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Supreme Impact

CBN.comThey aren’t commanding a courtroom behind the bench, but Regent University Law graduates Ellen Coley and Cort Walker are making a huge impact in the Supreme Courts of Virginia and North Carolina.

As law clerks for state Supreme Court Justices S. Bernard Goodwyn (Virginia) and Edward Thomas Brady (North Carolina) respectively, these alumni assist their justices in researching cases and writing briefs on a wide variety of legal issues with statewide impact.

For these and other recent law school graduates around the country, a clerkship brings the opportunity to see the inner workings of the judicial process and immerse themselves in the law. It also provides opportunities for the recent graduates to network. “Law firms highly value the clerkship experience,” explains Darius Davenport, Regent Law’s director of Career & Alumni Services.

When the rare mid-year opportunity with Goodwyn came up, Coley didn’t hesitate to apply. Open clerkships in the fall are rare, as most run August to August in one- or two-year cycles.

Walker chuckles when asked about a typical day for a law clerk because, for him, there’s no such thing. On any given day he’s called upon to draft opinions, briefs and correspondence. Then there’s the careful research that provides the foundation for all of these documents and assists the justice in making his decisions. “Issues that we see are unique, interesting, and we have the time to dig into those issues,” he says.

The same is true for Coley. “I read all the cases that the arguing attorneys are relying on,” she explains. “I also perform my own research to find additional cases or statutes that may be relevant.”

As clerks for state Supreme Court justices, Coley and Walker have an important opportunity to witness the highest state courts in action. Coley regularly travels to Richmond with Goodwyn to hear arguments before the court. “The thing I enjoy most is listening to the attorneys’ oral arguments,” she says.

Lawyers who begin their careers in a clerkship position are exposed to a wider variety of the law than many other new lawyers. “You get to know people,” Walker explains. “Doors are opened to you that would not have been open right out of law school.”

In 2008, Regent Law’s graduating class had a record 16 graduates who received clerkships. The extremely competitive nature of clerkships is driving the law school to do more to encourage its students to seek out these positions. Career & Alumni Services offers professional development programs to introduce students to the importance of clerkships and prepare them for the application process.

Both Walker and Coley are quick to credit Regent’s law program with preparing them for their roles. Walker lauds the support and sense of community built among the students. During his rigorous class schedule, as well as clerking for the American Center for Law & Justice and serving as managing editor for The Law Review, Walker and his family came to treasure the camaraderie.

For Coley, her legal research and writing class sharpened her skills and developed the legal writing abilities that are crucial to her day-to-day activities.

The justices who employ these Regent Law graduates are equally impressed with their legal background and training. Walker is the second Regent Law graduate that Brady has hired. Goodwyn has worked with Regent alumni for several years, since his days as a circuit court judge.

When it came time for Goodwyn to hire Coley, those past experiences as well as his knowledge of her stellar faculty references weighed heavily on his decision. Asked if he’d hire more Regent Law grads if the opportunity arose, Goodwyn responded with an emphatic, “Oh yes! Regent is going to be a place I’ll look at closely.”

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