The Raveler
May 16, 2017

Judges to Watch: The 10 Rising Star Judges You Want to Clerk For

The right judicial clerkship can be a powerful career booster. It offers unique professional training, an elite network of contacts, and financial reward -- since many firms give bonuses for clerkship experience.

How to land one of these coveted spots? The classic ingredients are going to a top school, earning great grades, gathering compelling recommendation letters, and working on, or publishing in, a journal.

But what if you could improve your prospects by identifying judges who are less well known today but likely to gain prominence in the future? How would you find such judges?

For the second year in a row, we’re using data analysis to identify rising star judges. Powered by unique data from Ravel’s Judge Analytics platform, we ranked recently appointed federal judges based on the influence of their decisions.

Last year, our ranking identified Judge Lucy Koh as one of seven up-and-coming star jurists, and our analysis was validated by Koh’s recent nomination to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

This year, here are the judges we identified as rising stars. Hitch your wagon to them and keep your eye out -- given the large number of vacancies in the federal courts, these jurists are going places.


An Empire State of Mind

For the Ravel Citation Score, we developed a measure that looks at the quantity of work and its subsequent influence. Using data from Ravel’s platform, we considered the federal judges who were appointed in the last five years. We tallied the number of incoming citations for all opinions they wrote and then adjusted for length of tenure to compute an incoming citation rate.

Our ranking revealed that eight of the ten rising star judges are from New York district courts. We expected that our analysis would identify jurists from New York and Washington, DC, -- those are known stepping stones to higher courts given their jurisdiction over Wall Street and the District of Columbia and the potential for high-profile cases. We were surprised, however, that district courts from other states like California and Texas didn’t make the list.

In fact, the Eastern and Western District Courts of New York are represented twice on our list. This could indicate that the district courts in New York may have a larger impact on national jurisprudence than we realize and deserve a second look by law students seeking clerkships.

Turning to the individual judges themselves, these ten rising stars are already establishing a name for themselves with headline-making cases. Judge Margo Brodie, for example, in the Eastern District of New York, presided over one of two cases when the government sought access to a locked iPhone earlier this year. Meanwhile, Judge Rudolph Contreras is presiding over a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by a news reporter over the release of the email messages Hillary Clinton sent or received during her four years as secretary of state.

Appointed by a Democrat but Leaning Conservative?

We also took a deep dive into the data to see what judges these ten jurists found influential. Whom a judge cites to can say a lot about how they make decisions — whether it is to another judge they find persuasive, someone who mentored them, or someone they share philosophy with. Over time, patterns in those citations reveal themselves.

Would the analysis reveal liberal tendencies given that these judges were all appointed by President Obama? Or would the data indicate a centrist judicial philosophy, similar to that of recent Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland?

Not surprisingly, the ten judges in our ranking most frequently cited their peers in the circuit where they served. All eight of the New York judges, for example, cited Amalya Kearse most often. Judge Kearse was appointed to the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in 1979, and, as our ranking of influential law schools indicated, she has been prolific. Since 1980, she has written at least eight opinions annually, and many of her opinions have been cited hundreds of times by other judges.

Taking a closer look, though, reveals two intriguing indicators of centrist or conservative tendencies. The Supreme Court justices cited most often by these ten are Justices William Rehnquist and Byron White. Six turn to Rehnquist, while five to White when we examined the top ten judges our rising stars cited to. As we know, Justice Rehnquist was a conservative, and Justice White, although appointed by President Kennedy, defies easy liberal or conservative labels.

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