A law clerk, sometimes referred to as an "associate" or "judicial assistant," is a person who works directly for a judge in a court. As a rule, applicants who are chosen for law clerk jobs are recent law school graduates. In most jurisdictions, law clerk jobs are available in local or state courts, appellate courts, and the nation's high court as well.
As a rule, law clerk jobs are awarded to the best and the brightest students in law school. A position as a law clerk, especially in one of the nation's higher courts, is a coveted position for a recent law school graduate. Working as a law clerk generally opens up a number of career options for a recent law school graduate. Not surprisingly, positions as a law clerk are very competitive. The duties associated with law clerk jobs will vary among jurisdictions, as well as among the different courts within a jurisdiction.
In the United States, law clerk jobs are generally available at the state and federal level in the appellate and supreme courts, although some trial level judges also employ law clerks. The duties of a law clerk in the United States generally include researching cases that come before the court and assisting the judge or justice in writing an opinion. In fact, many of the opinions written for United States Supreme Courts have been drafted by law clerks, with ultimate approval, of course, by the justice for whom he or she worked.
In other countries, law clerk jobs function in much the same manner as in the United States. In Australia, for example, a law clerk is known as an "associate." Associates perform much the same duties as a law clerk; however, one associate assigned to each of the High Court judges actually travels with the judge when the court is on circuit. Law clerks in Canada, England, and Brazil are also similar to those in the United States or Australia, although they may be referred to by another name.
Law clerk jobs in most countries are limited in duration to one year, after which the clerk usually seeks employment in the private or public sector. In some countries, however, a law clerk is actually a full-time job that is intended to act as an apprenticeship of sorts for aspiring judges. In France, for example, law clerks are actually full-time staff attorneys or "junior judges." In Germany, lower level judges provide law clerk duties to judges in the higher courts as a way to train for a position in the higher courts.