Sunday, August 2, 2009

Law clerks for Massachusetts courts

One consequence of the poor economy is that Massachusetts courts have reneged on offers of judicial clerkships made to new law graduates. There is a proposal to fill these positions instead, for free, with other new law graduates who have been put on half pay and had their start dates delayed by Massachusetts law firms.
Law firms may provide clerks for courts: Proposal raises ethical issues

There is some concern that having employees of law firms clerking for judges might involve impropriety or its appearance. The proposed solution strikes me as unworkable:

"But because the issue raised ethical concerns, Mulligan recently asked the committee for its opinion about a special “double blind’’ arrangement.
The Flaschner Judicial Institute, which provides continuing education to state judges, would deal with the law firms that supply the interns. Judges and court officials would have no contact with the donating firms, and the firms would be instructed not to identify the interns on their websites. The interns would be barred from disclosing which firms are paying their stipends.
On June 8, the SJC’s ethics committee approved the arrangement, emphasizing that the clerks must keep the identity of their law firms secret even from the judges they are working for.
“Structuring the program in such a way that the law firms’ involvement is unknown not only to the public but also to the judges who will be ‘employing’ the volunteer interns will negate any impression that those law firms are in a special position to influence the judge,’’ said the committee’s opinion, which was reported last week by Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly.
“I give Chief Justice Mulligan credit for making the best of a very bad situation, and it appears that the double-blind method of hiring will protect the integrity of the court and eliminate appearances of impropriety,’’ said David W. White Jr., a former president of the Massachusetts Bar Association who worked as a Superior Court law clerk in the mid-1980s.
Still, the arrangement, which requires clerks to recuse themselves from participating in cases involving their firms without identifying the conflict of interest, is “really going to test the willpower of the volunteer clerks,’’ White said."

Here is some background on the perenially troubled market for law clerks, and here is some (now dated) background on the market for new associates at large law firms, from Roth and Xing (1994).

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