Research and legal writing is not everybody’s cup of tea. It takes an immense amount of patience, learning, understanding and skilful articulation. But for those of you seeking a career in this direction, a ‘Judicial Clerkship’ could be an experience unlike any other.
Here, we present to you an interview with Vasudev Devadasan, a graduate from Jindal Global Law School and ex-Trilegal, where he talks about his journey and experience as a Judicial Clerk, one of the most aspired job roles for anyone who is serious about a career beguiled with legal research and writing, particularly in the precincts of a court. He also enlightens us about the application procedure and his learnings from this remarkable opportunity.
1. Please tell us something about yourself.
I am a 2018 graduate of Jindal Global Law School, one of the top private law colleges in India. Law school was really a time for exploration; I participated in a wide range of moots, took courses ranging from contract drafting to constitutional theory, and took my first legal writing steps through blog and journal publications. After graduating, I joined the Corporate, Finance, and Restructuring team at Trilegal Mumbai, one of the top 25 largest law firms. It was excellent and enjoyable exposure to transactional law. Still, my long-term interests lay in the field of public law and legal theory, so I eventually decided to apply for a judicial clerkship under Justice Chandrachud, a former judge of Bombay High Court at the Supreme Court of India.
2. What exactly is judicial clerkship, and why did you apply for it?
A judicial clerk assists a judge with the varied legal and administrative tasks assigned to them. You work directly under a judge, and a clerkship typically involves legal research, writing short notes on points of law, and briefing the judge on upcoming hearings.
There are a couple of reasons one may apply for a clerkship:
increased familiarity with Supreme Court litigation practice and procedure,
understanding judicial reasoning and writing,
or exposure to the varied law fields the Supreme Court engages with.
Personally, I chose to clerk to understand how the Supreme Court engages with democratic processes (e.g., the right to information and freedom of speech, election law, legislative proceedings, and judicial review).
3. What is the procedure for applying for judicial clerkship? How long did it take for the whole procedure to complete? How challenging is it, and who should apply for it?
The Supreme Court conducts a written examination for clerkship applicants. You can also apply directly to the office of a judge. This typically requires you to be slightly entrepreneurial and track down the exact email id to apply to. The best way to do this is to reach out to former or present clerks at the Supreme Court, and they can guide you on the specific procedure to follow.
My application process was fairly rigorous. I submitted my CV, a statement of purpose, and a writing sample followed by an interview. You can also intern with a judge for a few weeks (even full law graduates can do this) and then apply. This is a great way to understand what a clerkship entails and also for the judge to assess your work.
I would not want to generalize, but anybody interested in practicing at the Supreme Court or pursuing research centered around the Court should definitely consider applying. A clerkship is typically for a year from July to the following May, so the best time to apply is between February and April, with appointments typically confirmed in May and June for the upcoming year.
4. Can you please describe your work as a judicial clerk? What was/is your day to day routine? What was expected of you?
The work done by a judicial clerk is very judge specific, so you should definitely either intern or speak to former clerks of the judge you intend to work under to get a clear understanding of what your clerkship experience may look like.
Under Justice Chandrachud, our work largely fell into three buckets:
preparing briefs for upcoming hearings;
research on judgements the Justice was writing; and
assistance with speaking and academic commitments.
Justices at the Supreme Court hear over 150 cases a week and up to 60 cases on a single day. So preparing briefs for upcoming hearings well in advance is a time-bound challenge. Luckily for us, Justice Chandrachud would wake up very early in the morning to prepare for court, which allowed us to work into the night and prepare material for him to read the next morning. This typically involved accurately and succinctly summarising the factual circumstances and written submissions of cases assigned to the Justice. Certainly, be prepared for long hours and grueling weekends.
Legal research is largely self-explanatory, although it is important to note that because the Supreme Court is often required to decide novel points of law, research is often expansive. Where Indian doctrine is under-developed, we would often look at other jurisdictions and academic work. It goes without saying that the standards for research, legal writing, and presenting your arguments are extremely high. As the apex court, judgements must settle the present dispute but also settle the position of law coherently.
5. What are the advantages of judicial clerkship for one’s professional growth?
As a professional, your research and writing skills become finely tuned. The opportunity to present an argument succinctly to a Supreme Court judge in an informal setting is an invaluable experience for any lawyer. You also gain exposure to both Supreme Court procedure (e.g. admissibility, hearings, and reviews) and varied subject matter. My clerkship saw me engage with insolvency, consumer, and environmental disputes, core questions of civil and criminal procedure, and constitutional law. You are free to attend hearings and watch the nation’s top lawyers engage in advocacy. At a macro-level, you also gain insight into how the Supreme Court functions as an institution, legally and administratively. This is invaluable for aspiring academics and researchers.
6. What should judicial clerkship aspirants do to make sure they get the clerkship?
If you are interested in a clerkship, the best thing you can do is intern with a judge for a short period. You will familiarise yourself with the judge’s office and the present clerks. Having a broadly competitive CV and good analytical and presentation skills, and the ability to put in long hours are essential. At the same time, familiarity with Supreme Court procedure will help you hit the ground running. Depending on the judge you are applying to, you may be asked why you are interested in clerking and what your future plans are.
7. What do you aspire to do next and how do you think this experience will aid you?
I am presently applying for an LLM, one of the top 10 most professional degree courses in India and intend to pursue a career in research and teaching. My area of interest is the interaction between courts and democratic processes, and the clerkship has been invaluable in this regard. Under Justice Chandrachud, I worked on defection disputes, right to information cases, and cases concerning secularism and the freedom of speech. My clerkship has provided me with a unique insight into how courts view their role within India’s constitutional framework. You also witness the legal and institutional strengths and weaknesses of the Supreme Court, which are not always apparent from the outside.