How I Got My Job: From Judicial Clerk to Associate, Featuring Clifford Gravett (2011 SJQ): Former Law Clerk to Judge Robert Lane, Pahrump, NV; Associate Attorney at Bingham & Snow in Mesquite, NV & Tee Spjute (SJQ 2011): Former Law Clerk in Utah’s Second Judicial District Court; Associate Attorney with Shumway, Van & Hansen

Clifford Gravett (2011 SJQ): Former Law Clerk to Judge Robert Lane, Pahrump, NV; Associate Attorney at Bingham & Snow in Mesquite, NV

1. Where are you from and why did you go to law school?    

I am from Provo Utah, although I’ve lived all over the west, including Montana, Idaho, and Washington State.  I decided to go to law school when my dad sat me down at 12 years old and explained to me that “rock’n’roll drummer” was not a good career choice.  My resolve was strengthened by associations with a number of fabulous attorneys and judges throughout junior high school and high school.

2. What kinds of activities, internships, and jobs did you do in law school?   

I did just about everything that I didn’t have to be in the top of the class to do; I interned for the Utah Crime Victim’s Legal Clinic, the Office of the Utah Guardian ad litem; and for District Court Judge Denise P. Lindberg.  I clerked for the Utah Attorney General, State Agency Counsel Division and the Salt Lake County District Attorney.  I was on the planning committee for PILO and the J. Ruben Clark Society and I participated in the school’s national trial advocacy team.

3. Why did you apply for a state court clerkship?

I wanted to do a clerkship but without journal participation I knew my chances with federal or state appellate courts was limited.  I also felt like since my goal was to practice in litigation that a trial court clerkship would be better on the job training for what I wanted to do.

4. What was the application & interview process like?  What do you think gave you an edge in the hiring process?

Since I was applying for state employment I had to fill out one of those really long non-fillable PDF applications and mail in a hard copy.  Several weeks later, the judge’s secretary e-mailed me to set up an interview; the judge did not do any telephone interviews so I had to get a plane ticket and fly down to Las Vegas.  Upon arriving I was shown into the Judge’s chambers and he asked me several questions about my hobbies and interests, as well as my long term legal plans.  He was basically trying to determine if I was the kind of person he would be willing to spend significant amounts of time with.  I think my advantage was the fact that I was able to joke and laugh during the interview and demonstrate that I have an actual personality, which I think everyone—including myself—struggles to do during interviews.

5.  Was a state court clerkship of help in finding a job with a firm? Was it something that your firm found interesting? Why?

My clerkship was definitely of assistance in getting my firm job; the interviewing attorney asked me several questions about my involvement with cases and writing orders; he also mentioned this experience as a reason for extending an offer to me.

6. What tips do you have for students and recent graduates considering state court clerkships?

In my experience, which is admittedly limited to one judge, judges seem to be looking for clerks who can work quickly and practically, help them reach well reasoned decisions, and avoid reversal.  Furthermore, since state judges (both at the trial and appellate level) handle a wide range of cases, it is probably best to seek out a wide range of experiences in law school.  Finally, for those who are not on law review and in the top 10% of their class but who want the experience of a clerkship, a state court trial level clerkship can be a great practical experience that they actually have a chance of getting.

Tee Spjute (SJQ 2011): Former Law Clerk in Utah’s Second Judicial District Court; Associate Attorney with Shumway, Van & Hansen

1. Where are you from and why did you go to law school? I am originally from Salt Lake City, and I went to law school because I love to write and I like to help people solve their problems.  I also received bachelor degrees in Political Science and Speech communications, so law school seemed like a natural fit.

2. What kinds of activities, internships, and jobs did you do in law school?   My 1L summer I interned in the Utah Federal District Court.  During my 2L summer and for part of my 3L year I was a law clerk for the Environment Division of the Utah Attorney General’s office.   I finished off my 3L year as a law clerk at the law firm of Winder & Counsel.  While in law school I was the executive text editor of the Utah Environmental Law Review, a Quinney Research Fellow for Professor McLaughlin, and a writing T. A. for Professor Richards.

