The Primacy of BC Law Clerks

Hi everyone! I am very pleased to be able to host a guest blog today from the Hon. Denis Cohen, BC Law ’76 and a judge in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleasthe top level trial court in Pennsylvania. 

What do I do now?

It was the fall of 2000. Tom Ridge, who was Governor of Pennsylvania at the time, appointed me as a Court of Common Pleas Judge (the top level trial court in Pennsylvania), and I was confirmed by the State Senate. I was about to preside over many trials. What should my next step be—and what about hiring for that all-important position of law clerk?

As the president of the BC Law Alumni Association’s Philadelphia-Area chapter, I thought it would be great to have a BC law graduate serve as my clerk. Given the distance from Philadelphia to Boston, I didn’t know if that would be possible. I contacted the Director of Career Services, who was thrilled that I had reached out. She knew a recent alumnus who wanted to practice in Philadelphia. Before I knew it, I was interviewing Gabriel. He was impressive, so I hired him.

I have had thirteen more BC Law clerks since that first hire. In fact, with one exception early on, every one of my clerks has been a BC Law graduate. They were all a joy to work with: outstanding, brilliant, team oriented, infused with a can-do spirit, academically well prepared, well balanced. As I know from my own experience, as well as from my conversations with students, alums and faculty over the years, many of these compelling qualities are rooted not only in the kind of students that BC enrolls, but also in the faculty’s incredible commitment to teaching and mentoring, as well as BC’s creative and team-oriented approach to learning. Students are challenged and pushed to excel beyond what they thought was possible, all within a caring environment that encourages risk taking and treats failure as a learning opportunity rather than a catastrophe. BC law students seem to love their three years of law school, a rarity in the legal education world.

My current clerks, Evan O’Connor and Kate Scanlan, are every bit as good as those who came before them, and I’m looking forward to two more joining my staff in the fall, Elizabeth Blass and Hannah Marie Farhan. I have been so fortunate to work with such great people who are well trained and loaded with legal talent. Because of the special BC sense of community that we all appreciate, each and every law clerk has been like family to me. I miss them all. Seeing their development during their clerkships, and seeing their incredible successes after they moved on, has been nothing short of inspiring.

For those of you who are mathematically inclined, you may wonder how I can be hiring two law clerks, when in the first paragraph I implied that I just hire one. Because of the great success of the BC Law clerks and my joy in hiring as many BC Law students as possible, several years ago I eliminated my administrative person (my tipstave) to hire a second BC Law student. I am quite proud to report that three quarters of my chambers each year (the two clerks and me) are now BC Law alums. My secretary is excused only because she is not a lawyer.

This self-imposed limitation also makes my job hunt easy, and the students know from the beginning that their colleagues are their only competition. Hopefully, that reduces some stress. It is a joy to interview each student, as I wear both my employer hat and my alumni hat simultaneously. I only wish I could hire them all!

The faculty has been very supportive of my goal to hire only from BC Law, and I am most grateful. I have spoken with many members of the BC Law faculty, both those who were listed as references and others. There are far too many to name. Uniformly, I have found them fair and accurate in evaluating their students. They are always willing to take the time to answer my questions, and they are very appreciative that I choose to hire from BC. It is always a thrill for me to speak with them. Because of the invaluable and reliable experiences I have had speaking with the faculty about students, I limit my reference checks to them.

Special thanks should also go to the Career Services Office. They have been very helpful and a pleasure to work with over the years.

For most of the last twenty years, I have been involved with the Philadelphia Area chapter or the national alumni board of BC Law (in 2010, I served as President of the Board). It has been an extraordinary twenty years to serve the school, its students, alumni and community– a journey that enriched my professional and personal life. A remarkable benefit has been my clerks and the many friends I have made among alumni, faculty and staff.

After all these years, choosing BC remains one of the smartest decisions I have ever made—and the benefits, for me, continue to grow.

In 2000, Hon. Denis Cohen ’76 was appointed by the Governor and then confirmed by the State Senate as Judge, Court of Common Pleas, the top level trial court in Pennsylvania. Judge Cohen was elected to this position in 2001 and retained by voters in 2011.

 After graduating from BC Law in 1976, he served as an assistant district attorney until becoming a judge. He is a former president of BC Law Alumni Association, as well as of the Alumni Association’s Philadelphia Area Chapter.  In the Philadelphia Bar Association, he has served as Co- Chair, Professional Responsibility Committee; as a member of the Board of Governors and the Judicial Section Commission; and as Chair, Criminal Justice Section. He is Vice-President of Main Line Reform Temple, and a past president of the Overbrook Farms Club (a neighborhood civic association).

One thought on “The Primacy of BC Law Clerks

  1. Pingback: BC Law Employment Statistics (Class of 2015) | BC Law: Impact

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