In true Savannah Law School tradition, many recent young alumni have secured impressive post-graduation positions. In particular, Katelyn Ashton, Elizabeth DeSalvo, Meagan Rafferty, and Rikki Simmons, were each selected to clerk for federal judges. DeSalvo and Rafferty recently completed terms in the United States District Court, District of New Jersey and United States District Court, District of Connecticut, respectively. While Ashton and Simmons will start in Fall 2018 following graduation and sitting for the Bar examination.
The four were kind enough to reflect on their time at Savannah Law School and provide thoughtful advice to future aspiring federal law clerks. Not to discount each law clerk’s hard work, but as you will notice below, the Savannah Law School faculty are shown much-deserved gratitude repeatedly. Congratulations to each of you – You continue to make the Savannah Law School community proud!
In 2018-2019, Ashton will serve as a judicial law clerk for Chief Judge S. Thomas Anderson, of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee. She graduated from Freed-Hardeman University in 2013 with a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice. She is originally from Henderson, Tennessee. Ashton moved to Savannah in 2014 specifically to attend Savannah Law School. She loves everything about the school – the location, the energy, the beautiful campus and city, and the phenomenal faculty.
How did you secure your position? I am originally from West Tennessee, but had not given much thought to returning to Tennessee until this year. I secured a position in a big law firm that I absolutely loved, but I kept thinking I might miss out on the opportunity to clerk if I did not pursue it now. The more I spoke with professors who had clerked, the more I knew I wanted clerk, too. I began looking on OSCAR for clerkships on the east coast, and the first five I saved were in Tennessee. One, however, piqued my interest the most: a clerkship in Judge Anderson’s chambers. I immediately spoke to my mentors about the position and they encouraged me to apply and were willing to write my letters of recommendation. I mentioned the position to my parents one day, and my father (a retired DEA Agent) happened to be friends with Judge Anderson’s secretary. While I was preparing my application and requesting recommendation letters, my father asked his friend if the position had already been filled. To my delight, it had not. I then began corresponding directly with the secretary. I directly sent her my resume, as I finalized my OSCAR application. Within a short period of time, I was offered and accepted an interview. I drove to Tennessee and interviewed for the position for a about three hours on a Monday morning. I spoke with his secretary and all three of his current clerks (two career and one term). I loved every moment of my interview. I was elated when Judge Anderson called the next week and offered me the position.
In what ways did SLS specifically prepare you to practice in this arena? My professors prepared me for clerking. I did not even know what clerking for a judge meant when I came to law school. As early as 1L Contracts, Professor Roberts would reference her clerkship experience. During my second year, I became an editor on Savannah Law Review. Law Review made (and continues to make) me a better researcher, writer, and editor. At the end of my second year, Professor Wright offered me a position as his research assistant. Without the experience of working so closely with him and my counterpart, I would not have thought of clerking in the way that I do. I have had the opportunity to work with both Professor Wright and Professor Roberts on huge projects. Being welcomed “into the fold” and investing myself in their projects caused me to desire to continue that same kind of working relationship with a judge.
What organizations were in involved with during your time at SLS? Savannah Law Review, Editor-in-Chief (two terms, 2016-2017 and 2017-2018), Associate Editor (2015-2016); Moot Court Honor Board, competitor (2016) and coach (2017); Student Bar Association, President (2015-2016); Federalist Society, Secretary (2015-2016); and National Women Law Students’ Organization, member.
Advice to future or current SLS students with aspirations to serve in the same capacity? Form relationships with your professors—mentorship is invaluable. Be involved in as much as you can, both within the law school and within your community. Get onto Law Review. Make as many professional connections as you can and then utilize them. Show up. Be on time. Ask questions. Do not be discouraged from hearing “no.” Be humble and thankful. Accept and implement feedback. Recognize the value in those around you. Do, read, and be more than what’s required of you.
