Clerkships in Delaware for Aspiring Corporate Lawyers

Cite this Article
J.W. Verret, Clerkships in Delaware for Aspiring Corporate Lawyers, Truth on the Market (April 12, 2010),

Students interested in pursuing a career in corporate law often confront me about clerking in the Delaware Courts.  If you’ve taken basic Business Law in law school, you know that the Delaware Supreme Court and the Delaware Court of Chancery are the source of American corporate law, owing to the fact that corporate law is state based and most corporations are formed in Delaware.  One observation I would offer, in all candor and seriousness, is that for the aspiring corporate lawyer a clerkship in these two Delaware courts is far more valuable than one in a federal appellate court or even, dare I say, the U.S. Supreme Court.

Frankly, it’s very astute of students to express interest in these courts.  If your fancy is big firm doing either deal transactions or corporate litigation in NY, DC, Chicago, California, Texas, Boston, or similar locales there is no better place to gain experience and signal your ability to potential employers.  Also, the big firms give Delaware clerks, both the Delaware Court of Chancery and the Delaware Supreme Court, the same bonus they reserve for federal appellate clerks, which gives some indication for how big firms value the Delaware experience at those two courts.

If you’re even smarter, and are interested in pursuing the same practice in Wilmington, DE, you can have the unique opportunity to do NY-style work for between $150k at the first year level to $200k at the 8th year level, (subject to the varying swings of fortune in associate salaries, but updated for 2010) and also live in a place where the cost of living is a small fraction of that in the larger markets.  You’d be surprised how happy hard working associates can be when they live in 2,000 square foot homes without straining their budgets.  And, if you have a fancy for NY, I’ve personally seen clerks from schools below the top 20 get great placements in top 10 firms based on their clerkship in Delaware.

Now that I’ve sold it, let me offer a little advice on how its done.  The Delaware Supreme Court is composed of 5 justices.  The Chief Justice gets 2 clerks, the rest of the Delaware Supreme Court Justices get one clerk.  The five judges on the Court of Chancery, including the Chancellor and the four Vice Chancellors, each get two clerks.  The protocol is that you should apply to all ten judges.  Unless you have a particular geographic link to Delaware, it may be best not to apply to clerkships with the Delaware Superior Court,  as that court gets little corporate experience in the way for which Delaware is known.  I will mute that warning, however, to those with a real commitment to the corporate law path who don’t make the first cut on clerkships to the Chancery or Supreme Courts.  I have seen clerks who are willing to stick it out clerk for the Superior Court and use that as a springboard to clerk for the Supreme Court to then obtain a coveted corporate gig, and maybe the same could work to spring into a clerkship with the Court of Chancery. That path can be fruitful, but is a longer and more risky haul.

The timeline is fairly similar to federal courts, with applications expected in September.  The addresses for the judges can be obtained from the Delaware State Judiciary website.  To my knowledge, applicants with a year or two of law firm experience do fairly well in the application process.  I would also highlight that the Delaware Supreme Court participates in a minority summer intern program for law students through the Business Law Section of the American Bar Association, from which permanent law clerks are sometimes hired.  One suggestion I would offer to aspiring clerks is that a writing sample based on an issue of Delaware Corporate Law signals your commitment to clerking for the court. Students interested in clerking are also free to contact me for more information.