March 24, 2016 — On March 17-18, 2016, Pepperdine School of Law hosted law students, law clerks and judges from across the country for the 16th Annual Wm. Matthew Byrne, Jr., Judicial Clerkship Institute (“JCI”). The JCI program provides attendees, both career clerks and term clerks, with invaluable wisdom applicable to their bankruptcy, district, and appellate court clerkships. Over the last sixteen years, students from more than 130 different law schools clerking for more than 320 different judges have attended the program, making it a unique resource for promoting the administration of justice in our federal courts.
“We are grateful that judges and scholars from all over the country committed their time and effort to come to Pepperdine and educate future law clerks,” commented Professor Amy Levin, Co-Director of the Institute. “Pepperdine has several students entering federal clerkships, and we are committed to ensuring that law clerks are well-trained as they enter their clerkships.”
Participants were provided with a continental breakfast and an opportunity to mingle prior to the start of the day’s events. One of the attendees, current Pepperdine 3L and future law clerk Andrew Kasabian remarked, “I want to learn how a law clerk fits into a judge’s chambers, and how to better prepare myself to be an efficient law clerk. It will be interesting to see where there’s universal agreement among judges and where they differ in the handling of their chambers.”
Several books were provided as resources for attendees, including the Consumer Bankruptcy Law handbook and Law Clerk Handbook. The program opened with welcoming comments from Professor Levin, Pepperdine Law Dean Deanell Tacha, and the Honorable Judge Jeremy D. Fogel. “Law clerks are the faces and voices of an independent judiciary that speaks for the rule of law in this country,” Dean Tacha said of the importance of the law clerk’s role.
The two-day program proceeded with numerous breakout sessions covering a wide breadth of topics that participants could choose to attend depending on whether they were term or career clerks. Future law clerks interested in hearing more about the role of the law clerk were well informed in a session led by the Honorable Jacqueline Nguyen (U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit) and the Honorable Beverly Reid O’Connell (U.S. District Court, Central District of California). Judge O’Connell and Judge Nguyen described the hiring process, what they generally looked for in a law clerk, the structure and day-to-day life of their chambers, and other bits of wisdom pertaining to their work in chambers.
“I look for clerks who love the law, who love to figure out legal issues and love to write,” said Judge Nguyen. On the same topic of the qualities they seek in potential law clerks, Judge O’Connell weighed in that as a former legal secretary, she valued life experience and judgment. “Ability to exercise good judgment is hard to teach and comes with life experience and with certain professional experiences,” said Judge O’Connell. “People who took time off between college and law school to do other things, like business or teaching, are valued.”
In the Judicial Law Clerks panel, panelists imparted their wisdom gained from clerking experience to future law clerks. The panelists included current law clerks and Pepperdine Law graduates Stephen White and Kelsey Morris, along with Jeremy Rosen, a partner at Horvitz & Levy, LLP and former clerk to JCI’s namesake, the Honorable Wm. Matthew Byrne, Jr. and Judge Fernandez on the Ninth Circuit. Rosen moderated the panel, and all three panelists responded to questions, offering significant practical advice and insights.
The program also featured discussions of current events. One of these sessions was the Wm. Matthew Byrne, Jr. Annual Lecture. This year’s topic concerned the impact of the 2016 Presidential Election on the Supreme Court and Lower Federal Courts and featured Tony Mauro, Supreme Court correspondent for The National Law Journal and Legal Times. “In light of Judge Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court just a day before our conference and following the recent death of Justice Scalia, we were incredibly fortunate to have Tony Mauro deliver our Wm. Matthew Byrne, Jr. Annual Lecture. His insights into both how a Justice Garland might affect the Court’s pending and future jurisprudence and the impact of current efforts to block his confirmation process was truly a highlight of JCI,” said Professor Levin of the lecture.
Additionally, renowned Constitutional Law scholar Dean Erwin Chemerinsky and former Ambassador Douglas Kmiec of Pepperdine Law engaged in a dialogue about recent and pending U.S. Supreme Court cases. Kmiec began by reflecting on the late Justice Scalia, and along with Chemerinsky, went on to discuss the nomination of Judge Garland to the Supreme Court and the seriousness of the Court being unable to resolve cases. “There’s a real prospect that the Supreme Court could go all of next year with just eight Justices, and this could very well be the longest standing vacancy in U.S. history. If that happens, it means that a lot of the issues discussed today won’t be resolved by the Supreme Court at least during the next year of your clerkship,” said Chemerinsky. “I always encourage my students to think about cases not just in terms of their trial impact but in human impact, and it is my hope that as clerks you look at cases that way,” he remarked.
As the work of the judiciary continues to become ever more complex and demanding, the training of lawyers to serve as efficient and effective law clerks to federal judges is critical. Those who attended this year’s JCI certainly left better equipped to become law clerks who will make significant and valuable contributions to the judges for whom they will work and the judiciary as a whole.
By Janette Blair, Law Communications
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“I am honored to have this opportunity to serve as Dean at Pepperdine, the host of the prestigious Wm. Matthew Byrne, Jr. Judicial Clerkship Institute. Judge Byrne was a personal friend of mine and a highly respected colleague in the federal judiciary. He was a model of judicial excellence, integrity, and public service. As the work of the judiciary continues to become ever more complex and demanding, the training of lawyers to serve as efficient and effective law clerks to federal judges is critical. The goal of this institute is to equip law clerks to make significant and valuable contributions to the judges for whom they work and the judiciary as a whole. I am especially pleased that we are partnering with the American Bankruptcy Institute and the Federal Judicial Center in this endeavor. The Federal Judicial Center is known throughout the nation as an outstanding provider of judicial and judicial staff education. I look forward to welcoming this year’s participants to what promises to be an excellent conference.
–Deanell Reece Tacha
Duane & Kelly Roberts Dean