Who was your mentor at SLS and how did he or she impact you? Every professor I have had at Savannah Law School has molded, influenced, and (at some time, in some capacity) mentored me—that is something extremely unique to this place. Professor Roberts and Professor Wright are my all-the-time, all-the-things mentors. Without them, I would not be the person or student that I am. I cannot ever adequately thank them for their influence, guidance, leadership, mentorship, and friendship. Professor Roberts has been my mentor since before day one. She called me when I was trying to choose a law school and was one of the first professors I met when I started. She is an incredible professor, with extraordinary expectations. She is the faculty advisor for Savannah Law Review, so I have worked very closely with her over the last three years, especially the last two. She tapped into a potential that I did not know I had. She is critical of me when I make mistakes and is a constant source of support and guidance. She goes above and beyond for her students, regardless of how full her plate is—and it’s always overflowing. I have taken all of her classes and it has been a whirlwind, in the best way. She values students’ opinions. She has pushed me to make decisions and then question those decisions and beliefs on countless occasions. I am constantly in awe of her accomplishments and brilliance. The first class I had with Professor Wright was during my second year. Since then, I have taken every class of his that has been offered. I was thrilled to become his research assistant. He is outstanding in class, on paper, in print, and outside of class. He asks hard questions and expects thoughtful answers. He has helped me to figure what I want and then has helped me achieve many of those things. I read things I had never read before. I think about things I never thought about before. He has pushed to greater heights. I admire his intellectualism, his demeanor, his attitude, and his balance. He cares about his students academically, professionally, and personally. Both Professor Roberts and Professor Wright have impacted every aspect of my life. Their mentorship has made me a better person, student, citizen, leader, daughter, mother, and friend. I cannot count the ways for which I am thankful for them. But I certainly would not be where I am or go where I’m going without them. Put simply, I am better because of them.
DeSalvo currently clerks for Judge Patrick J. Bradshaw in the civil division of Middlesex Superior Court, New Jersey. Previously, she clerked for Judge Steven C. Mannion, USMJ, District of New Jersey, located in Newark, NJ. She is a first-generation college student from Arizona. Her desire to attend law school began as a child, but as someone who didn’t know anyone who had attended law school, she had no idea how to accomplish that goal. She had careers in finance, investment, and computers, but inevitably became bored. In 2010, she moved to Georgia and made the decision to attend college. Thereafter, she graduated magna cum laude from the College of Coastal Georgia in 2013. After graduation, she was accepted to graduate programs in Psychology at both The New School for Social Research and New York University in New York. She found Savannah Law School by complete accident – while visiting Savannah with friends and exploring the historic district. She was on the phone with NYU deferring her acceptance and applying to SLS that same evening.
How did you secure your position? I secured my position with Judge Mannion through Oscar. Professors Roberts, Wright, and Harpalani wrote my letters (and about a million others). I secured my current position through a recommendation by Judge Mannion.
In what ways did SLS specifically prepare you to practice in this arena? The mentorship of all my professors at SLS was invaluable. And the intellectual environment they and my peers created made me aim higher and want more.
What organizations were in involved with during your time at SLS? I was EIC of Savannah Law Review and on the Moot Court Honors Board. I was also in Outlaws and Allies.
Advice to future or current SLS students with aspirations to serve in the same capacity? Law Review is absolutely, without a doubt, the most important thing for which any judicial clerkship looks. I did not meet a clerk in the federal system who did not have law review experience and it’s very rare even in the state system. GPA and law review. Also, be more flexible on where you apply location-wise. I was told multiple times by people much smarter than me that I had to be flexible and couldn’t have everything I wanted. I should have listened and the last couple of years would’ve been a bit less stressful, but because of NYU I was tied to this area.
Who was your mentor at SLS and how did he or she impact you? Caprice Roberts, Andy Wright, and Vinay Harpalani wrote so many reference letters for me and were always there when I needed someone. Especially Professors Roberts and Wright. I am honestly not sure I would’ve graduated law school without their mentorship, encouragement, and generally calming presence. And I’m 100% positive you will get very similar answers from the other three ladies. Roberts and Wright are the rock upon which SLS students lean, especially the high-achieving ones, and I will forever owe them.
From September 2016 through September 2017, Rafferty served as a Law Clerk to the Honorable Alvin W. Thompson, United States District Judge for the District of Connecticut in Hartford, CT. She grew up in Northern Virginia, in the Washington, DC suburbs. She attended Shenandoah University, where she studied musical theatre. After earning her B.F.A., she worked as a director and theatre educator in the DC area. She moved several times for her wife’s work before eventually finding herself in Savannah. While in school, she did summer internships with Georgia Legal Services and with ACLU Racial Justice Program in New York.
