GW Law School Fall 2003
A Magazine for Alumni and Friends

GW Law's Utah Connection

By Jamie L. Freedman


Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist speaks to graduates at GW Law’s commencement in 2000.
In the past decade, Rehnquist has hired four GW Law alumni as clerks.

GW Law’s close relationship with the U.S. Supreme Court took a giant leap forward this year, when two recent alumni landed prestigious clerkships with the highest court in the land. Ann O’Connell, JD ’04, and Chantel Febus, JD ’02, emerged triumphant in the rigorous competition for the coveted slots. O’Connell, who was selected to clerk for Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist beginning in fall 2005, and Febus, who will spend that same year assisting Justice Clarence Thomas, join 33 other Supreme Court clerks hired from a large nationwide pool of top young lawyers, all with extraordinary credentials. Their success comes right on the heels of Courtney Gilligan, JD ’02, who just completed a year-long clerkship with Rehnquist.

What has propelled GW’s ascent in this privileged world long dominated by Harvard and Yale graduates? “The last several years, we’ve been admitting the strongest students that the Law School has ever seen, both individually and in the aggregate,” says GW Law Interim Dean Roger Trangsrud. “We’ve long emphasized the importance of clerkships and are pleased to see our top graduates meeting with great success, helped through the process by our faculty, a fair number of whom were themselves Supreme Court clerks. And, of course, success breeds success, so when GW Law alumni do an outstanding job clerking, it makes it much easier for subsequent GW students to land interviews and clerkships.”

GW Law Faculty Members Who Clerked at the Supreme Court




Robert Brauneis

David H. Souter

Associate Professor of Law Co-director of the Intellectual Property Law Program

Co-director of the Dean Dinwoodey Center for Intellectual Property Studies

Bradford R. Clark

Antonin Scalia

Professor of Law

Chair, Faculty Clerkship Committee

Thomas B. Colby

David H. Souter

Associate Professor of Law

John F. Duffy

Antonin Scalia

Professor of Law

Orin S. Kerr

Anthony M. Kennedy

Associate Professor of Law

Renee L. Lerner

Anthony M. Kennedy

Associate Professor of Law

Gregory E. Maggs

Anthony M. Kennedy and Clarence Thomas

Professor of Law

Jonathan K. Molot

Stephen G. Breyer

Associate Professor of Law

Stephen A. Saltzburg

Thurgood Marshall

Wallace and Beverley Woodbury

University Professor

Amanda L. Tyler

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Associate Professor of Law


In the past decade, Rehnquist has hired four GW Law alumni as clerks: Greg Garre, JD ’91, Paul Zidlicky, JD ’93, Gilligan, and, most recently, O’Connell. A native of the Chicago suburb of Elk Grove Village, Ill., O’Connell graduated magna cum laude from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she studied political science and speech communication. She continued to excel at GW Law, graduating with highest honors in the top 3 percent of her class and serving as managing editor of the Law Review, vice president of the Moot Court Board, a member of the Alternative Dispute Resolution Board, and a Dean’s Fellow for the Legal Research and Writing Program. In recognition of her many achievements, she received the prestigious 2004 George Washington Award for outstanding contributions to the University.

The deadline to apply for a 2005 Supreme Court clerkship had nearly passed, when O’Connell e-mailed Gilligan to say hello. Gilligan, who had served as O’Connell’s freshman year Dean’s Fellow, was surprised that the talented young attorney had not applied, and she convinced O’Connell to send in the forms. “She told me that the chief justice was just starting the interview process for next year, so I filled out the application and got references in record time,” she says. Within 36 hours, the job was done. “Two weeks later, I got a call from the chief justice’s secretary inviting me in for an interview, and two days after that, I was hired.”

The past several months have been a whirlwind of activity for O’Connell. She moved to Fargo, N.D., in August to spend a year clerking for Frank Magill, U.S. Circuit Judge for the Eighth Court of Appeals, taking the path of many others who first work for a well-connected federal appeals court judge before clerking at the Supreme Court. “When I interviewed with the chief justice, I asked him what, in his opinion, was the best part of being a Supreme Court clerk,” she recalls. “His answer, quite simply, was ‘It’s the best way to learn how the institution works and an experience that you can’t get anywhere else.’ I’ve already learned so much during the past month in Fargo about how the judicial system works—how cases are decided and what arguments are persuasive and not persuasive. It’s very exciting.”

O’Connell will return to Washington in July to begin her year of service at the Supreme Court. “I’m looking forward to being a part of the Supreme Court and acquiring an intimate knowledge of what goes on there,” she says. “It will be great to play a small role in what’s always considered history when the Supreme Court issues its decisions.”

