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Clerkships at the Supreme Court of Israel

April 19, 2021

There are many pathways to a foreign clerkship at the Supreme Court of Israel, and there is no right or wrong point in one’s legal career to stretch oneself with such an experience.

Three recent Penn Law School alumni shared what it was like to undertake this clerkship at very different stages:

  • Liz Feldmeier Vieyra L’12 had a nine-month experience immediately after graduation from the Law School;
  • Adria Moshe L’16 was in practice for a few years after graduation, then pursued the clerkship with the support of her firm;
  • Ben Weitz L’18 participated during the summer between 1L and 2L through the Law School’s summer fellowship program (now the Global Justice Fellowship program, or GJF).

Their stories highlight the attractions of this opportunity for University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School students and alumni alike, and how it has been helpful in subsequent legal experiences.

(Stories have been adapted from a verbal conversation and edited for content.)

Liz’s Story: Clerking after Graduation

Liz Feldmeier Vieyra L?12 Liz Feldmeier Vieyra L’12I did a clerkship for nine months, right after graduating from law school and before taking the bar exam. I’m not an Israeli citizen, but I have lived in several foreign countries. American students like me would say the clerkship experience is flexible, and there were tons of resources for living abroad. This position doesn’t give the kind of structure found with other post-graduation employers, nor does it require the same commitment. Students who pursue this experience must have maturity and savvy.

The judge I clerked for on the Supreme Court of Israel knew there was a timeframe when my clerkship would end, so that wasn’t an issue. Mostly, I wrote memos. I also wrote one or two speeches that the justice gave in English to an international audience. One of them was a short memorial speech. For another, I wrote key bullet points. Some aspects of what I wrote were incorporated into opinions, either translated into Hebrew or, addressing an American case, in English. The Israeli Supreme Court is not like the U.S. Supreme Court, taking 100 or fewer cases a year. It has everything–minor disputes, tax law, criminal law, employment law.

As you rise in your career after graduation and become more senior at a law firm, you acquire clients, and you need to know how to talk to people. A clerkship helps you to market yourself from another angle. It’s always a positive. And it distinguishes you from someone who is hired fresh from law school.

Adria’s Story: Enhancing the Early Career

Adria Moshe L?16 Adria Moshe L’16In law school, I was on the Jessup Moot Court team and on the Journal of International Law. I focused my studies on international and comparative law, and I thought that’s where I wanted my practice to go. Unfortunately, the firm I wanted to join didn’t have an opening in that field, so I ended up in technology and privacy practice, which is more of a transactional practice and involves counseling on privacy issues. But it also deals with a lot of international matters and considers comparative law and looking at local jurisdictions and how they handle new privacy laws.

I had heard that the clerkship opportunity with the Supreme Court of Israel would keep me engaged, but that it wouldn’t be the high-octane position that I was used to. It would take the stress down a notch, which I welcomed at that point. It was also refreshing to go back to more of a litigation, memo-writing, analysis-type practice.

When I went back to my firm to discuss the possibility of taking time for the clerkship, they were incredibly supportive and thought it would be a wonderful and enriching experience. I stayed at the same seniority level after I returned to the firm, and although the clerkship didn’t apply to my practice area, I developed other skills while there, for which I’m grateful. If the clerkship had been in my practice area, I would have gotten a full bonus and full-year credit for it from my firm.

Going into the clerkship from private practice versus straight out of law school, I had the skills learned from working, and the experience to know what was a deliverable and how to manage my time. If I had done the clerkship immediately after law school, I would have been more stressed and might have taken to heart things that I didn’t need to.

Somebody who doesn’t have international experience will want a helping hand with traveling and living abroad. But there’s so much flexibility with the position. It’s whatever works for you and the justice. It’s always worth applying. My justice wanted me for a year, but I was only looking to clerk for six months. We settled on nine months, but the last few months were loose.

While clerking, I got to work on the most important trademark case in Israel in over a decade. The memo I wrote about trademark and copyright law was heavily relied upon for that ruling. I also got to work on a case that interpreted the Hague-Visby Rules, which touched on my comparative international experience.

