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High Hopes for Capitol Fellows Program

Publication Date: 
October 11, 2006
Roll Call
Elliott Wilson

Roll Call reporter Elliott Wilson quotes Dean Larry Kramer in this story about the effort he is spearheading to establish congressional clerkships for law graduates:

The executive branch has an elite White House Fellowship, and the judicial snags top law students who could earn thousands more at big law firms. By comparison, the legislative branch's mishmash of science, communications and business fellowships arranged by outside organizations can seem like it just does not match up.

Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) wants to change that by luring in law graduates to give them, and the nation, a lesson in legislative politics. He said that his proposed Daniel Webster Congressional Fellowship would accomplish just that.

The program would bring 40 law school graduates to Washington, D.C., every two years in hopes of upping the caliber of the Congressional work force and teaching lawyers a bit about how laws are made. He expects that Congressional Fellowship alumni would then increase the level of civic participation nationally as they become community leaders.


The California Congressman banded together with co-sponsor Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and her district's Stanford University Law School to write the bill, which was referred to the House Administration Committee.

Larry Kramer, dean of Stanford Law School, first generated the idea to fill a gap in his students' education. "Law schools do too little to teach students about the legislative process," he said.

He found that many of his students studied appellate cases in class and got their first jobs on appellate courts. These graduates knew a ton about the judiciary but not much about how laws are created in the first place.

The dean suspects the study of law is so focused on courts because judicial clerkships carry enormous prestige and former clerks tend to become leaders of bar associations. Kramer, who clerked for two years himself, certainly sees a void in his own education.

After drawing up a plan for the proposed fellowship, Kramer had to get some help. "I could make no headway on my own," he said. "I was only in a judicial clerkship. I don't know enough about Congress."

With help from Stanford's director of federal government relations, the dean got Lofgren on board along with Lungren.


This fellowship would create the 40 two-year positions on top of existing personnel allowances, said the Stanford dean, with "a higher salary than Congress normally pays."

The three proponents of the bill hope the pay jump will attract the "highly trained analytical thinkers" that Kramer said leave his and other top-tier law schools every year.