How state court clerkship opportunities affect legal employment

California state courts do not offer clerkships to new law school graduates. And that decision affects the employment outcomes of graduates of California law schools.

Federal clerkships have been examined at great length (here and elsewhere). State court clerkships, however, remained relatively underexamined. And they are a source of significant volatility in comparing employment outcomes of graduates.

It's a crude general statement to say that law students tend to practice in the state in which their law school is located. I looked at how many law school graduates came from each state's law schools in 2013. (Alaska has no law school.) I then looked at how many of those graduates obtained state court clerkships in the reported ABA employment statistics. Lacking more granular data, it was a rough proxy--graduates, after all, may clerk in another state rather than the state of their law school. (For more details, see the bottom of this post.)

Here's a map (courtesy of Choropleth.us) of how many law school graduates from each state's law schools obtained state court clerkships, with figures in a table below:

State St. Clerks St. Grads Pct.
New Jersey 273 855 31.9%
South Dakota 14 71 19.7%
Hawaii 20 104 19.2%
Montana 15 81 18.5%
Nevada 23 132 17.4%
North Dakota 12 74 16.2%
Maryland 95 602 15.8%
Delaware 44 279 15.8%
Minnesota 121 942 12.8%
Idaho 13 117 11.1%
South Carolina 49 442 11.1%
New Mexico 12 114 10.5%
Vermont 21 200 10.5%
Colorado 46 444 10.4%
Utah 26 292 8.9%
Oregon 45 524 8.6%
Pennsylvania 140 1700 8.2%
Rhode Island 14 175 8.0%
Iowa 25 328 7.6%
Maine 6 96 6.3%
Kentucky 25 421 5.9%
Virginia 85 1440 5.9%
Washington 38 655 5.8%
Arizona 36 630 5.7%
Louisiana 52 924 5.6%
Mississippi 20 377 5.3%
Wyoming 4 76 5.3%
District of Columbia 113 2211 5.1%
West Virginia 6 130 4.6%
Connecticut 24 538 4.5%
Nationwide 2044 46116 4.5%
Massachusetts 100 2384 4.2%
Indiana 31 831 3.7%
Alabama 15 421 3.6%
North Carolina 46 1424 3.2%
Wisconsin 15 487 3.1%
Georgia 34 1112 3.1%
Missouri 27 885 3.1%
Tennessee 15 497 3.0%
Kansas 9 324 2.8%
Michigan 54 2228 2.4%
New York 113 5009 2.3%
New Hampshire 2 107 1.9%
Nebraska 4 249 1.6%
Texas 30 2323 1.3%
Ohio 19 1476 1.3%
Illinois 29 2274 1.3%
Arkansas 3 275 1.1%
Florida 34 3185 1.1%
California 46 5185 0.9%
Oklahoma 1 466 0.2%
Alaska 0 0 0.0%

For most of the top few states (e.g., Hawaii, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, and South Dakota) have similar characteristics: one in-state school, a relatively insular market, and small law schools. Those schools each send a handful of their graduates to clerk in their states' courts--at least, it's probably a good guess, despite the lack of more granular data, that they're clerking in their home state.

A state like New Jersey is an anomaly. It has a robust state court clerkships system designed specifically for recent law graduates. Its website boasts 480 one-year positions. So it's probably no surprise that New Jersey-based law schools channel an extremely high number of graduates into state court clerkships.

Other states are not so fortunate--California among them, as it sits near the bottom of the list.

Here are the numbers as a percentage of full-time, long-term, bar passage-required jobs. (As a note, even though these positions are often only one year, they are still considered "long-term.")

State St. Clerks FTLT BPR Pct.
New Jersey 273 539 50.6%
Hawaii 20 56 35.7%
Delaware 44 132 33.3%
Maryland 95 290 32.8%
South Dakota 14 44 31.8%
Nevada 23 84 27.4%
North Dakota 12 44 27.3%
Montana 15 56 26.8%
Minnesota 121 538 22.5%
Vermont 21 109 19.3%
Rhode Island 14 73 19.2%
South Carolina 49 269 18.2%
Idaho 13 73 17.8%
Colorado 46 273 16.8%
Oregon 45 296 15.2%
Maine 6 41 14.6%
New Mexico 12 84 14.3%
Utah 26 187 13.9%
Pennsylvania 140 1012 13.8%
Louisiana 52 464 11.2%
Iowa 25 229 10.9%
Arizona 36 338 10.7%
Washington 38 364 10.4%
Kentucky 25 244 10.2%
Virginia 85 965 8.8%
Mississippi 20 230 8.7%
Connecticut 24 290 8.3%
West Virginia 6 75 8.0%
Wyoming 4 51 7.8%
District of Columbia 113 1441 7.8%
Nationwide 2044 26539 7.7%
Massachusetts 100 1345 7.4%
Indiana 31 477 6.5%
North Carolina 46 754 6.1%
Michigan 54 915 5.9%
Alabama 15 272 5.5%
Wisconsin 15 279 5.4%
Missouri 27 523 5.2%
Georgia 34 724 4.7%
Kansas 9 206 4.4%
Tennessee 15 363 4.1%
New York 113 3153 3.6%
New Hampshire 2 74 2.7%
Nebraska 4 151 2.6%
Ohio 19 818 2.3%
Florida 34 1653 2.1%
Illinois 29 1413 2.1%
Texas 30 1506 2.0%
Arkansas 3 163 1.8%
California 46 2557 1.8%
Oklahoma 1 302 0.3%
Alaska 0 0 0.0%

Now, of course, if California courts began offering robust clerkships opportunities for graduates, it might simply be that graduates who otherwise would have pursued other job opportunities would instead take a state court clerkship first. But, this data, I think, does show that regional employment opportunities greatly affect the short-term legal employment outcomes of graduates. (And I imagine many will draw a variety of conclusions from this data--but, the primary purpose of this post is to provide the data.)

Methodology note: A few schools do distort the picture for a few states (like Yale in Connecticut sends relatively few of its graduates into state court clerkships). So I thought I'd define each school's "home market" as the state where the school sent the largest percentage of its graduates. The only schools that had a percentage difference is at least one-half of one percentage point were Pennsylvania, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Connecticut--and the greatest of these was Connecticut at a 2.6-point difference. These were too small for me to decide to use this metric--particularly because the state where the school sends the largest percentage of its students may change from year to year, which would make future comparisons across years more difficult.