Grace Greene L’20 arrived at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School with a background in microbiology and no idea what a judicial clerkship was. Now, just a few years later, she enjoys the distinguished honor of being selected as a clerk for Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts.
“It wasn’t until I started hearing from peers and taking several classes taught by judges that I realized, ‘wow, this clerkship thing sounds really great,’” Greene said. “I thought the opportunity to work so closely with the judge and to get to shape and research the cases that you’re reading in your case books would be great. Now, I can say that this has borne out: this is the best job. I wake up each and every morning so incredibly excited to go to work and to read the briefs.”
The path to a Supreme Court clerkship
Greene began her clerkship career immediately following graduation when she clerked for the Senior Fellow, the Honorable Stephanos Bibas, her Criminal Procedure professor at the Law School and a judge on the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Following this clerkship, Greene will embark on a one-year clerkship for the Honorable Gene E.K. Pratter of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, and then in 2022, she will begin clerking for Chief Justice Roberts.
“I’m enormously proud of Grace, who went from being a star student of mine to a star law clerk,” Judge Bibas said. “She’s extremely bright, a dogged researcher, and a crisp writer and editor, as well as a lovely person and colleague. She will reflect credit on Penn up at the Court.”
In addition to Judge Bibas, whom Greene described as “a wonderful mentor,” Greene noted that several other people at the Law School worked hard to support her in her journey to her clerkships. During her 1L year, Greene sat down with career counselor Chris Fritton in the Office of Career Strategy who described and demystified the process of securing a clerkship. Several of her past professors, including David Berger Professor for the Administration of Justice, Emeritus Stephen Burbank, Michael A. Fitts Professor of Law Polk Wagner, and Dean of Students Felicia Lin L’08, all encouraged Greene to pursue this work and penned letters of recommendation for her clerkship with the Chief Justice. Moreover, in preparation for her interview with the Chief Justice, John H. Chestnut Professor of Law, Communication, and Computer & Information Science Christopher Yoo arranged two moot interviews, which Greene described as “very intense cold calls on anything and everything.”
“Clerkship interviews are wildcards in general. It’s difficult because you can read judges’ opinions, but you don’t really know their personalities until you sit down with them or their clerks,” Greene said, underscoring that each of her interviews for the three clerkships she secured functioned very differently. Whereas Judge Bibas preferred a longer, substantive interview, Greene’s interview with Judge Pratter felt more conversational. Greene described her interview with Chief Justice Roberts as “conversational and substantive at the same time” and overall “such a lovely conversation.”
According to Greene, the common thread woven throughout all of the interviews was a sense of trust.
“I think what they’re going for is: do they want to be in the trenches with you? I spend an incredible amount of time with all of my co-clerks. We have lunch with Judge Bibas every day. Being in such an intimate environment requires a lot of trust, because you have to trust that one another is doing the work correctly, is thinking deeply, and is doing their best at writing,” Greene said. “You want to make sure the person you’re interviewing is not only someone you can work with, but someone you want to work with.”
The clerkship experience
For Greene, whose goal is to work as a litigator following her clerkships, one of the most enjoyable aspects of clerking is how deeply intellectual the clerkship work is and how it has allowed her to explore many different legal subjects. During her clerkship with Judge Bibas, Greene noted that it was easy to become engrossed in a wide variety of legal areas — even the ones she never thought she would particularly enjoy.
“I’ve really loved the cases where I’ve gotten to discover little areas where I had no idea this issue even existed, and it turns out to be a huge problem for people in the real world. Those have been my favorite types of cases,” Greene said. “Maybe it’s just a clerkship thing, though I imagine this is probably true of all legal practice: you may not be inherently interested in one area of law, but then you get invested intellectually — and sometimes even invested emotionally — in a case, and if you care so much about discovering the correct outcome, then the subject becomes interesting.”
The Law School’s influence
In discussing her accomplishments, Greene repeatedly emphasized how grateful she felt for her experience at the Law School at Penn, especially the support she felt both while she was a student and after she graduated.
“Not only does Penn encourage you to think like an intellectual and to push yourself, but it also pushes you to think practically,” Greene said. “I think that’s borne out not only in the clinics and the pro bono requirement, but also in how the professors are really good in the classroom at saying, ‘take a step back from the doctrine. Think about how this is actually going to affect real people in everyday life.’ That is a skill that Penn trained me to have and that I have found really valuable in my work.”
Greene summed up her experiences at the Law School with pride and appreciation.
“I’m so grateful to Penn for training me to be the lawyer I am. I know I will continue to grow as a person because of the friendships and the resources that I have from the Law School.” she said. “I’m proud to be a Penn lawyer.”
The Law School’s Office of Career Strategy is uniquely equipped to support students through the process of applying and interviewing for clerkships at every level. Regardless of the sector, The Law School continues to support its alumni in career changes throughout their professional journeys.