How did you secure your position? I knew I wanted to go into public interest law, and I knew that a federal clerkship would help me get there. During my 3L year, I applied to judges all across the country. In the course of several waves of applications, I applied to over 100 clerkship positions. I was called for an interview with Judge Thompson in February 2016, and I flew up to Hartford for the interview. I was honored to accept the offer over the phone the next day. A few days later, I received an email with an offer to interview with another judge, this time in the Eastern District of New York. I was embarrassed to have to turn it down because I had neglected to withdraw my other applications (Don’t be like me! Withdraw pending applications if you accept a conflicting position!)
In what ways did SLS specifically prepare you to practice in this arena? After I accepted the clerkship, I sought out all of the advice I could from faculty members who had clerked on the federal bench (Professor Roberts and Professor Sneirson). Then when I was in chambers, I used what I had learned in my foundational courses literally every day. Most particularly, civil procedure, federal courts, constitutional law, evidence, criminal procedure, and of course—perhaps more than anything—legal writing.
What organizations were in involved with during your time at SLS? I was the Executive Editor of Savannah Law Review and a member of the mock trial team and the moot court team. I also was involved with American Constitution Society and OUTlaws, and I was a research assistant to Professor Wright.
Advice to future or current SLS students with aspirations to serve in the same capacity? Apply early and often! If at all possible, try not to limit yourself geographically, which would limit the number of judges to whom you could apply. Write on to the Law Review and compete with the moot court team; not only do judges look for these (especially the Journal), but also you gain the skills that will help you succeed once you’re there. Learn about the judges to whom you apply, and if based on what you learn, you feel you could not work for that person, do not apply. With that said, be as open as possible to working with people with whom you may disagree. Knowing my resume outed me as incredibly progressive, I always took the approach letting the judge decide whether they could work with someone who views the world the way I do, whether or not it aligned with their own views. Still, that’s a decision every potential clerk will have to make for themselves.
Who was your mentor at SLS and how did he or she impact you? Working for Professor Wright was perhaps the best thing I did while in school, and I have no doubt that I would not be where I am but for his mentorship. He’s effortlessly brilliant and he shaped the way I view the law, the concept of justice, and the areas in which the two diverge. Professor Roberts was instrumental in guiding me through the process and in helping me find the confidence to aim higher than I thought I could ever make it. Together, they both wrote more letters of recommendation and served as references for more applications than I can count (remember those 100+ applications?). Professor Ogolla taught me how to ground my thinking—in a world where the answer is always “it depends,” judges, and by extension, law clerks, need to find firm answers: yes or no, grant or deny, in or out. Professor Ogolla always pressed my classmates and me to build this skill, and it helped me throughout my clerkship. Of course, all of the rest of the faculty taught me so much and each contributed to my being the attorney I am now.
In October 2018, Simmons will be starting her role as a Federal Judicial Law Clerk for the Honorable Joel B. Toomey in Jacksonville, Florida. Judge Toomey is Magistrate Judge with the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida. Simmons is originally from Winder, Georgia. She graduated from the University of Georgia in 2009 with dual degrees in Political Science and International Affairs. After graduation, she moved to Savannah to work at a logistics company, Page International, Inc., where she managed a team of documentation specialists primarily focused on creating and revising customs documentation. Her position at Page, and with that her exposure to various shipping contracts, triggered her interest in attending law school. She currently lives in downtown Savannah with her husband Shawn and their rare breed miniature schnauzer, Chester.
How did you secure your position? I believe my previous internship with the Untied States Attorney’s Office in Jacksonville paired with two other legal internships that I currently have contributed the most to me securing this clerkship. During the fall of 2017, I worked as an intern for the Untied States Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida, Jacksonville Division. Working for the USAO was an amazing experience. I worked closely with the Assistant Untied States Attorneys on a variety of different legal issues, and often accompanied them to court. During this time, I gained my first exposure to magistrate courts and realized just how important they were to the federal judicial process. I also had a great mentor, Rodney Brown, who took the time to explain (and ensure I understood) federal criminal procedure, and was always willing to help me work through cases. I also currently intern for Donnie Dixon, a practitioner in Savannah, Georgia who handles a variety of cases, both civil and criminal. The practical experience I have gained through this position has helped me develop a more in-depth understanding of civil and criminal procedure, which will definitely come in handy during my clerkship. This semester I am interning for the Honorable Clyde L. Reese III at the Georgia Court of Appeals and am getting exposure to the state judicial appellate process. I really enjoy working at the Court of Appeals and enjoy the research and writing associated with drafting judicial opinions. Judge Reese’s chambers has a very collegial atmosphere and this experience has helped solidify my desire to become a federal law clerk. The wealth of knowledge I have gained through these internships paired with the support, guidance, and assistance of the professors at Savannah Law School, some of which spent many hours writing amazing recommendation letters on my behalf, helped me stand out among a field of amazing applicants.
