How to be a
If you have outstanding grades, then this highly competitive role could be for you.
Applying to be a judges clerk
In February or early March of your last year at law school, your law school will invite applications for judges clerking. The role is a fixed-term two-year appointment. Clerks from law schools where students often complete their LLB(Hons) dissertations during their first six months working do so every year.
The advertisement often says something to the effect that students with “outstanding” grades are invited to apply. The clerks’ experience is that any student whose grades qualify them for the honours programme will be able to make a competitive application.
In support of your application, you will need to supply a CV, including the names of two referees (one of whom should be a legal academic), a record of grades achieved at university (this does not need to be an official transcript), and a covering letter. There is no psychometric testing or anything similar. Applications close at the end of March. These will be made to your law school.
All applications are then forwarded to the Judge who administers the process on behalf of the respective courts.
Applicants short-listed for a position with the Supreme Court or Court of Appeal will receive an invitation to interview with a panel of judges at the Supreme Court in Wellington.
The invitation is usually extended in mid-April, and interviews usually conducted in the last week of April. If you are applying from outside the capital, the Courts will cover the costs of your air travel to and from Wellington and provide taxi chits.
The interview panel will be comprised of a mixture of Supreme Court and Court of Appeal judges and will last between 15 and 20 minutes. The interview is usually conversational, focusing on your achievements as stated in your CV, your interests in the law, other interests, and your professional working experience. Current clerks will then provide you with a tour of the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal complexes.
Decisions on appellate clerkships are usually made by the middle of May. Between 7 and 10 appellate clerkships are available each year.
Once these appointments are made, the High Court judges responsible for hiring at the Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch registries will interview a fresh short-list of applicants for those positions. Those interviewed for appellate positions who do not secure a role at those courts are often invited to interview at the High Court. These invitations are usually extended in late May or early June, and interviews and hiring decisions made in early June. Like the appellate interviews, these interviews last between 15 and 20 minutes and are conversational in tone. The interviews are usually with the two judges responsible for hiring at each registry. Each year, 8-9 High Court clerkships are available in Auckland, 3-4 in Wellington, and 1-2 in Christchurch.
You are not restricted to working at the High Court registry nearest your law school. Clerking can be an excellent opportunity to experience a new city for two years alongside others in a similar position. However, the hiring judges do accommodate candidates’ preferences on location as far as is possible. Once hired to work in a particular city, you cannot be made to move between registries without your consent.
All clerks, regardless of the court at which they work, receive the same salary, and receive the same 6-monthly incremental increases in salary. As of 1 December 2019, the salary progression was as follows (gross of tax and other deductions):
- 0-to-6 months’ service $49,118
- 6-to-12 months’ service $54,752
- 12-to-18 months’ service $59,055
- 18-to-24 months’ service $63,100
Your profs fees are paid for by the Ministry of Justice, and you are given paid time off from work to complete profs.
The 2019 Aotearoa Legal Workers’ Union survey indicates these rates compare favourably with those offered by the large law firms and other public sector employers.
The clerks’ experience is that those who take up employment with firms after completing their clerkship are treated as third year solicitors for the purposes of remuneration and seniority.