Courtroom Careers: Courtroom Clerks
A courtroom clerk is a person who takes care of many of the administrative duties that are necessary for a trial to run smoothly. Courtroom clerks are sometimes called the clerk of court or the court clerk. Courtroom clerks should not be confused with law clerks, however. Law clerks are not really clerks at all; they serve instead as special advisors and assistant to judges, conducting research and helping judges arrive at their rulings.
The responsibilities of a court clerk include maintaining a record of everything that happens during a given court case, from the opening statements to the final verdict or ruling. These clerks also swear in witnesses at times, and also maintain the official files and records of a courthouse. (And many of these records are now moving online, so computer and Internet skills are a must for anyone who hopes to work as a court clerk.) Clerks also make sure everyone who’s needed for a particular court case is present when a trial starts. And they can help foster communication between everyone involved in a court case: the lawyers, the judge, the witnesses and so on.
A courtroom clerk is a great position for anyone who would love to experience the drama and action of the legal process every day, but who might not like to argue cases before juries. A courtroom clerk must be a hard worker, a careful observer and someone who’s able to maintain focus for a long period of time. He or she must be very organized and capable of keeping copious notes and paying attention to the smallest of details. Clerk candidates have to be good at typing and word processing, bookkeeping, accounting and keeping track of budgets, as they often write up budget reports for courtrooms and attorneys. They also have to have a way with words. They can’t write down everything that people say during a trial, of course, so their records must contain careful summaries and syntheses of everything that’s been said. And so they have to be good at boiling down complex arguments to their essence without losing any important details in the process.
To become a courtroom clerk, a person has to graduate from high school, and college training is a major plus when you’re looking for a job. You could get an associate’s degree in legal studies, for example, or a bachelor’s degree. Some states, in fact, require people to have a bachelor’s degree before they can be hired as a courtroom clerk. It might be a good idea to major in English or pre-law when you want to become a court clerk, as these disciplines will help you practice some of the skills you’ll need.
Courtroom clerks make, on average, $31,000 a year. There are chances for promotions to more senior-level court clerk positions, and these promotions will bring pay increases. Job security and job satisfaction both tend to be high in this profession.