Law Clerk Program Videos
- Interview with the Chief Justice of Canada, the Rt. Hon. Richard Wagner
- Interview with the Hon. Sheilah Martin
- Interview with two former law clerks, including the Hon. Andromache Karakatsanis
Interview with the Chief Justice of Canada, the Rt. Hon. Richard Wagner
So, well, clerks, what I look for, of course, there are many applications submitted to the Supreme Court each year, but the nine judges have an opportunity to assess and choose the various clerks from across the country based on what their own objectives are. So in my case I look for applicants who have done well in their studies, who are prepared to really help out the Court, to work hard, to be committed every day to supporting the judge, of course, and incidentally the Court. I also expect someone who can work collegially with the other clerks in the office, in my office, but also with the Court’s other clerks, because it’s a very special environment and it’s essential that people work very harmoniously together.
It’s a very special community, being a clerk at the Supreme Court of Canada, obviously, it means being part of a world that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. So a clerk at the Court, naturally there are reunions, so they get together after several years, and they are all over the world. So it’s a tight‑knit community, and people keep their ties forever, no matter what they do in the future, no matter what country they work in.
I expect the person in question to be curious, so an inquiring mind, ready to develop theories, ready to study new concepts. Therefore, as they say, to be out of the box, to think out of the box. And then I think it’s important to have someone who’s also able to quickly turn around and answer, for example, questions that are a bit more specific. So it’s a serious commitment, it’s a commitment that I believe will give the clerk a lot of experience and knowledge, but that should also bring the Court and the judges great satisfaction in being able to write and deliver decisions better. In other words, I’ve always seen the Law Clerk Program at the Court as a give and take. There must be something in it for both the clerk and the judge.
Of course, each judge has their own way of assigning work to clerks, so it can vary from one office to another, but generally, in my case anyway, in the Chief Justice’s office, clerks will have to work on the cases we hear during the year. Each clerk will have to be responsible for a case, will have to prepare a summary of the case, prepare an opinion as well, a recommendation, on how the case should be decided after the hearing. The clerk will also communicate regularly with the judge, with me, to discuss the case, the various points of law, and will obviously attend the hearing of the case. The clerk will also support the judge when the judge, and it may be me as well who writes an opinion, so the clerk will have to support the judge in writing reasons and also in commenting on, responding to, the reasons circulated by other colleagues on the Court, when those other colleagues are in charge of writing reasons. So it’s quite varied. Sometimes there may also be situations where I’ll ask a clerk to help me prepare a presentation or speech I have to give somewhere in Canada.
I think it’s important for the general public to know that we at the Supreme Court take the work very seriously, of course, and that we want to render the best decisions possible in the best interests of litigants by applying the law in the manner we interpret it, because we are being asked to interpret it. So to support us in our field, we of course have access to these clerks, and I think it’s important for litigants to know that we have the best. So among all the students across the country, those who apply for a position at the Supreme Court are in theory, even in practice, among our best legal minds in Canada. So it’s important for the public to be reassured about the quality of the work being done at the Supreme Court. I have always said that we don’t cut corners at the Supreme Court. Everything will be analyzed properly, worked on properly. One way of doing this is to be supported in our work by clerks, jurists, that are top‑notch.
And in keeping with the Court’s philosophy, there’s no doubt that we value, we like achieving diversity, both in the composition of the bench, even if we’re not the ones who appoint the judges, but we hope that the authorities, the elected representatives, will try as much as possible to promote diversity in the appointment of judges. But we as well, in choosing our clerks across the country, we’ve said it many times, we want to have the greatest diversity in our choice of clerks, because diversity brings with it different approaches, different experiences, different ways of seeing things, and I think that it can simply enrich the work here at the Court.
Interview with the Hon. Sheilah Martin
Well, I think the Court looks for people that have good academic performance, that are good researchers, that have high analytical skills and that they can communicate really well, both in writing and orally, and that they’re very interested in learning and exploring ideas and being part of a team that is seeking the best response and solution and that they’re prepared to work with confidence in a team setting where people are going to have real debates about serious issues.
I think that we have a wide diversity of people that actually come to the Court and that that is a richness. So there’s no one thing that is going to make a strong team. And so what we’re looking for are people, though, that can talk across difference and to really strive to understand the fundamental principles about the law and to help make sure that everybody is doing a good job.
Well, there’s a great deal of research that goes on at the Court. While we get superb briefs and facta from counsel, there’s still always something that concerns us or interests us about the trajectory of the law. So the clerks do research, they write memos to us about things in law that we require a deep dive and they help with every facet of what a judge does. And so they may be of assistance when we are writing judgments, they may be of assistance when we’re giving speeches, they’re clearly of assistance in getting us ready for the hearings that we have.
Oh, very much so. And they have to be very adaptable in terms of, because the judges are doing different types of things and so a wide range of skills in a chambers is a good thing. Not everybody needs each skill, but as I said, we’re trying to get a really strong working team.
We’re definitely part of a team. They’re part of a team amongst themselves in a chamber, they’re part of a team because we have many chambers of clerks. And one of the most amazing things about being a judge at the Supreme Court of Canada, and then being a clerk here, is that everybody is as interested in the judgments. So you have so many people who are thinking about the same issue, and that adds a great depth and it also is a rich and rewarding experience for the clerks because they have so many people to talk to about the issues that they are being asked to help with.
