Trusting your instincts: Recent graduate Abby Philips discusses new role as judicial law clerk at Department of Justice

Nov 14, 2023 | Alumni

by Lindsay Wilcox

Abby Philips, a white woman with long, dark-brown hair wearing a grey plaid blazerAbby Philips was in her second year of law school when she learned about the Department of Justice’s honors program, in which students across the country apply for a limited number of spots in each area. Judge Dustin Pead, who teaches an immigration law course at Utah Law, encouraged anyone interested in immigration law to apply.

“I began the application process in July 2022 before my 3L year, had interviews in October, and was offered the position in late November,” Philips recalls. “I had a lot of support and guidance throughout the process from coworkers, professors, and classmates at Utah Law.”

Since starting her new position as a judicial law clerk at the U.S. Department of Justice in September, Philips says the best part is meeting new people.

“Everyone is passionate about immigration law and public service and is always willing to discuss cases or let me observe hearings. Also, everyone in the office is always bringing Cuban coffee and food to share,” she expresses. “The most challenging part for me is trusting my instincts and skills as someone fresh out of law school. Additionally, I had to move to Miami for the position. Getting adjusted to a new city and way of life has been challenging but also exciting.”

Since the Department of Justice does not typically hire new law school graduates, Philips says she feels Utah Law prepared her well for her role as judicial law clerk.

“The combination of the first-year writing course, immigration law courses, pro bono initiative, credit internship program, and work experiences I was able to get during school helped me walk into the role feeling prepared,” Philips recalls. “Perhaps because the school is smaller, the professors are accessible and always willing to help in any way they can.”

Philips says she could not have gotten through law school without the classmates who have now become her friends. She also recalls what she learned as a high school athlete, which applies to life situations as well.

“I wish I had known that everything was going to work out fine and that there’s no one ‘right’ way to do law school. Something I learned when I used to swim is that when you look at other people, it slows you down,” Philips says. “The same thing applies in law school. Just focus on your own goals and taking steps towards them instead of following what other people are doing.”

The advice to focus on your own goals has served Philips well, as she is striving to become an immigration judge in the future.

“I am hoping that clerking at the immigration court will help me learn more about what it takes to be an immigration judge and what the job really entails,” she says. “I will be happy as long as I’m working in immigration law.”

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