Judicial Branch

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Generally, attorneys will find three types of positions available in the judicial branch: judicial clerk, staff attorney, and judge.


A post-graduate clerkship with a judge is typically a 1-2 year commitment. A judicial clerk assists the judge with legal research and writing. Clerkships are available (depending on the state) at state trial and appellate courts, along with a range of federal and administrative courts. Clerkships are highly competitive positions, especially at the federal court level. The role provides great exposure to the judicial decision-making process and civil procedure. The federal judicial clerkship application process can potentially begin as early as January of your 2L year, with interviews occurring from that point through the spring semester of your 3L year. Many students also serve as volunteer interns for state and federal judges during the school year and summers.

For more information, please refer to the clerkship materials available in the CDO and via My Carolina Law.

Staff Attorneys

In addition the judges' individual clerks, the 11 federal Circuit Courts of Appeal, as well as state appellate-level courts (in North Carolina, the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court), have staff attorneys who act as "clerks" to the whole panel of judges, offering assistance to the judges and their clerks on any matters before the court. Staff attorneys generally do the research and writing for all motions before the court and write the opinions for all en banc opinions. In some courts, staff attorneys specialize in subject areas, such as criminal law (particularly pro se cases), habeas corpus, immigration, civil rights, and Social Security. These positions are generally two years in length and can be renewed.

Deadlines for federal staff attorney openings vary by court. A good resource for your search within the circuit courts is NALP (PDF). Also, you may want to connect with the CDO regarding using the OSCAR system to find and apply for Staff Attorney positions.


Eventually you may wish to seek judicial appointment or run for a judicial seat. At the Federal level, most judges are appointed for life. (Bankruptcy judges are appointed to 14-year terms.) For more information on the Federal Judiciary, visit http://www.uscourts.gov/.

Each state has a different method for selecting their judges. In North Carolina, judges are elected in non-partisan races at all levels (District, Superior, Court of Appeals, and Supreme Court). For more information on the North Carolina Judiciary, visit http://www.nccourts.org/. In addition, a quick search for your state will help you understand the Judiciary in that state. For a good starting point, visit http://www.statelocalgov.net/50states-courts.cfm.

Federal Public Defenders

In addition, Federal Public Defenders (FPDs) are part of the federal judiciary through the Office of Defender Services (ODS) of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. FPDs represent people who are charged with violating federal criminal laws and who cannot afford legal representation. In virtually all cases, the FPD's opponent at trial is the Assistant U.S. Attorney. Interested students may want to consider participating in the Externship Program at Carolina Law; past placements have included the Federal Public Defender in Raleigh.

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