With the class of 2011, Colorado Law continued its strong tradition of placing graduates into judicial clerkships, ranking 8th in state and local clerkships in the newly released U.S. News & World Report Best Law Schools Report. Including judicial fellows, 38 members of the class of 2011 went into post-graduate clerkships. While eight graduates went to federal courts, 30 went to state and local courts–19 in state-level appellate and courts of last resort, and 11 with local courts–representing 18.8 percent of the employed members of the class.
Such success exemplifies Colorado Law’s commitment to helping its graduates find satisfying and gainful employment. Often referred to as a “JD Post-Doc,” a judicial clerkship provides a unique experience for new attorneys with numerous benefits, including acquiring a respected professional credential and creating a mentor/mentee relationship with a judge.
“We are thrilled that so many of our graduates are taking advantage of the opportunity to clerk for judges, which provides them with a terrific launching pad for their careers,” said Dean Phil Weiser. “It is gratifying to see how successful they are in finding fantastic jobs that follow the clerkships.”
Clerks at every level of the judiciary from the class of 2011 have moved into a variety of interesting and fulfilling positions, including:
“When I speak with our alumni who have clerked, they are universally enthusiastic about the experience and how much it helped them in their post-clerk positions,” said Jennifer Winslow, who directs Colorado Law’s clerkship program in the Career Development Office. “The class of 2011 is really representative of both the types of clerkships available to our students and the variety of career paths a clerkship can lead to.”
When current students tell Winslow that they do not think they should clerk because they do not want to go into litigation, Winslow says she is able to highlight specific examples of alumni who clerked while pursuing different practice areas. “These former clerks tell me that their experiences made them a better lawyer, period,” she added.
“Working as a judicial clerk is not only a foundational learning experience; it also has the power to open doors to careers that might otherwise be unobtainable,” said Professor Carolyn Ramsey, who chairs the faculty committee dedicated to helping Colorado Law students obtain clerkships. “My two federal clerkships were wonderful years in which I worked side-by-side on challenging legal issues with judges who became my mentors and friends. Whether you want to be a transactional lawyer or a litigator, a law professor or an attorney for the government, there are few, if any, legal jobs available after graduation that rival a clerkship.”
Eric Schmidt, a member of the class of 2011, offers an excellent example of a graduate who clerked knowing that he did not intend to pursue litigation. Schmidt accepted his position working in Judge James Casebolt’s chambers at the Colorado Court of Appeals because he “wanted to experience the court system from the decision-maker’s perspective and get a better sense of how judges think and what they find persuasive.”
Now an Attorney Advisor in the Federal Communications Commission’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau as part of the agency’s Honors Program, Schmidt said his clerkship helped him learn “general principles that are useful in any case, such as picking a few strong issues rather than a dozen weak ones, understanding the standard of review, and making sure the record supports your rhetoric.”
As such, even with a practice that focuses on a relatively narrow niche of federal administrative law, Schmidt said he knows that his clerkship helped him stand out from other applicants when interviewing for his current position. Schmidt added that his clerkship made him a better writer and better able to recognize effective advocacy. “I also made a lot of friends at the court who will be great contacts going forward,” said Schmidt.
One of Schmidt’s class of 2011 classmates, Anna Dronzek, leveraged her Colorado Court of Appeals clerkship with Judge John Webb into a federal district court clerkship with Judge William P. Johnson in the District of New Mexico. Dronzek said that both clerkships provided her with valuable experience and skills that will help her when she embarks on the next stage of her career as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the District of Arizona, which she will begin this fall. In her federal court clerkship, Dronzek has had the opportunity to “see how trials work from beginning to end–it’s really given me a much better ‘big picture’ understanding of litigation.”
With Judge Webb, Dronzek received “intensive mentoring on my writing and research, which has really made me a better legal thinker and my writing improved immeasurably.” Anna-Liisa Mullis, a fellow clerk from the class of 2011 in the Colorado Court Appeals, agreed that the learning opportunities in the position are limitless. “I loved getting to work so close closely with Judge [Gale] Miller and to learn the ropes from a person who is such an excellent lawyer.”
Like Dronzek, Mullis is now focused on pursuing a career in litigation, having deferred her position in Davis Graham & Stubbs’ Trial Department while she clerked. And, she has no regrets for having postponed her law firm job for a year to take advantage of the opportunity to gain a solid “understanding of what judges do and how they think.”
The clerks from the class of 2011 also are representative of all Colorado Law alumni clerks in their enthusiasm for the job and their willingness to pay it forward to current students. “Our alumni who clerked are so generous with their time when it comes to helping our current students apply for clerkships,” Winslow noted, “even from recent classes, such as 2011 and 2012, who are just embarking on their careers. They are so pleased with their clerkships, they want to ensure future classes can have that same experience.”
As if to prove the point, when asked what she would tell current students about clerking, Mullis simply replied, “Go for it. You won’t regret it!”
*Pictured: Anna-Liisa Mullis ('11) and Judge Gale Miller, Colorado Court of Appeals