3. Why did you apply for a state court clerkship? I applied for a state district court clerkship because it seemed more exciting than an appellate clerkship.  While I was interning at the federal district court I felt like I was closer to where the law actually affects people.  I wanted something more than some esoteric, or purely academic legal problem, I wanted to be where the real action happens.  In district court you see all the pro se litigants, you see the parties laugh or cry based on what is happening in court.  You also get to see the whole range of cases in a state district court, from traffic citations to capital murder, and the smallest collections case to complex multi-million dollar jury trials.  In short, I wanted to clerk in a state district court so I could see the good and the bad of the legal system, and I think I have seen a lot of both.

4. What was the application & interview process like?  What do you think gave you an edge in the hiring process?  For the Utah Second District Court, the application process is through the state’s job website located at http://statejobspostings.utah.gov/.  To apply you need to create a login and do an online resume and past work history, basically the same information you need for your bar application.  For other districts it may be different, for example the Fourth District goes through the two law schools here in Utah, but I think most Utah district courts use the state’s job website.  If you are looking for an appellate clerkship in Utah most of those are done by mailing an application to the specific judge, but every now and again appellate judges post clerkships on the state’s job website as well.  If you are looking out of state then you might want to call the court clerk to see if there are openings.

The interview process depends on what court you interview with.  I interviewed in both the Second and Fourth Districts in Utah.  The Fourth district interview was like arguing before the U.S. Supreme Court, you walk into a room full of nine different judges and they ask you questions that will keep you on your toes.  The Second District was a little less intimidating because I interviewed with only four judges.  While it may be daunting to be interviewed by so many judges, they are all very nice and appreciate honesty.  Try not to embellish too much in the interview because they will see right through you, don’t forget they judge credibility for a living. 

Depending on where you interview, the competition may be very intense.  For the clerkship in the Second District I was competing with applicants from schools like Harvard and Georgetown.  But don’t feel too intimidated because you have as good a chance of getting the job as they do.  Another confidence booster is that state judges often prefer applicants from instate schools, so you might have an edge over those who went to school out of state. 

I think the one thing that gave me an edge over other applicants was that I was flexible.  I went to the interview thinking that I would interview for a clerkship in the Farmington court, but they had a last minute opening and were interviewing me for a different clerkship where I would split my time between the courts in Bountiful and Ogden.  On top of that they wanted me to start ASAP and I was right in the middle of studying for the bar exam.  Because I was flexible and willing to take what they were offering (even though I didn’t know how I could do it) I got the job over other very qualified applicants.  Something else that helped in my interview was that I had interned in the federal district court and had some experiences that showed a genuine interest in a district court clerkship.

5.  Was a state court clerkship of help in finding a job with a firm? Was it something that your firm found interesting? Why? Generally, a clerkship is helpful in finding a job, either at a firm or working for the government.  Although when it comes to firms, if the person interviewing you has done a clerkship they will be impressed.  If the law firm interviewer hasn’t done a clerkship then it is not as impressive.  It you want to be a litigator in either the civil or criminal setting then a district court will give you valuable experiences that you can share with an interviewer. The clerkship basically helps in showing that you are more than just another law school graduate.  During the interviews at my law firm job they were not overly impressed with the simple fact that I had clerked, but the ability to relate to what they do as litigators in court was very helpful in the interview.  If nothing else, I felt like I had more to say in the interview than asking generic questions about the firm’s culture.

6. What tips do you have for students and recent graduates considering state court clerkships? Apply.  I think too many law students don’t apply to clerkships because they think they don’t have a good enough resume, or because they are too late in the process.  One of my friends got a clerkship with a trial court in New York and he didn’t apply until halfway through his 3L year, and I didn’t apply for my clerkship until after I graduated.  Another helpful hint it is that you should intern at a district court either during the summer or during the school year.  If you can get an internship with one of the judges in the Bountiful court it will be worth your time.  The Bountiful judges are very interested in giving their interns a good experience and they are close to Salt Lake.  Our past interns spent more time in court and talking with the judge than I ever did as an intern in the federal court. 

Something else that is very important is your writing ability.  If you are on a journal then you should do everything that you can to get published, even if you are not on a journal you should considering getting published.  There are all kinds of opportunities to get your writing published while you are in law school, you just need to look for them.  If getting an article published is not your thing, then make sure you are finding opportunities to improve your writing, either in work, in an internship, or in class.