Law Clerks and the Development of the Law

A new book called Sorcerers’ Apprentices focusses on the role played within the US Supreme Court by law clerks. You can read the first chapter online

Written by two acedemics, Artemus Ward and David L. Weiden, the book is built upon Supreme Court archives, the personal papers of justices and other figures at the Supreme Court, and interviews and written surveys with 150 former clerks.

Sorcerers Apprentices is a rare behind-the-scenes look at the life of law clerks, and their role in agenda setting, opinion writing, and decision making. The authors suggest that seemingly unrelated institutional changes such as circulating the dead list, moving into a permanent building, and equalizing opinion assignment resulted in dramatic expansion of clerk responsibility and power.

It hasn’t been given extensive reviews, except for one interesting blog posting.

In Canada, with the exception of Bob Sharpe’s biography of Brian Dickson, there doesn’t seem to have been either the same level of academic scholarship or the gossipy insights in Edward Lazarus, Closed Chambers: The Rise, Fall and Future of the Modern Supreme Court, Penguin, 1999 and The Brethren: Inside the Supreme Court by Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong.

The role of the law clerk continues to be important and largely undiscussed.

There is virtually nothing written about the four “legal assistants” who assist the House of Lords in legal research, although Lord Hoffmann told me that he has never used them. In the Telegraph, Joshua Rozenberg lifts the lidThe Court has one office manager, six secretaries and four legal assistants, to support a major judicial institution. on the workings of the Judicial Committee, where it seems that the Legal Assistants have contributed to major changes since Alan Patterson’s ground-breaking The Law Lords, back in 1982..


  1. Artemus Ward? Hmm, probably not a leg-pull but odd as a name in American letters, because it was the psuedonym of Charles Farrar Browne, a mid-nineteenth century humourist who is said to have inspired Mark Twain.