I served as a law clerk for multiple courts between 1996 and 2000. While the technology has changed, the role of the law clerk I believe has remained the same.
The job of a law clerk is to provide research and writing support for the judge in writing his or her opinions. The law clerk does not make substantive decisions, but rather finds the necessary legal principles and case law that helps the judge formulate a well-reasoned decision.
A typical day in the life of a law clerk involves lots of legal research. Legal research and writing must be a passion of anyone who wants to work as a law clerk for a judge. Much time is spent in the library or in front of the computer gathering research or making edits to the latest draft opinion. On occasion, the law clerk will sit in on a trial proceeding or oral arguments depending on whether the judge is a trial judge or an appellate judge. Law clerks have regular contact with the judge, though the judge will expect that you can manage a research project on your own.
The pros of the job are that you get a behind-the-scenes insight into how the judge writes an opinion. You review various drafts and have a window into the judge’s thinking. That will in turn help you to write legal briefs to courts when you start practicing law. You also learn a lot about the areas you research for the judge’s opinions. The hours working as a law clerk can be long, but not as intense as you might experience working at a large law firm. Being a law clerk is also less stressful on average than working in a law firm. There are no clients or billable hours to deal with.
The cons are the job is that working as a law clerk is not as lucrative as practicing law, but that’s not the reason why a person would want to serve as a law clerk. You also spend a lot of time on the computer and reading law books. This is something you must have a passion for if you are going to thrive as a law clerk. The job is not about watching trials and oral arguments all day. Legal research and writing must be something you enjoy doing almost every working day. If the law library is a place you ran from during law school, then being a law clerk might not be right for you.