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Former Federal Circuit clerks on why they chose our Intellectual Property practice

January 2021: Meet Henry Huang and Daniel Sternberg, both associates in our Intellectual Property practice and both former Federal Circuit clerks. They share their insight on how their clerking experience has positively impacted their subsequent careers and offer advice to current and future judicial clerks.

Tell us about your Federal Circuit clerkships
HH: I clerked for Judge Richard Linn for 18 months in 2009 to 2010. I was able to see a lot of patent disputes, but also many other cases in the court's jurisdiction, like veterans' claims and international trade issues. A highlight was working on precedential opinions in interesting cases, including a patent case that went to the Supreme Court of the United States.

DS: I clerked for Chief Judge Sharon Prost from 2015 to 2016. I worked on numerous briefs and attended over 100 oral arguments. The latter were an especial highlight for me; at that point, the briefing is done and it's the final step in the appeal. You get to witness the culmination of over a year's worth of work and see some of the best appellate attorneys in action. It's a great opportunity to see what sort of arguments work, what styles are effective, and how to handle a hot or cold bench.

"Every time I put together a brief or argument, I still think about how it would be viewed by a panel of judges"

What skills or experience from that time do you still use in your job now?
HH: The writing and research experience from clerking is still helpful today. Knowledge of the Federal Circuit's procedures has also been helpful for appeals.

DS: Every time I put together a brief or argument, I still think about how it would be viewed by a panel of judges. For me, if I wouldn't be comfortable making the argument there, it shouldn't be in the brief. I also find that I still handicap my arguments based on how likely they are to be accepted by the judges.

You have both experienced the transition from the Federal Court circuit to working at a large corporate firm – how would you sum up the differences?
HH: Returning to BigLaw was quite different—there is a big shift from researching and writing opinions with essentially unlimited time, back to billing and doing a variety of tasks like discovery. Transitioning from neutral evaluation of cases to advocacy also took a while.

DS: The teams are definitely larger at a firm. At the Court, it's just the clerks and the judge. In many ways, you feel like you're practicing law without a net. At a firm, there are additional levels of support. However, in both roles, there is a strong team spirit and team dynamic. We are all working towards the same goal.

"The strongest clerks are those who can distill complex legal and factual issues into the core disputes"

What do you think makes for a successful clerk?
HH: At the Federal Circuit, I think the work is often academic—hearing interesting disputes, and then researching and writing out a resolution. The ability to consider new views and potential arguments, such as the future effects of a statement or holding, is very helpful. There is also an opportunity to discuss cases with other clerks (and sometimes judges), so collaboration and persuasiveness can help build a consensus.

DS: I believe the strongest clerks are those who can distill complex legal and factual issues into the core disputes. It's often the case that an appeal (or motion for summary judgment) turns on the application of a rule to one or two facts. A good clerk is able to tease this out. In addition, the best clerks are also able to consider the implications of a ruling on future cases.

When the Federal Circuit issues a precedential opinion, it can have significant ripple effects. As a clerk, you need to be sensitive to how subsequent attorneys and courts will interpret the opinion.

"Try not to get stuck in your own silo"

What advice do you have for current or future clerks who want to make the most of their experience?
HH: In addition to the month-to-month work of the court, I suggest spending time to connect with as many people as possible. The Federal Circuit is unique in that all judges and clerks are in one place, so it is possible to meet everyone.  The DC area also has many IP practitioners and academics, and the court provides opportunities to network with them, too.

DS: Try not to get stuck in your own silo. The most effective thing anyone can do is learn what their colleagues are doing and understand how their work fits into the bigger picture. If you understand the context for your work, it can help you become more valuable to the team and for the client.

Looking back on your career since your clerkship, how did the experience positively impact your work or broaden your horizons?
HH: Clerking exposed me to many legal and procedural issues that I likely would have missed by staying in private practice. It has also been a good way to connect with other clerks, even those from different years, due to the shared experience.

DS: As well as friendships, the experience has also helped me to become a better writer. As a clerk, after reading a brief and attending the oral argument, you learn to get a sense of what makes a strong brief and naturally try to emulate that in your own writing.

Why should a potential clerk choose the White & Case IP group?
HH: White & Case has a strong IP practice, but is also one of the most international firms, with many complementary practice groups and strong support services.

The Firm can provide many opportunities for collaboration and business development with other groups, which might not be available at boutiques or other firms.

DS: The Firm's IP group is unique in that we don't cabin off the various aspects of IP (litigation, prosecution, etc.). This enables associates to broaden their skills and seek out opportunities. The network allows associates to move in various directions and get the support they need.

Find out more about current clerkship opportunities here.