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Career Paths: Risa Katz ’15L

Risa Katz grew up in Denver, Colorado. She attended Colorado College for her undergraduate degree, where she majored in anthropology and minored in art history.

Risa Katz '15LRisa Katz ’15L

Who will you be clerking for, and what will your responsibilities be?

I’ll be clerking for the 5 judges of the 23rd Judicial Circuit of Virginia, which includes the City of Roanoke, the County of Roanoke, and the City of Salem. I’ll be reviewing cases, drafting bench memos, drafting preliminary opinions, assisting with research on both issues of fact and matters of law, and so on.

Why are you interested in clerking after graduation?

It’s a great opportunity to keep learning in a more practical environment. You get to watch different people handle things with different styles and see what works well and what doesn’t work as you start to develop your own style. It also gives you the opportunity to look at legal matters from a unique perspective. As a lawyer you’re usually in an advocate’s role. As a clerk (or a judge) your role is neutral. The goal isn’t to advance anyone’s interests but to find the right answer–to serve justice. It’s a different way to look at things and I hope it helps me to see the opposing side more clearly later in my career when I am in an advocacy role.

How did you secure this clerkship?

Good timing I suspect. I happened to be externing in the City Courthouse and one of the clerks mentioned that they were doing their interviews the next week. I applied, was interviewed, and am very lucky to get to spend a full year learning from them. I’ve already learned so much just going one day a week.

Which W&L classes and/or experiences do you think were most helpful in preparing you for clerking?

The externship and associated class about how to be a more useful law clerk has been very helpful in a lot of ways. We’ve discussed ethical issues fairly unique to judges and clerks, drafted opinions and memos (which are somewhat different than advocacy style memos done as lawyers), shared interesting experiences, etc. And because the clerkship class is taught by a retired judge, it’s helpful to get to hear his perspective of some of the things that clerks have done right and wrong over the years.

How is clerking linked to your career objectives?

Well, it certainly lines you up to network and get to know a legal market if you’re looking to stay there. It also gives you exposure to a lot of substantive law and writing experience that you might not otherwise have. And it can give you the chance to try a few different types of law at once for a year before you have to really narrow down what you want to do.

What are you most looking forward to about this clerkship position?

Probably getting to contribute meaningfully to the judicial system I plan to dedicate my life to serving within. I’m very aware that as a lawyer, I can only represent my client and can only try to effectuate their interests and the interests of justice as long as there is a judicial system in place filled with judges, clerks, support staff, sheriffs, and so on ready. Because I plan to be a part of that system for years, there’s a lot of appeal in the idea of serving in it now–giving back a fraction of what I hope to get for my clients in the future: the dedicated focus and time of decision-makers and their support staff to ensure that the judgments made are proper and in the interests of justice. That type of public service is very personally fulfilling for me.