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Bridging Gaps and Building Law Clerk Diversity in State Courts

CORA is a new resource that aims to boost access to state court clerkship opportunities.


A new online portal is making it easier for law students to seek state court clerkships — and, in the long run, it aims to increase diversity on the bench.

Court Opportunity Recruitment for All, or CORA, serves as a hub for courts to post and applicants to explore clerkships, externships, and internships within state judicial systems. The tool streamlines the application process and aims to raise awareness about the value of state court experience for young lawyers, who often overlook opportunities within state judiciaries. The National Center for State Courts, which created the site, also hopes to create long-lasting diversity throughout state judiciaries by encouraging people from underrepresented demographic groups to consider careers in the field. 

CORA’s inception can be traced back to the protests that swept the nation in 2020 after the police murder of George Floyd. Soon afterward, the National Center for State Courts established the Blueprint for Racial Justice, a working group composed of state court administrators, human resources professionals, and state chief justices. The group’s mission is to address persistent racial disparities within state court systems. According to a 2023 Brennan Center report, only 20 percent of state supreme court seats are held by people of color, and 18 states have all-white high court benches. Research indicates that judicial diversity is critical to courts’ legitimacy and efficacy.

To help rectify this significant gap between the demographics of state judiciaries and the communities they serve, the working group decided to target the early stages of a person’s legal career and widen one of the most common pipelines to the bench: clerkships. Clerkships, which are brief apprenticeships under a judge, provide critical practical experience and mentorship opportunities. But positions at the state and local levels are frequently overlooked in favor of highly coveted federal clerkships, which are also more widely visible thanks to the online application portal known as OSCAR.

Realistically, however, most litigators practice in state courts, which is where more than 95 percent of cases are heard. “To get exposure to how these courts really work is an enormous leg up when you then practice,” noted Danielle Hirsh, managing director of the center’s court consulting division. CORA can help people get that leg up by making them aware of the value of state clerkships and how to secure them.

Before CORA, the process of becoming a state court clerk was often shrouded in mystery, according to Alisa Kim, a court management consultant at the center. Judges commonly hire from their alma maters, but applicants without such connections were forced to navigate numerous state and county court websites, wait for opportunities to be posted sporadically throughout the year, and keep track of requirements and processes for hiring that differed across states — and sometimes even varied from justice to justice on the same high court.

“CORA demystifies the whole process,” said Kim. This is especially beneficial for first-generation college and law students and those from underrepresented groups, who may have fewer resources at their disposal for exploring and pursuing career opportunities. Ensuring widespread access to CORA is also why the center has made the portal completely free to use, Kim added. 

CORA offers advantages to courts as well as to potential applicants. Using CORA to promote their openings means courts have higher chances of attracting applicants from outside their local geographic area — a notable perk for courts in rural regions facing a shortage of legal professionals. “Certainly, our goal is to increase diversity on the bench and among state court employees, but it’s also to help the courts cast a wider net,” said Kate Guerrero, a former senior court management consultant at the center. The team envisions CORA eventually evolving into the go-to job portal for courts and applicants alike. 

Since its launch in February 2022, CORA has posted more than 130 opportunities from 12 states, spanning supreme courts to local courts. Informing the thousands of state courts operating across the country about CORA has been the greatest challenge of launching the portal, according to Guerrero. Even still, growing numbers of courts and law schools have been quick to embrace it.

The center’s racial justice working group is also developing several other initiatives to improve the workings of state courts. One recent accomplishment is the creation of an assessment tool that enables courts to identify ways to operate more equitably. Additionally, a series of workshops planned for this year will give judges and court administrators the chance to share best practices for building a diverse workforce.  

“We want courts to not only proclaim themselves to be fair to all, but we want them to be recognized by all to be fair,” said Edwin Bell, the center’s director of racial justice, equality, and inclusion. “And there is a difference.”

Gabriella Sanchez is a senior writer/editor at the Brennan Center for Justice.

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