February 6, 2014

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Moritz makes push for legislative clerkship program

Dakota  Rudesill

Dakota Rudesill

Unhappy with bright lawyers’ lack of access to jobs in Congress, students and faculty at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law are working toward a change.

Top law graduates from all around the country compete each year for prestigious clerkships within the judicial branch of government or entry-level attorney positions within the executive branch. Professor Dakota Rudesill pondered: Why are there not similar positions designed specifically for recent law school graduates in Congress, which acts as the primary author of federal law?

Having worked for the U.S. Senate before attending Yale Law School, he knew the value of legislative work and that new lawyers would be valuable on Capitol Hill and gain from helping write the law. He soon discovered that he wasn’t alone in this thinking.

For the past several years, Rudesill has been working with Larry Kramer, former dean at Stanford Law School, to win passage of a bill that would establish a legislative clerkship program within Congress similar to the judicial clerkship program that has been active for years. More than 145 law school deans from across the country have signed on in support. Hundreds of law students and new lawyers nationwide have signed an online petition. The coalition Rudesill and his students have organized includes legal luminaries and members of Congress across the political spectrum.

Compensation would be competitive with a salary around $60,000 per year, and the recent law graduates would gain substantive working experiences, such as drafting amendments, bills, and legislation and researching the law.

“Interpreting statutes is the bread and butter of legal work in any legal setting,” Rudesill said. “So the theory of the legislative clerkship initiative is that acquiring legislative experience will allow lawyers to gain a deeper understanding of the legislative process that produces legislation, which will mean deeper understanding of legislation and better law practice.”

The bill, called the Daniel Webster Congressional Clerkship Act, would create 12 clerkships, each lasting one year in time to be equally divided between political parties. The projected budget for the bill is $1 million.

The bill originally was introduced in 2008, and though the House of Representatives has passed it twice, it has died in the Senate. Rudesill attributes the failure to secret holds in the Senate, a practice that allowed senators to put blanket holds on bills. However, this practice has since been barred, giving new hope for the bill, which was re-introduced in the Senate in August. There is bipartisan support for the bill in both the House and the Senate, according to Rudesill, and he is confident it will pass this year.

Students at Moritz are helping with the final push too, calling their local representatives and working with Rudesill to coordinate with his contacts on Capitol Hill.

2L Tyler Puhl is one of the students lending a hand. There’s hope that the program would be up and running by the time he graduates. Even if he doesn’t have the opportunity to apply for a legislative clerkship himself, he said this lobbying experience has been valuable.

“I think that having the experience of just calling up your local representative or senator is huge,” he said. “Being able to be a part of the legislative process, not just studying it, there’s a lot to be gained there.”

Rudesill is confident that students at Moritz will be competitive for the new positions when they’re offered.

“Ohio State’s Moritz College of Law has one of the top legislative programs in the country,” he said. “So congressional offices will know when they’re looking at a graduate from Moritz that they’re dealing with someone who has a sophisticated understanding of legislation.”

With time, Rudesill hopes the program will grow, adding more legislative clerks and more legal influence in the legislative process.

“The legislative campaign to set up the program is nearing fruition,” he said. “I think it would grow to the point where there would be a critical mass of law students going through the program every year and getting legislative experience.”

Article by Michael Periatt

SideBar is a monthly electronic newsletter for Moritz College of Law alumni. Questions regarding this publication should be directed to moritzlawnews@osu.edu.