Those who knew her at GW Law are positive that she’ll make her alma mater proud. “Ann is the perfect combination of intellect, hard work, and friendliness,” says former GW professor Lorri Unumb, with whom O’Connell worked closely as a research assistant. Unumb, who now serves as an associate professor and director of legal writing at the Charleston School of Law in South Carolina, adds, “She was a star Dean’s Fellow whose work was consistently superior, and she was a delight to have as a student. Ann will not only serve the chief justice well, but she also will bring honor to GW Law School and make it easier for future generations of GW Law graduates to obtain Supreme Court clerkships.”

As O’Connell eagerly anticipates her year at the Supreme Court, Gilligan (see GW Law School magazine profile, fall 2002) says that her just-completed clerkship was indeed the experience of a lifetime. “I can’t emphasize enough how valuable it was and how much I enjoyed it,” she says. “Working with a federal judge right out of law school is just an outstanding way to start a legal career. I learned so much and loved experiencing the backstage of appellate law, which is a view that you rarely get as a practitioner.”

Gilligan says that the court was a special place to work, not only because of the fascinating nature of the job but also because of the opportunity to work with some of the “finest and smartest” people she’s met in her life. A strong sense of camaraderie permeated the institution. “We were a close-knit group sharing an intense experience, and I’m looking forward to continuing a professional and social relationship with many of my co-clerks,” says Gilligan, who was one of four 2003-04 Supreme Court clerks joining the Washington office of Baker Botts as associates this fall.

While she admits that she worked around the clock some days and that the pay was not great, she says that it was absolutely worth it. “It was a privilege just to walk into that building every day,” she says. “The people who work at the Supreme Court are so dedicated and wonderful—from the police officers to the librarians to the justices themselves, who guided us and became our mentors. The clerkship helped make me a more creative, critical thinker and honed my legal research and writing skills. It was a tremendous honor to work for the chief and I am so grateful for the opportunity that he gave me.”

GW Law, she says, prepared her well for the job. “GW is an excellent school that encourages the practical study of law,” she says. “The professors and staff are committed to helping students land clerkships and were behind me every step of the way. Thanks to their outstanding efforts, the University is truly making a name for itself in the clerkship world.”

“When I interviewed with the chief justice, I asked him what, in his opinion, was the best part of being a Supreme Court clerk. His answer, quite simply, was ‘It’s the best way to learn how the institution works and an experience that you can’t get anywhere else.'” —Ann O’Connell, JD ’04

It’s noteworthy that GW counts 10 former Supreme Court clerks among its law faculty (see sidebar). This past academic year, Associate Professor Orin S. Kerr took a leave of absence from GW Law to work in the chambers of Justice Anthony Kennedy, clerking alongside Gilligan. Fresh back from the experience, Kerr says that it lived up to its reputation as one of the best jobs in Washington. “A number of my friends clerked at the Supreme Court and said that it’s great, so I thought that I’d give it a try,” says Kerr, who has taught at GW since 2001. A 1997 graduate of Harvard Law School, he teaches criminal law, computer crime law, and criminal procedure. “Clerkships are a great experience—whether at the Supreme Court, trial courts, federal courts, or state courts, because they give you the chance to see how the institutions really run and how judges reach decisions,” he says. Kerr believes that his students will benefit from his experience, as he will be able to offer them a more realistic picture of how the Supreme Court works and how its decisions are reached.

GW Professor of Law and Chair of the Faculty Clerkship Committee Bradford R. Clark, who clerked for Justice Antonin Scalia in 1989, concurs. “Clerking in the Supreme Court is a unique opportunity because you learn how the highest court in the land works from the inside,” he says. “I was impressed by the immense amount of work, attention to detail, and care that goes into every Supreme Court case and found it rewarding to participate in even a small way in the process. They try to get every case right, and I took away a greater appreciation for the amount of effort that justices, clerks, and the entire Supreme Court staff put into scrutinizing all of the submissions and making decisions.”

“The professors and staff are committed to helping students land clerkships and were behind me every step of the way. Thanks to their outstanding efforts, the University is truly making a name for itself in the clerkship world”—Courtney Gilligan, JD ’02

According to Clark, the court receives some 8,000 petitions for writ of certiorari annually, and, after an extensive review process, ultimately hears only about 1 percent of them. Judicial clerks perform a wide range of tasks, including helping justices weed through the petitions, researching and summarizing issues, and drafting memoranda and judicial opinions.

“Clerks often work seven days a week from morning until midnight, but it’s worth it, since it’s such a privilege to be there,” says Clark. “A clerkship opens many doors and is a prized addition to a lawyer’s resume. We’re proud to see more and more GW students joining the ranks of Supreme Court clerks and look forward to the numbers continuing to rise.”

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