Since 1875, new law graduates have served judges of federal and state courts as legal researchers, executive assistants, and professional confidants. In return, the best of the newest lawyers have gotten a chance to complement their classroom education with field study of bench and bar-from behind the bench. The ideal relationship which should develop between law clerks and their judges is symbiotic: the judges enjoying the energies and fresh perspectives of brand new professionals rated top among their contemporaries by law professors, and the law clerks obtaining tutorials by senior jurists regarded as among the best by their former peers at the bar.

The special relationship between judge and clerk raises special questions of professional conduct for both. Various published standards supply at least some of the answers. Once a law clerk has been admitted to the bar, he will be bound by the standards expressed in his bar's code of professional responsibility. As the trusted agent of a judge, a clerk is regarded by some courts as bound by the judicial standards binding his principal. Law clerks in federal courts are bound by a code designed particularly for them. Law clerks in some state courts are expressly charged with adherence to particular local standards, although no code has yet been developed for general application to the conduct of law clerks in state courts. These clerks are therefore bound, if at all, only by the patchwork quilt consisting of bar standards applicable after admission and bench standards applicable by derivation.

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