As a foreign law clerk, I didn’t write opinions because they’re written in Hebrew–although I speak Hebrew conversationally, I don’t have the skills to draft an opinion. It was mostly research. But it was critical work, because Israel’s legal system is relatively young. It relies on outside sources. It has precedents, but not as many as the United States or the UK. I also checked sources, wrote memos, translated (because I do have that skill set), and wrote articles. The justices usually bring you into the more interesting cases because they want you to have a good experience. I did everything from estate law to Hague-Visby Rules to trademark law to criminal law.

During discussion in chambers with the justices, they ask your opinion. My justice would ask me to explain my position in my memos, asking how I would vote if I were in his position. That was probably the most helpful part of the experience. I had extensive personal interaction with my justice, who is American by birth and was trained in the US. He sees the clerkship more like a traditional American clerkship, though that’s not necessarily the case for the other justices.

Each chamber also has two career clerks who are usually there for several years. They create stability. There are also two or more recent Israeli law graduates who are doing a one-year post-graduation internship at the Supreme Court. You’re interacting with those folks along with the justice.

Employers love clerkship experience. They find it fascinating. It is prestigious, but it doesn’t feel that way when you’re there because it’s a more casual environment, like everything is in Israel. It is a valuable legal experience, though, and an even more valuable life experience.

Ben’s Story: Amplifying the 1L Summer

Ben Weitz L?18 Ben Weitz L’18The clerkship is open to any student in law school. When I was there, there were twelve clerks. I was one of two students between 1L and 2L. We were both Israeli citizens. Then there were one or two students between 2L and 3L. For my 2L summer, I wanted to be a summer associate at a law firm, so it made sense to do this clerkship during 1L summer. I was less confident than other people, though, because I didn’t entirely know what I was doing. But because I was a 1L, the people I was working with reviewed my work very closely.

The clerkship program advertises that you have to be able to work a minimum of three months to participate. But rules in Israel don’t necessarily mean the same thing as rules in America. So, for example, if an American law firm says you need to work for them for ten weeks in a summer, no splitting, that is probably true. But when the Israeli program says you need to work there for three months, what it likely means is that you can’t work there for just one month. But if you apply and can do only two months, it’s probably fine.

Once I was there, I had specific projects that I needed to complete, so my time was less flexible because I was only there for nine or ten weeks. I had a backlog of securities regulations cases. That was difficult for me since I had not yet taken Securities Regulation. The Israeli securities regulation system is based heavily on the US system. That’s because there was a former chief justice who had done her Ph.D. at Penn on securities regulation, and then she implemented that system in Israel.

Most of my clerkship consisted of memo writing, and I helped with a speech about EU privacy law for the justice. I also helped with writing articles about performance in various countries.

The best soft skill that I built throughout the clerkship was learning to talk to somebody who’s in a significant position of power and figuring out how to be confident in that conversation. Once the justice called me in and said, “I just read your memo, and I’m interested why you chose these two cases, but not these two cases.” That was intimidating for me, because I didn’t know anything about securities regulation.

A lot of potential employers found the experience impressive. Along with the securities regulation cases, I worked on an exciting case where a guy who was in the military was killed in a motorcycle accident. His wife and parents had frozen his sperm. Years later, there was a dispute over who owned it. There were some wrinkles, so there was no direct precedent in Israel, but there were some similar cases in California. It was an awkward topic to bring up in job interviews, but I talked about it on every interview that asked me to discuss a legal problem I had worked on. There are definitely stories you can tell in an interview about your clerkship. It expands your experience and connects you with different problems you might face.

I had a really good experience, and I’ve recently switched to a startup that’s Israeli-American, so to them, the clerkship experience was significant.

Interested in a Clerkship with the Supreme Court of Israel?

There are four periods each year during which the Supreme Court of Israel considers applications for its Foreign Clerkship program: February 15-March 15; May 15-June 15; August 15-September 15; and November 15-December 15. Applications should be received 5 months prior to the preferred start date of the clerkship.

The clerkship program is voluntary and non-remunerative. Those accepted for the program must arrange their own travel and accommodations.

Funding is available through the University of Pennsylvania’s Gruss Fund to support clerkships at the Supreme Court of Israel. Due to this endowment, current Penn Carey Law students and alumni who undertake the Israeli clerkship program are eligible for a salary as well as a modest travel stipend.

For more information, please contact Associate Director of Clerkships Christine Fritton, cfritton@law.upenn.edu.