What Does A Law Clerk Do?

“Clerk” is a poor description of what law clerks actually do. Most of the time, law clerks do not do clerical work; they do legal work. Some U.S. states have adopted the more descriptive name “briefing attorneys,” but Canada, unfortunately, still keeps the old name.

Law clerks are highly trained professional legal researchers. They assist lawyers and government agencies in both arguing and formulating the law. Their knowledge and skills are needed to ensure that all laws perform as intended and that all lawyers go into court fully informed.

What Does A Law Clerk Do?

Law Clerks’ Education

Law clerks undergo 2 years of education at most Canadian colleges. In most programs, about 70% of courses are in the law itself, about 20% are in communications, and the remaining are in office management or general studies. Graduates often have similar knowledge to senior law students. Many law clerks choose to specialize, and often bring particular knowledge sets that law firms are lacking. Law clerks are hired not just to take care of lawyers’ preliminary research, but also to bring fresh perspectives.

A Law Clerk’s Responsibilities

Law clerks’ responsibilities vary by employer, but often include:

  • conducting preliminary research into the facts of a case
  • deciding on directions for legal research
  • drafting legal and correspondence documents
  • interviewing clients or stakeholders

Notice how those responsibilities seem to overlap with those of lawyers and paralegals? That’s not a coincidence. In fact, law clerks are taking up more and more responsibilities in law firms across the country.

Law Clerks, Lawyers and Paralegals: The Difference

As the demand for legal services increases, more and more firms are devolving legal services onto paralegals and law clerks.

Law clerks differ from paralegals in that they are not insured by the firm, and thus are not allowed to offer advice of their own to clients. Paralegals, in theory, should be the ones actually providing services, while law clerks provide supporting research. Since paralegals are now often being asked to take lawyers’ research work, however, law clerks and paralegals typically do the same kinds of work, the majority of the time. The line between the two has become so blurry that the job of law clerk in Ontario is said to be functionally similar to the job of a paralegal in Quebec.

Why become a Law Clerk?

Being a law clerk is a challenging job that asks you to apply all your skills every day. It asks you for determination, focus, and creativity. For many, this kind of challenge is its own reward. For others, there’s also the money.

How much Money Law Clerks Make

Most law clerks start low on the pay scale for legal work, but rise quickly. A typical starting salary will be in the high 30’s, plus benefits. This quickly rises with experience. With 10 years of experience, salaries rise to an average of $55 000, while law clerks just retiring now are going out with around $60 000. This is close to 50% more than the Canadian median wage. If you like challenges, and like money, a 2 year law clerk program could be what you need.

Author Bio

The author of the article is Jeremy Benson. He has been writing about finance, mortgage and Canadian law since 7 years. Presently, he is doing a paralegal course in Toronto.  Blogging is one among his greatest passions. Follow him on Twitter@jeremybenson19.

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