Deric McClellan (JD '16)
When Deric McClellan determined a few years after earning his BA in business that he wanted to become a lawyer, two factors in deciding which law school to attend were: 1) he wanted to graduate from an excellent school without facing years of student loan payments; and 2) he preferred to attend a law school in the Midwest that was relatively close to his hometown of Carthage, Missouri.
“TU Law had everything I was seeking: a national reputation for academic excellence; an outstanding faculty; and a strong record for ensuring that its students have jobs when they graduate,” Deric says. “The College is also close to Carthage, and I received a very generous tuition scholarship.”
When he received his letter of acceptance from TU Law, however, it never occurred to him that the small, private law school in Oklahoma would also help him land one of the most coveted spots for any law school graduate: a judicial clerkship on a United States Court of Appeals.
The selection process for a state or federal clerkship is one of the most competitive processes in the legal profession. The 179 judges who sit on the 13 United States Courts of Appeals receive thousands of applications each year for between two and four clerkship positions. The selection process is equally competitive for clerkships with nearly 670 federal district judges.
Full-time clerks for federal judges must already have their JDs in hand. Most have graduated at the top of their classes, served as editors for their schools’ law journals, received awards at legal competitions, and worked as summer associates at leading law firms.
At the end of his second year of law school, Deric was confident that TU Law had prepared him well for a clerkship. His grades were outstanding; he was an editor on the Tulsa Law Review; and he had worked as a summer associate at three of Tulsa’s leading law firms (one firm offered him a job upon graduation). Based on a vote by the faculty, the Oklahoma Bar Association had named Deric as TU Law’s “Outstanding Senior Law School Student.”
“I knew that a judicial clerkship would give me an in-depth understanding of how our judicial system operates. I would learn how a judge thinks and makes decisions, and I would help draft the judge’s opinions on the most complex legal issues. A clerkship would give me unparalleled experience for a young law school graduate and make me a better attorney,” Deric recalls.
Associate professor of law and associate dean at TU Law, Sam Halabi, was a federal judicial clerk after graduating from Harvard Law School and serves as the clerkship adviser for the College’s law students. “Professor Halabi played an instrumental role in helping me apply for, and ultimately obtain, a federal clerkship. He guided me through the application process, prepared me for interviews, and helped me invite three other TU Law professors to write generous letters of recommendation,” Deric says.
By the start of his third year, Deric had applied for more than 50 clerkships, but had not yet received an offer. As the end of the fall semester approached, TU’s assistant dean for experiential learning, Lauren Donald, told Deric about a possible externship with The Honorable Stephanie K. Seymour, Senior Judge on the United States 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.
“Professor Halabi told me that an externship with Judge Seymour would be a great learning experience in my last semester of law school, and one that could enhance my prospects for a full clerkship after I graduated,” he recalls.
Deric submitted his application, and after interviewing with Judge Seymour, she offered Deric the externship. “I was very proud to have the chance to work for Judge Seymour, and my first week was the best educational experience of my life,” he says. “I knew at that point that I had to continue my search for a full clerkship.”
After four months on the job, Judge Seymour called Deric into her office for a conversation that came as a complete surprise to him: She asked him if he would be interested in a full-time clerkship when he graduated in May. “I was both honored and humbled,” Deric recalls, “and I immediately accepted the incredible offer that I had been seeking for so long.”
Deric graduated with a JD from TU Law on Friday, May 6. He started his clerkship with Judge Seymour three days later. “This is the most exciting job I’ve ever had, and I’m very grateful to Judge Seymour. She is a distinguished judge and an amazing mentor,” he says.
“I’m equally grateful to TU College of Law for the outstanding legal education that I received there, and for opening the door to Judge Seymour’s court for me,” Deric says. “This clerkship will have a huge influence on me, both personally and professionally, for the rest of my life.”
When he completes his clerkship in August 2017, Deric will join the Tulsa firm that offered him a job in the summer of 2015.