In what ways did SLS specifically prepare you to practice in this arena? My involvement with Savannah Law Review and my position as a research assistant for Professor Caprice Roberts prepared me for a federal clerkship. Of all co-curricular activities, Savannah Law Review has done the most to prepare me for a job that consists primarily of research and writing. Under the guidance of our fearless Editor-in-Chief, Katelyn Ashton, Savannah Law Review has hosted law professors from around the nation for our annual colloquium. Katelyn has been integral in guiding what was once a brand new organization into a nationally recognized Journal. Savannah Law Review has afforded me the opportunity to edit articles written by law professors from around the world who are experts in their area of law. Editing these articles has prepared me for the duties and responsibilities that come with a federal clerkship. Working as Professor Roberts’ research assistant has been equally essential in preparing me for a judicial clerkship. After beginning the position in March 2015, I was fortunate enough to be afforded the opportunity to assist her in updating the leading remedies treatise, Dobbs & Roberts, Law of Remedies: Damages—Equity—Restitution (3d ed. 2017). Working on the treatise, which was last updated in 1994, was a multi-year project, but the research, writing, and editing skills I gained while working on the project will be invaluable to me in my position as a federal law clerk.
What organizations were in involved with during your time at SLS? During my four years at Savannah Law School, I’ve been active in many co-curricular and extra-curricular organizations. Being on Savannah Law Review, as I previously noted, has been integral in refining my editing skills, and it is essential for a federal law clerk to be an excellent writer and editor. I’ve also been a member of Moot Court, and I was fortunate to compete in the 2016 Georgia Intrastate Moot Court Competition. Preparing for the competition, in addition to actually competing, helped me improve my public speaking skills while at the same time refining my brief writing skills. I have also served as the president of the American Constitution Society, which has allowed me to network with students from law schools across the nation and sponsor events focusing on hot-topic legal issues here at Savannah Law School.
Advice to future or current SLS students with aspirations to serve in the same capacity? I would advise future students that aspire to be federal law clerks to pursue different internships, continue to network, and to stay determined. Academic achievement is extremely important in securing a federal clerkship but it is just one of many factors considered by a judge. The practical experience you can gain from an internship will definitely be beneficial when trying to land a clerkship and help you stand out among the hundreds of applications a judge will receive. Further, you’ll meet many practitioners during any internship, and these contacts may, in the future, be your references when applying for a clerkship, so make sure you are kind, courteous, responsible, and produce the absolute best work product possible. Many judges like to hire students with ties to their geographic region, so the more contacts you make that may have a connection to that region, the better. Lastly, federal clerkships are very coveted positions. Judges often receive hundreds of applications for just one position. Don’t be disheartened if you haven’t received an interview yet. Many people send out hundreds of applications just to get one interview. Stay determined and continue to accomplish goals that will make you stand out in a positive way.
Who was your mentor at SLS and how did he or she impact you? The guidance and support of Professor Caprice L. Roberts has been invaluable while working to secure a federal clerkship. As a former federal law clerk, Professor Roberts is very knowledgeable about the qualities and skills needed to become a successful federal law clerk and passed that information on to me. Professor Roberts worked with me to prepare for clerkship interviews and anticipate the kinds of questions that may be asked to ensure I was prepared for any question thrown at me. This process took time, but it ultimately helped me secure a federal clerkship. The various projects I have worked on as Professor Roberts’ research assistant were at the focal point of many interviews, both for clerkships and private-section positions, and questions about my contributions initiated many substantive legal conversations during these interviews. I definitely could not have worked through this process on my own and I’m thankful to have such a supportive mentor to help guide me through the process.