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Court Clerk Duties and Responsibilities
The court clerk's responsibilities can change from day to day and depend on the type of court in which they work, but most share several responsibilities:
Prepare Case Dockets One of the central duties of a court clerk is preparing dockets or calendars of cases for use by judges and other legal staff. This aspect of the role requires the court clerk to create docket numbers for individual cases and distribute calendars for both criminal and civil cases. The court clerk also ensures that dockets reflect changes that can occur during preparation for hearings and trials, such as eliminating civil cases that are settled out of court.
Create and File Court Documents In this role, court clerks also prepare documents and file court orders including sentencing, probation, and release information as well as summonses. They also create and record payment arrangements for court fines and maintain records of payments. This part of the job can also involve filing paperwork unrelated to civil or criminal cases, such as marriage licenses, death certificates, and property deeds.
Maintain Court Records Court clerks spend a significant amount of time maintaining court records. This can include recording details of cases and hearings, as well as filing courtroom records prepared by legal transcriptionists. Increasingly, court clerks digitize these records and maintain paper copies, which tend to have strict rules regarding retention, confidentiality, and disposal, so knowledge of both paper filing practices and data entry are necessary.
Gather Information from Parties Involved in Court Cases Many court clerks also help gather case-related information from parties involved in court cases. They may contact witnesses and ensure that information related to pending cases is complete and up-to-date. Court clerks may also administer oaths to witnesses and juries, contact lawyers and involved parties to locate missing information, and verify the contents of documents.
Impanel Juries Court clerks are also responsible for impaneling juries if a case goes to trial. This process involves compiling lists of juries for each case, along with alternate jurors. Court clerks also ensure that they have complete and accurate information about each juror and may also send out jury summonses and ensure eligibility. In this aspect of the role, court clerks work closely with lawyers and judges to record information during and after the jury selection process.
Respond to Inquiries Finally, court clerks interact with both legal staff and the general public to answer questions and respond to inquiries. This can include a wide range of questions and information-gathering, so court clerks need to know the answers to common questions and have the ability to quickly look up and provide information via phone or email or during in-person conversations.
Court Clerk Skills and QualificationsCourt clerks perform a wide range of duties to support activities in municipal, state, and federal courts. Most workers in this role have at least a high school diploma, legal assistant certification, and the following skills:
- Clerical skills - court clerks need exceptional clerical skills, particularly those related to typing and filing, to prepare and file documents, enter court data, and maintain court calendars
- Organization and time management - this role requires a high degree of organization to meet filing deadlines and ensure that documents are prepared for the day's cases
- Legal knowledge - court clerks should be familiar with legal processes and procedures, rules related to document retention and confidentiality, and filing deadlines and best practices
- Communication skills - effective written and verbal communication are essential for court clerks, particularly while interacting with legal professionals and drafting documents
- Computer competencies - court clerks should be comfortable using office equipment and software, particularly while managing data entry tasks and updating computerized court records
- Initiative and independence - because court clerks are responsible for many tasks from day to day, they should be able to work independently and set priorities for themselves based on deadlines and department needs
Court Clerk Education and TrainingAlthough court clerks work within the legal system, this role does not require an advanced legal degree or the completion of law school. Many workers in this role have a high school diploma or associate degree and have successfully completed a legal assistance certificate program. There are many opportunities for on-the-job training in this role as court clerks expand their skill set and hone their abilities in drafting documents and supporting court activities.
Court Clerk Salary and OutlookThe Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) found that court, municipal, and license clerks earned a median annual salary of $39,760 as of May 2017. The highest-paid court clerks earned more than $58,500 per year, while the lowest-paid 10 percent earned less than $24,310 annually. While the BLS does not provide employment outlook information for court clerks, O*Net data indicates that employment in this field will grow at an average pace of five to nine percent between 2016 and 2026.
If you're interested in starting a career as a court clerk, we found several resources on the web:
National Conference of Appellate Court Clerks (NCACC) - the NCACC is a professional organization for court clerks within the federal appellate court system, providing professional development and networking opportunities, as well as a code of ethics.
In Chambers: A Guide for Judicial Clerks & Externs by Jennifer Sheppard - read this practical guidebook to learn the skills court clerks need to perform their everyday duties, such as drafting jury instructions and reading a docket.
Federal Court Clerks Association (FCCA) - the FCCA is another professional organization for court clerks who work within the federal court system, providing training, networking events, and advocacy for its members.
The Clerk: My Thirty-Six Years as Clerk of The Circuit Court and Comptroller of Holmes County, Florida by Cody Taylor and Brenda Taylor - in this book, a long-serving county court clerk shares insights about his career and the profession.
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