After she graduates from The University of Tulsa College of Law in May, Alexandra (Allie) Fleming will be embarking on a career-defining journey. That’s when she will take up a two-year clerkship with U.S. Magistrate Judge Ronald C. Griffin of the United States District Court of the Western District of Texas.
“Getting a federal clerkship is a great honor and an incredibly valuable experience,” said Matt Lamkin, an associate professor at TU Law and the faculty member who helps students identify and apply for clerkship opportunities. Many judges receive hundreds of applications for just one position. That’s because working in a judge’s chambers gives clerks insight into the justice system that can’t be obtained any other way.
“Allie is a perfect fit for a clerkship. She’s got strong analytical ability, excellent writing skills, and – most importantly – a commitment to excellence. Judge Griffin is lucky to have her.”
Fleming’s responsibilities as a federal clerk will be various. Because Judge Griffin maintains both a civil and criminal docket, she will, among other tasks, help draft motion orders, opinions and evidentiary rulings. Fleming will also have ample opportunities to observe settlement conferences and daily court proceedings. “I am so looking forward to learning from Judge Griffin day in and day out,” Fleming remarked. “He has years of experience as a civil attorney and he knows the inner workings of civil litigation in ways I cannot even begin to fathom.”
From Texas to Tulsa
A federal clerkship in Texas makes additional sense for someone who was born and raised in the state and has her sights set on practicing law there.
After graduating from a small high school in Red Oak, south of Dallas, Fleming attended the University of Texas at Austin. There, she majored in journalism, originally with her eyes set on becoming a sports broadcaster – “think Erin Andrews mixed with Bob Costas,” she said. While Fleming eventually chose another path, she drew on the solid writing fundamentals learned as an undergraduate and put them to good use during the next stage of her education: “I attribute much of my success at law school to the principles of sound writing I acquired while studying journalism.”
Upon graduating from UT Austin, Fleming made her way north to Tulsa. During her first term at TU Law, Fleming studied contracts law with Professor Robert Butkin. She credits that course with “setting the tone for my entire law school career. Professor Butkin had extremely high standards regarding how we prepared for class, and I tried my best to import those principles to all the rest of my studies.” Fleming also praised Professor Evelyn Hutchison for giving her a morale boost during that first semester. “I owe a lot of my confidence to Professor Hutchison. She encouraged me when I wasn’t sure I was cut out for legal studies and assured me that I, in fact, did understand this whole law school thing.”
In addition to her coursework, Fleming took advantage of TU Law’s internship and externship opportunities. During her 1L summer, she worked on Project Commutation – “such a worthwhile, life-changing experience.” Even more germane to her upcoming clerkship, when she was a 2L Fleming externed for the Honorable Judge E. Dowdell: “This was an invaluable experience that cemented for me that clerking after graduation was something I would really enjoy.”
While that experience was galvanizing in terms of her future direction, the first step was actually taken in a constitutional law course taught by Dean Lyn Entzeroth. “Each day,” Fleming recalled, “Dean Entzeroth exuded a passion for constitutional law. I could not get enough. That was the first time I remember a course inspiring me to think of pursuing a career in the area of the law the course covered. After Con Law, I knew I wanted to learn more about constitutional rights litigation, and that led me to apply for an externship in Judge Dowdell’s chambers.”
Advice for others
The road to a clerkship is long, and it is paved with diligence, hard work and inevitable rejection. Fleming recalled that Professor Lamkin helped prepare her by advising that “rejection letters will at least double the number of interview offers” and that she had to do something “to get out of the big stack of applications on a judge’s desk and into the small stack that a judge would want to interview.”
One of the somethings that Fleming credits with having helped her to land interviews was serving on the editorial board of the Tulsa Law Review (TLR). “Each judge I interviewed with wanted someone who had served on their school’s flagship journal,” she noted. Beyond its utility for securing interviews, Fleming said, “working as TLR’s associate articles editor taught me about academic scholarship and pushed my work ethic to the limits. It also enhanced my detail orientation to a new level and made me a more effective leader.”
Another piece of good counsel Fleming wanted to pass along to others aspiring to federal clerkships is to “find something that creates a connection to each particular judge.” Among the possibilities she cited were a mutual undergraduate institution, a hobby or even a home state.
Her final advice is to recognize “you can never be too prepared.” For Fleming, preparing to apply and be interviewed took six months. She researched the most common judicial clerkship interview questions. She wrote out and memorized answers to those questions. And then she recited those answers in front of a mirror. “That was my way of being as prepared as I could possibly be.” Clearly, for Fleming, the result was amply worth the effort.
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