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Supreme Recruits: Jeremy Marwell Recounts His Time Clerking for Justice Sonia Sotomayor

This is Part 3 in a series spotlighting V&E’s former Supreme Court clerks. To read the introduction to the series, click here.

It was his very first time arguing before the Supreme Court, but Jeremy Marwell held his own in the face of tough questioning from the justices. He was well-prepared for his appearance, which took place this past April, thanks in part to his years of experience: Marwell has represented clients as a member of V&E’s close-knit appellate practice for nearly a decade, arguing some 20 cases in a majority of the federal circuits and other state and federal courts, and before that, working in the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel.

But his background as a former Supreme Court clerk conferred a potent advantage, too.

“It’s very helpful to have had that experience, because you’re able to understand what good advocacy looks like for that particular audience of nine people,” he said.

Marwell, a former clerk for Justice Sonia Sotomayor, remembers many hours spent sitting in the law clerk section of the courtroom, observing oral arguments and, later on, dissecting those arguments with his co-clerks and Justice Sotomayor. “If a justice is writing an opinion in a case, or wants to talk about issues, you need to be aware of all the cases that are going on,” he said. “It’s a terrific learning experience to have sat through a year’s worth of cases and to see what kind of advocacy is effective — or not — in persuading the justices to come out a particular way on an issue.”

While every clerkship is a unique experience, Marwell’s clerkship differed from many others in a key way: He was part of Sotomayor’s very first team of clerks at the Supreme Court, and began his clerkship shortly after the justice was confirmed in the summer of 2009.

“There’s something special about being with a justice during her first year in the new job, and helping her navigate the different demands and tasks involved with being a justice of the Supreme Court as compared to the district court or court of appeals,” Marwell said.

As Marwell learned the “ins and outs” of the Court, he also learned about the justice he was clerking for. He recalled with admiration how Sotomayor embraced visits from the public, especially children.

“I think students, young people, and civics education is something she cares a lot about. When school groups would come to the Supreme Court, she would make time to visit with them and spend time interacting with the students in a way that was meaningful for them,” he said. “Not every lawyer or judge has the ability to communicate so naturally with people in the public sphere, but she has a gift for doing that in a wonderfully meaningful way.”

The same was true of the justice’s interactions with her clerks.

“When we started, she sat down the law clerks and said, essentially, ‘You all have different backgrounds. You’ve come with different experiences. You’ll approach things in different ways. Know that each approach is valuable to me’,” he said.

Marwell said that Sotomayor was also interested in helping clerks choose their future career paths and advised them to look for practices that matched their strengths and personalities. Such advice, Marwell said, influenced his own career choices. Now he shares similar advice with young associates.

He also has advice for attorneys just starting Supreme Court Clerkships: Relish your experience.

“I’ve never worked harder than I did that year, and it goes by really quickly. Clerks should try to capture those moments when they’re sitting in the courtroom watching an advocate, or sitting and talking with their justices,” he said. “Once you turn in your badge at the end of the year, you can come back and maybe you’ll even argue cases, but you’ll probably never be a part of the inner workings of the court again.”

“It is a rewarding, challenging and sometimes stressful year,” he added, “but enjoy it and make sure to capture those memories and lessons that you can draw on throughout your career.”

This information is provided by Vinson & Elkins LLP for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended, nor should it be construed, as legal advice.