Ah, no, a clerk at the Supreme Court is more than filing paperwork. They’re a part of what we think of as the custodians of the public trust in the Supreme Court. They’re bound by obligations of confidentiality, they do hard work, they’re trying to make sure that our institution is responsible and responsive.
They help judges think and make good decisions.
Absolutely, and that’s part of what we welcome, is that most of the clerks are of a different generation, they’ve just had an intense experience at law school and so they have a lot to bring to the analysis to make sure that their judges are thinking about the right things. And so yes, it’s an interactive process, it is a dialogue and there’s a lot of, a lot of learning happens both to and from clerks.
Interview with two former law clerks, including the Hon. Andromache Karakatsanis
Maryam: My name is Maryam Shahid, this is my colleague Étienne Morin-Lévesque and we’re both judicial law clerks at the Supreme Court of Canada. We’re here to talk about our clerkship experience. Just by way of a little bit of background, I graduated from the University of Toronto’s law school in 2018.
Étienne: And I attended the faculty of law at Université de Montréal, and last year I completed a master’s degree mainly in public law in the United Kingdom.
So a law clerk’s work can be divided mainly into, I’d say, pre‑hearing work and post‑hearing work. So pre‑hearing, we have to prepare, help prepare our judge in all sorts of ways. This means we’ll read the lower courts’ decisions, the parties’ arguments, the authorities. We then prepare a summary, and we also have to make our own analysis of the issues. And actually I really like the autonomy the judges give us in writing that memo, because usually they really and truly want our opinion on a case, even if ultimately they sometimes disagree, because disagreement can be very useful in their own thinking and their analysis.
And so pre‑hearing as well, a large part of the work, I found, was just discussing the case with the other clerks working on it. And in fact often it’s funny how we can come with what we think is a very clear idea of how to resolve a case, and in the end, when we talk with other clerks who come with totally different perspectives, it completely sways us and changes our perspective.
Maryam: I guess I can talk a little bit about post-hearing work. The perspective and focus switches a little bit with post-hearing work, you might get a discrete research task based on what happened at the hearing. You might help your judge in the drafting process that can be very iterative and dynamic. And then also you just have to, you have to stay on top of the cases that you worked on by following circulations that other judges have worked on and you have to comment on all the developments of the case until the day that it’s released. And again, throughout it all, you talk to your judge about what they’re thinking and what they might need to make a decision.
Sometimes, a case that particularly puzzles you, you end up having to work twice as hard. And you’re really proud of those cases specifically that might’ve been in areas of the law that you didn’t quite understand, that were completely unfamiliar. And you really cracked the case for yourself. And that’s always a proud accomplishment.
You know, when you’re a few months into the job, it starts to normalize for you and you start to really get used to the fact that a Supreme Court judge calls you on a daily basis.
Every so often, something happens that kind of takes your breath away. And for me, it’s when I walk to work, I walk past Parliament, I see all of the government buildings and I walk up to this majestic Court and I get to think, “I have an office in there, there’s a room in there with my name on it.”
I can circle back to why I applied for the position and this idea that it’s helpful to peek behind that judicial veil and see how the judges think through the country’s most important cases, and that is really something that you get to experience throughout the entire year.
Étienne: I’d say that one of the most significant parts of clerkship is all the relationships and dynamics created during the year. So naturally we have a relationship with our judge that evolves throughout the year, but there’s also a lot of teamwork among clerks in the same chambers. And then on each case, we also have to work with clerks from other chambers, certain other judges, lawyers from the Law Branch, jurilinguists. And so I don’t know about you, but in any case I think that when I look back on this year, what will stand out most for me is really the relationships and all these interactions that shape some of what we do.
Maryam: Having done the job, I now see how beneficial that experience is for all types of careers in the law, not just litigation, which was mainly my focus when I applied. So we have colleagues that are going on to do academic work, they’re pursuing grad school, some are actually going to teach, some are going to do policy work and we’ve all talked about how valuable this experience is for all of those career paths.
Because Étienne has been talking about the relationships that you develop and the friendships that you’ve formed, when they all go off to do their different things and have their different careers, their experiences of the law from those different focuses enrich your own experience and you get to see what’s out there. And that’s very beautiful.
Étienne: You’re from Ontario, I’m from Quebec. I don’t know if we would have had a chance to meet otherwise. But because we were here, at this time, and we were able to work together. I think it’s a really unique situation that the Court can bring together people like this, like us this year.
Hon. Andromache Karakatsanis : Well Maryam, we’re at the end of the clerckship, was… was there any particular highlight for you?
Maryam: Yeah so um in the last four months you know that I got to dive very deep into an area of law that I particularly enjoyed in law school, and just seeing how the common law develops, in that particular area of the law especially, has been very valuable.
Hon. Andromache Karakatsanis: Well as a matter of fact, I remember when I asked you was there a decision of the Court you disagreed on, disagreed with, you, it was that area of the law . . .
Maryam: It was that area.
Hon. Andromache Karakatsanis: . . . and you chose to critique one of my own decisions.
Maryam: Exactly, and that was a very funny full circle experience coming back two years later and talking to you about that area.
Hon. Andromache Karakatsanis: So now do you disagree with my . . .
Hon. Andromache Karakatsanis: You don’t have to answer that question.
Maryam: I can’t answer that.
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