Professor Claude Carr, who passed away earlier this year, taught at the John Marshall Law School for decades. While reading his obituary, I re- called a lecture he gave annually to all second-year students. Professor Carr would explain, in detail, the process to seek and obtain a judicial clerkship upon graduation from law school. Although I attended that lecture some 30 years ago, I still remember the very sound and helpful advice that he provided to my classmates and me.
T ODAY I SIT AS A JUSTICE OFTHE ILLINOIS APPELLATE Court, and three law clerks work in my chambers. Several times a month, I receive material from a student or a newly- admitted attorney inquiring about working for me as a law clerk. While some of these applicants may come from law schools that provide in-depth counseling regarding law clerk careers, many have not. This article seeks to fill that information gap and provide guidance to law students or young lawyers seeking judicial clerk- ships in the Illinois state court system. Illinois Judicial Clerkship Opportunities Judges who sit on state reviewing courts will usually be assisted by one or more law clerks. The position has evolved somewhat over the years. In the past, it was fairly common for clerks to be hired directly from law school upon (or even before) graduation, to work for a set one- or two-year term. Upon completion of their term, the clerks would move on either to clerk for a judge in a higher-level court or, more commonly, into private practice. To some extent, that is still the practice in federal courts. Now, however, most Illinois state court judges who have law clerks hire “career clerks” who work for no set term. In fact, some of the clerks working in my court have worked for one or more judges for as long as 20 years. Illinois law provides that each justice of the Supreme Court may hire three law clerks; each must be a graduate of an accredited law school (705 ILCS 5/19 [West 2016]). Appellate court justices may hire two law clerks (who must also be law school graduates) and one “stenographic secretary” (705 ILCS 30/2 [West 2016]). As a side note, the statute’s antediluvian terminology is out of place in this digital age. When the cast of the Chicago Bar Association’s annual “Christmas Spirits” show ends the performance with a rousing rendition of “The Junior Partners” and the soloists arrive at the stanza about the “steno” who works in the lawyer’s office, the puzzled chorus responds–off-script –“What’s a steno?” However, just as I do, most justices will hire a lawyer for the “secretary” position and function with a staff of three de facto law clerks. Lawyers holding the position are known as “slashers” because
many of them performminor secretarial functions such as opening the mail and handling interoffice routings in addition to doing standard law clerk work. Law clerks working for Supreme Court justices from the First District, which includes Cook County, and for First District appellate court judges, work at the Bilandic Build- ing in downtown Chicago. Law clerks for supreme and appellate court justices from other judicial districts will normally work in the justice’s home chambers. These chambers are generally in the justice’s home town rather than at a courthouse. A few of these chambers are in the Chicago suburbs (for instance, in Wheaton), but many are located in downstate areas. Students may not be aware of the opportunities for law clerk positions at the circuit court level. Cook County is served by over 400 circuit and associate judges. Many of them are assigned to court calls, which receive complex cases requiring intensive legal research and opinion writing. These judges are assigned one or more law clerks. They include, among others, judges assigned to the Chancery Division (both general chancery and the mortgage foreclosure/mechanics lien section), and judges in the motion and commercial calendar calls in the Law Division. Other Cook County circuit court law clerks work for a group of judges, for a particular division of the court, or even as staff research attorneys. These law clerks function generally under the supervision of the Chief Judge’s office. Outside of Cook County, many circuits have staff law clerks who perform similar functions. Candidates seeking a circuit court clerkship position might wish to contact the Chief Judge and the presiding judges of the various court divisions. Each appellate court district is also served by a staff of research attorneys supervised by a Director of Research. The types of cases the research attorneys handle vary from district to district. In the First District, the research attorneys’ workload primarily consists of less complex criminal cases. The Director of Research reviews each case when it has been fully briefed and determines whether the case should be sent directly to an authoring justice for handing in that justice’s chambers or if it should be assigned for initial review by a research attorney (Ill. App. Ct., First Dist., R. 2 [Sept. 1,