Clerical Errors

The secret handshake black lawyers don't learn.

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But, in order to do the job, my voice as a black woman had to be heard in my written work, in all of the questions I asked on a daily basis, in my mere presence in chambers and seated at the clerk’s position in the courtroom. And, now, I attribute the remarkable successes I have had in my career to my time as a law clerk, not simply for the prestige a clerkship carries and the path I have been able to take as a result, but also because of the training and mentoring I received from my judges at the time and since then.

I wish there were more minorities in the same pipeline, but I appreciate the reasons that there aren’t. For many of us, there’s that private-sector carrot dangling at the end of it all, replete with six-figure salary (in order to repay exorbitant law school loans) and perks galore—finally, the good life we’ve been striving for. Why put that off another year to … clerk? Compared to what law firms are paying these days, the law clerk’s salary amounts to free labor.

But making the investment could yield big dividends professionally and for the integrity of the justice system as well. It could mean more black judges deciding the fates of those of us entangled in the system. It means more black law professors sitting on admissions committees in law school. It means more black general counsels determining legal strategy for Fortune 500 companies.

And, at a time when black power is more visible than ever, it could represent yet another step to power.

Allison Brown, a former law clerk, is a practicing attorney and the founder and principal of Judicial Clerk Review, LLC.