The First use of law clerk by American judge

 Law Clerks
The first use of law clerks by an American judge is generally traced to Horace Gray of Massachusetts. In the
summer of 1875, while serving as chief
justice of the Massachusetts Supreme
Court, he employed, at his own expense, a highly ranked new graduate
of the Harvard Law School. Each year,
he employed a new clerk from Harvard. When Gray was appointed to the
U.S. Supreme Court in 1882, he
brought a law clerk with him to the
nation’s highest court.
Justice Gray’s successor on the
High Court was Oliver Wendell

Holmes, who also adopted the practice of annually hiring honor graduates of Harvard Law School as his
clerks. When William Howard Taft, a
former law professor at Yale, became
chief justice, he secured a new law
clerk annually from the dean of the
Yale Law School. Harlan Fiske Stone,
former dean of the Columbia Law
School, joined the Court in 1925 and
made it his practice to hire a Columbia graduate each year.
Since these early beginnings there
has been a steady growth in the use of
law clerks by all federal courts. More
than 2,000 law clerks now work for
federal judges, and more than 600
serve bankruptcy judges and U.S.
magistrate judges. In addition to the
law clerks hired by individual judges,
all appellate courts and some district
courts hire staff law clerks who serve
the entire court.
A law clerk’s duties vary according
to the preferences of the judge for
whom he or she works. They also vary
according to the type of court. Law
clerks for federal district judges often
serve primarily as research assistants. 

They spend a good deal of time examining the various motions filed in civil
and criminal cases. They review each
motion, noting the issues and the positions of the parties involved, then research important points raised in the
motions and prepare written memorandums for the judges. Because their
work is devoted to the earliest stages
of the litigation process, they may
have a substantial amount of contact
with attorneys and witnesses. Law
clerks at this level may be involved in
the initial drafting of opinions.
At the appellate level, the law clerk
becomes involved in a case first by
researching the issues of law and fact
presented by an appeal.

 The courts of
appeals do not have the same discretion to accept or reject a case that the
Supreme Court has, and they use certain screening devices to differentiate
between cases that can be handled
quickly and those that require more
time and effort. Law clerks are an integral part of this screening process.
A number of cases are scheduled
for oral argument, and the clerk may
be called upon to assist the judge
in preparing for it. 

Intensive analysis
of the record by judges prior to
oral argument is not always possible.
They seldom have time to do more
than scan pertinent portions of the
record called to their attention by
law clerks.
Once a decision has been reached
by an appellate court, the law clerk
frequently participates in writing the
order that accompanies the decision. 

The clerk’s participation generally
consists of drafting a preliminary
opinion or order pursuant to the
judge’s directions. A law clerk may
also be asked to edit or check citations
(references to a statute, precedentsetting case, or legal textbook, in a
brief or argument in court) in an
opinion written by the judge.

The work of the law clerk for a
Supreme Court justice roughly
parallels that of a clerk in the other
appellate courts. Clerks play an indispensable role in helping justices decide which cases should be heard. At
the suggestion of Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr., in 1972, a majority of the
Court’s members began to participate
in a “certpool”; the justices pool their
clerks, divide up all filings, and circulate a single clerk’s certiorari memo to
all those participating in the pool. The
memo summarizes the facts of the
case, the questions of law presented,
and the recommended course of
action — that is, whether the case
should be granted a full hearing,
denied, or dismissed.
Once the justices have voted to hear
a case, the law clerks, like their counterparts in the courts of appeals, prepare bench memorandums that the
justices may use during oral argument.
Finally, law clerks for Supreme Court
justices, like those who serve courts of
appeals judges, help to draft opinions

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