In Print: Volume 87: Number 3
Closing the Legislative Experience Gap: How A Legislative Clerk Program Will Benefit the Legal Profession and Congress
By Dakota S. Rudesill
87 Wash. U. L. Rev. 699 (2010)
This fall, like every fall, is a time of keen competition among the nation’s best third-year law students and recent graduates, as they pursue prestigious legal apprenticeships as federal court law clerks, Executive Branch “Honors” program attorneys, law firm junior associates, and fellows and new faculty at law schools. This year’s round of musical chairs is unusually intense in the wake of the Great Recession’s elimination of countless cushy seats at law firms, great and small.
In this gloomy hiring season there is at least one increasingly bright spark, one that may light the way to a new kind of apprenticeship experience for future participants in the highly competitive national clerkship market. Pending in the U.S. Senate is House Bill 151, and its Senate companion, Senate Bill 27, that would for the first time create a law clerk program in the U.S. Congress analogous to other legal apprenticeship opportunities. Prospects for the program are encouraging, thanks to the House’s overwhelming 381–42 vote in March 2009.
As I explain, however, this legislation may die in the Senate as it did last session, unless the legal profession and Congress come to a better and more broadly held understanding of a congressional clerkship program’s potential benefits.
One is that over time it would begin to correct the profound comparative lack of legislative work experience among the legal profession’s leaders that my empirical research has identified. Here, I present new data demonstrating that the incidence of legislative work experience among the profession’s top 500 lawyers, as ranked by Lawdragon.com, trails badly behind experience working for courts, government executive bodies, in private practice, and in academe. These empirical findings supplement my study in this publication in 2008, which focused on federal appellate jurists and law professors at Top 20 law schools.
I argue that closing the legislative experience gap ultimately will benefit the profession and Congress by helping both of these key legal players better understand—and take more seriously—an under-appreciated reality: legislative work is legal work. I conclude by refuting objections, and encouraging lawyers to engage with Congress in support of the bill.