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What Are Articles of Clerkship?

By Marlene Garcia
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Articles of clerkship refer to a training contract between lawyers and graduating law students, usually involving a two-year commitment. Some countries, including the United Kingdom, Australia, and Africa, require articles of clerkship before permitting graduates to practice law. Articled clerks usually gain experience in civil and criminal law by rotating among attorneys, often called solicitors, inside or outside the firm. Some regions no longer use the term, but simply refer to them as training contracts. The contracts typically must be registered with an agency that oversees the legal profession.

In South Africa, articles of clerkship require registration with the law society in the region where the contract is signed. The sponsoring solicitor assures the agency that the clerk meets all educational requirements to qualify for training. A law school graduate must also provide information needed to register the articles of clerkship.

Character references might be required to show the student is morally and emotionally qualified to become an attorney. The law society might also require proof of age and completion of law school. The application form for registration of articles of clerkship must be signed by the student and practicing attorney, and received by the regulating agency before any training begins.

Mentoring represents an important part of the clerkship, with periodic performance evaluations to assess progress. An articled clerk typically rotates every few months to learn a different facet of law, called a seat. Working with a new mentor for each seat might give a clerk valuable experience practicing different types of law.

Areas of training typically include drafting legal documents and taking dispositions from witnesses. Civil law experience might involve land disputes and commercial litigation over copyright issues. The clerk usually performs legal research in civil and criminal matters, and typically writes briefs and indictments. He or she might also work closely with victims of crime in criminal cases.

Other duties performed by clerks include participating in meetings with judges in chambers. They might also research prior court cases when assisting with appeals. Opportunities to examine or cross-examine witnesses during trial generally vary by law firm.

Some law offices provide opportunities for clerks to attend seminars or training courses during the clerkship. Articled clerks might also spend time learning the legislative process and assist in drafting bills. Permanent jobs after training are not guaranteed, but a high percentage of students who participate in articles of clerkship stay with the firms where they trained.

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Discussion Comments

By Melonlity — On Jun 19, 2014

@ Terrificli @Markerrag -- here is a bit of relevant trivia. There was a time in the United States when people who wanted to become lawyers had to apprentice with one. The bar exam was usually given by a local judge. The apprentices who passed those tests were admitted to practice on the judge's recommendation.

Times have changed.

By Markerrag — On Jun 18, 2014

@Terrificli -- all the more reason that law schools should strongly encourage students to take on clerkships with practicing attorneys while in law school. That is a fairly common practice and should be strongly encouraged. At this point, one might risk complete rebellion is radically altering the way graduates are admitted to the bar now.

It is also important to point out that a lot of law schools have both civil and legal clinics. Students can prosecute or defend in minor criminal cases and handle some civil cases, too. Perhaps a good way to make sure attorneys get that important, real world experience is to make those courses part of the mandatory curriculum.

That wouldn't be nearly as jarring as requiring law school graduates to effectively clerk for a couple of years before they can get their law licenses.

By Terrificli — On Jun 17, 2014

It would be great if law school graduates had to go through one of these before they could practice law. Law school is great about teaching people about constitutional law and how the laws in the nation evolved, but not so great at teaching people who to file lawsuits, try to keep people out of jail on driving while intoxicated charges, etc.

The profession would be much better off if lawyers had to get real world experience instead of learning to practice by taking cases for paying clients.

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