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The Case For Post-Bar Clerk Training Programs At Law Firms 

By November 22, 2023November 29th, 2023In The News

On Nov. 9, California became the final state to release bar results from this year’s July bar exam, reporting a pass rate of 51.5%, lower than the July 2022 pass rate of 52.4%. California’s February pass rate was also down to 32.5% from 33.9% in 2022.[1]

These dismal passage rates mean that law firms hoping for some relief from the recent attorney shortage will have to look for some other options until next spring, when results from the February 2024 bar come out in May.[2]

This is even more impactful when one looks at recent labor numbers,

which show a continued surge in reported job openings: Specifically, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that August’s rise was led by demand in the business and services industries.[3] Projections also show that the growth in legal occupations will likely continue to outpace other industries until 2032.[4]

As the demand for experienced professionals continues to increase, law firms are struggling to fill open positions in this season of attorney shortage.[5]

Because of the urgent need to fill these positions and the time required to develop young associates, many firms have not had the luxury or patience to hire and train inexperienced new attorneys or those waiting for bar results. Furthermore, firms may be reluctant to hire candidates awaiting bar results for reasons that include:

  • Lengthy waiting periods for bar results;
  • Low bar passage rates;
  • Cost and time commitments involved in training; and
  • Worries over retention and loyalty to the firm from new trainees.

Thus, law firms turn to an already strained and expensive legal recruiting industry, paying increasingly higher costs and base salaries to attorneys with any kind of experience. This unsustainable hiring cycle still leaves many positions unfilled and law firms paying higher salaries with ever-lower returns on performance and investment.

However, when designed and executed properly, the benefits of hiring post-bar clerks— those waiting for bar exam results — are notable.


Hiring Eager Talent
Most post-bar clerks are ready to put their legal education to use and secure gainful employment as they begin their careers. Through effective interviewing, law firms can select quality young talent who welcome mentoring and on-the-job training.

Training Young Attorneys in the Way of the Firm
Rather than overpay experienced attorneys who may be set in their ways and who bounce from firm to firm and must be untrained from existing bad habits, younger workers are more adept at utilizing newer technology and are generally receptive to learning the firm’s unique way of practicing law.

Observing Candidate on the Job
The post-bar period provides the firm an opportunity to evaluate work ethic firsthand and measure how the candidate fits within the existing firm culture before making a long-term commitment and introducing these potential future attorneys to clients.

Building Firm Loyalty
Because of the cost involved, some firms skip formal training programs for those without a law license, embracing a sink-or-swim approach when bringing on new associates. However, when quality candidates join the team, these workers often recognize the risk the firm has taken in their hiring, and express appreciation and loyalty over the long run.

Most post-bar clerks are thankful for the firm’s investment and welcome the opportunity to learn as much as they can before being given greater tasks and expectations as an attorney.

Lowering Initial Costs
Hiring a post-bar clerk provides a more affordable option to begin training even before a candidate becomes an attorney. Rather than waiting until their bar results come in, when they warrant higher base salaries, post-bar clerks are often willing to begin at lower initial salaries during the period in which they are waiting for bar results, with the hope of an increase once they become a licensed attorney.

Mentoring and Leadership Opportunities for Current Attorneys
One of the most important benefits to any law firm in adopting a post-bar clerk program is the value added for senior attorneys within the firm who are looking for career growth opportunities. Mentoring and coaching provide those high-performing and long-term employees with an opportunity to develop their leadership skills and increase their value to the firm, which in turn provides them with much-desired incentives and rewards, such as promotions, bonuses and raises, in addition to increased job satisfaction for those with leadership aspirations and a desire to mentor.


It must be noted that running an effective post-bar clerk program does not happen automatically. There are several essential steps to its design and implementation. Here are some important guidelines to consider when designing a healthy post-bar clerk program for your firm.

Identify potential attorneys who can provide one-on-one mentorship.
Before you even begin the search for post-bar candidates, it is critical to identify those who will provide the necessary training, oversight and mentoring. Not every high-performing attorney has the skills or patience to train and develop young talent.

Selecting the right mentor will determine the overall success of the program. For the program to succeed, there needs to be a single person responsible for training and overseeing each individual post-bar clerk. This person will need to determine which projects to assign, guide how the work is to be done, answer any questions and review the work product before it goes out.

Identify recruiting sources.
Before you can find quality candidates, consider where you will begin your search. Legal recruiters consistently underperform in this area, as they fail to deliver value when compared with the cost.[6] Developing a relationship with local law schools and bar associations can help identify quality young candidates for no cost.

Most law schools have career services departments and internship programs that can provide even better candidates than legal recruiters, usually at no cost. Professional social media searches and well-placed job postings are also helpful secondary options for finding quality candidates.

Interview and hire quality candidates.
Once a source for finding candidates is identified, it is important to become an effective interviewer who knows how to select the best post-bar clerks, those who are most likely to succeed in your program. This begins by designing the right interview questions, which will provide the candidate with an opportunity to reveal whether they are the right fit for your firm.

Examples include:

  • If a client made a comment that someone in the firm wasn’t responsive, what would you do?
  • What would you say to a managing attorney if you found out that you were getting the most difficult assignments on your team?
  • What would you do if a manager discovered a mistake that you made on something in which you had not been trained?

These interviewing skills can be perfected with practice over time, as you determine what qualities make a successful attorney in your firm.

Set reasonable goals and expectations.
Even before you begin interviewing candidates, it is important to establish reasonable goals and expectations for performance. Most post-bar clerks have some limited experience from law school, internships and summer jobs, but they require a significant investment in time and training to become a high-performing attorney.

It is helpful for them to know what the firm values and how success is measured. This begins with establishing attainable performance goals that can be communicated to the candidate during the interview process and then consistently measured during the clerkship.

Identify consistent tasks targeted to learning goals.
For a successful program, the work performed by the post-bar clerks must be intentionally designed for practical learning and developing analytical and writing skills. Most firms have a sufficient amount of record review, discovery and other similar tasks available for clerks learning how to become a lawyer.

Develop a career pathway.
It is important to help the post-bar clerk understand how their development and responsibilities will increase over time, and what their career pathway will look like beyond the clerkship. It is helpful for the clerk to know what happens after the bar results come out, and what an associate position looks like once they are sworn in to practice law.

When employees understand how they can continue to grow with the firm, they are more willing to trust the training process and more motivated to provide their best work.


In summary, there has been an increase in legal openings and there are not enough qualified attorney candidates to fill those positions. Law firms find themselves competing over existing talent when training new candidates from the beginning of their legal career may actually provide better long-term outcomes.

Implementing a post-bar clerk training program may be a contrarian approach to hiring legal talent in today’s market, but when designed and implemented intentionally, it can be an effective way to build a pipeline of qualified candidates for your law firm’s ongoing need for experienced attorneys.

Brent Daub is the senior founding partner at Gilson Daub.

The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of their employer, its clients, or Portfolio Media Inc., or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.


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