing – its relatively rare for an appellate court to overturn a sentencing decision alone (and thus for it to substitute its own sentence). That means clerks at the trial level generally are more involved in assessing the proper range of sentences, although this is one part of the job judges are unlikely to heavily rely on their clerk for.
  4. Workload – trial level clerks seem to be more consistently busy, although some of my appellate friends were overwhelmed. The workload of appellate clerks is almost entirely judge driven.
  5. Humanity – the appellate decision making process is pretty academic.  An appellate judge I know heard oral testimony as an appellate judge for the first time in his 20+ year career recently. For most appeals, the parties won’t attend the hearing. That makes it a lot easier to put the very human implications of a decision out of mind. I don’t think trial-level clerks have the same experience. 

I should say, I don’t think any of those are really pros or cons. Different people will find different levels of court fit them best, and I don’t think it’s possible to say the work at one is more or less enjoyable. 

I have a couple other things to add: one is that trial judges are always working alone (unless you're at the Div Court). In appellate courts, you'll (almost) always have two to eight other colleagues (depending on the court and the case) on the same case as you who know the file as well as you do and that you can bounce ideas off of. I always liked that collaborative aspect of clerking and it seemed like my colleagues at trial courts had a bit of a different experience in that respect.

I also think that you generally have more time per case the higher up the ladder you go. It always seemed to me that trial courts are very fast paced (evidentiary rulings happen on the fly, decisions need to go out, etc.), whereas at appellate courts, there are fewer cases and, consequently, more time to spend on each case.

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 months later...
Andalusian2400
  • Applicant

Does pre-law school experience count for much? Specifically, would my lack of relevant experience in undergrad be a negative factor?

 

I don't have any big internships nor am I a leader of any club or student org. I just do like 80 hours of volunteering per semester helping students with academic writing and work very part time as a history research assistant with a prof who is fairly senior but by no means super renowned

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Peculiar Frond
  • Lawyer

Graduate degrees seem to count for something.  But as with almost everything in law, your prior experience is heavily discounted relative to your more recent accomplishments (i.e. law school extracurriculars and, obviously and especially, grades).  A PhD from Harvard will not make up for middling grades. 

The thing about clerkship applications is that there are dozens of candidates with grades at or near the top of their class.  Hiring committees have to choose nonetheless.  And they are not going to draw names out of a hat.  

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Kid Presentable
12 hours ago, Andalusian2400 said:

Does pre-law school experience count for much? Specifically, would my lack of relevant experience in undergrad be a negative factor?

 

I don't have any big internships nor am I a leader of any club or student org. I just do like 80 hours of volunteering per semester helping students with academic writing and work very part time as a history research assistant with a prof who is fairly senior but by no means super renowned

I was told that my pre-law work experience was a positive in my application, but it's impossible to say how much it counted for in the final analysis and I doubt it weighed very heavily. I would imagine undergrad extracurricular experience would count even less, if at all. Grades are by far the most important factor in a clerkship application. If you don't have grades near the top of your class you will be screened out based on that long before anyone considers your extracurriculars.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 1 month later...
CoffeeLover200
  • Law Student
Posted (edited)

What kind of grades are competitive for clerkships at lower level provincial courts in Ontario and lower level federal courts? I just finished 1L at Queens with a GPA of 3.52 (Includes one B-, not sure if will be viewed as a red flag) and am interested in applying for clerkships for post-graduation. I know I am out of the running for higher level courts like the SCC and ONCA but I have not been able to find much info on what makes a competitive applicant at the lower level courts. I'd like to get a feel for what courts I may be competitive for (if any at all) in order to organize and prioritize applications this winter. Any feedback would be helpful! Thank you! 

 

Edited by CoffeeLover200
Removal of personal info
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.


×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

By accessing this website, you agree to abide by our Terms of Use. YOU EXPRESSLY ACKNOWLEDGE AND AGREE THAT YOU WILL NOT CONSTRUE ANY POST ON THIS WEBSITE AS PROVIDING LEGAL ADVICE EVEN IF SUCH POST IS MADE BY A PERSON CLAIMING TO BE A LAWYER. We have placed cookies on your device to help make this website better. You can adjust your cookie settings, otherwise we'll assume you're okay to continue.