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Career clerk enjoys research, thinking like judge

September 13, 2012 | Alumni

A collection of law clerks and Judge George Caram Steeh huddled around a radio and computer the morning of June 28, in anxious anticipation of what might broadcast from the speakers or appear on the screen.

It wasn’t a regular morning at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. It was the day the U.S. Supreme Court was issuing its ruling regarding the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. A year and a half prior, Steeh had ruled on many of the same topics when he issued the first opinion of several cases challenging the act.

When the office caught word of the upholding, federal law clerk Jill Ringel Hart ’92 gave a high-five to Steeh, her boss of 15 years.

Ringel Hart has been at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan as a career clerk for 19 years and says it’s “the best job in the entire world.”

She said, “It may appear to be the same job year to year, but we have so many interesting cases. … That’s what makes this job exciting. You just see everything.”

Having clerked since graduating from The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, Ringel Hart has been with two judges in her time. She first served Judge George Woods for five years.

After her first two years clerking for Woods, she accepted a job with a prominent Detroit law firm. The litigation practice didn’t seem to be the right fit for her.

“I could just see that with a litigator for a husband, practicing in a firm wasn’t going to work out well for a family in the long run. … My life seems to revolve around my (three) kids,” she said. “The career law clerk path is really good for quality of life.”

Never intending to become a career clerk, Ringel Hart also realized she missed what she was doing as a clerk. She said it was all luck that Woods offered her a career law clerk position to induce her to leave the firm.

“I think this is a great job. It’s kind of related to teaching,” she said.

Jokingly, equating clerking to “finishing school,” Ringel Hart said career clerks do the same tasks as other clerks who normally serve for just two years out of law school, such as reading motions, researching, writing opinions, and educating the judge on cases. Career clerks, though, are more familiar with the judge, she said.

“You have a sense of how the judge thinks. Even though you’re looking at issues in the law and you’re trying to do the right thing, you also know what they would want to do,” she said. “My favorite part of the job is just talking about the issues with my co-clerks and with Judge Steeh.”

Though a lot of her time is spent sitting at a desk with pleadings and cases stacked around her, Ringel Hart referred to her job as “unparalleled experience.” She said, “It reminds me of being in school, and I like that.”

Having attended the University of Michigan as an undergraduate and moving back to “that state up North,” Ringel Hart said she sometimes comes back to visit family in Columbus and enjoys being back on Ohio State’s campus and at Drinko Hall. But her visits don’t often fall during football season due to other commitments.

Laughing and with hesitation, she admitted, “I’m only a season ticket-holder for one of those schools.”

This article was written by Sarah Pfledderer.