Law School Graduate to Clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts

Oct. 17, 2007 — It might have been a typical summer morning at work for Porter Wilkinson, a 2007 graduate of the University of Virginia’s School of Law. As clerk for U.S. Appeals Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh, she had been working on a bench brief when her phone rang. It was U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts calling with a question. “He asked if I was still in the market for a clerkship at the Supreme Court,” she said. “I was so excited — of course I answered, ‘Yes!’.”

Earlier in the summer she had interviewed with Roberts for a clerkship for the 2008-09 court term “It couldn’t have been a better experience," she said. "His clerks and assistants were very welcoming and the chief justice was incredibly gracious.”

The decision came after weeks of waiting and Wilkinson was quick to thank her supporters. “I owe an immense amount of gratitude to Judge Kavanaugh, my recommenders, professors and friends for their support and encouragement,” she said.

Wilkinson traces her interest in law to her undergraduate degree in political science from the University of North Carolina. “After graduation, I worked on Capitol Hill where I saw theory put into practice. Lawyers I met in Congress were invariably working on interesting legal and policy issues,” she explained. “I was impressed with their precision and analysis. Those experiences convinced me of the importance of public service and the value of getting a law degree.”

While at the Law School, Wilkinson didn’t pursue a course concentration. “I tried to take a diverse selection of courses that exposed me to statutory, constitutional and common law. The income tax, securities regulation and copyright courses were intimidating, but they turned out to be wonderful experiences,” she said.

Wilkinson cited the summer she spent following her second year of law school working at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher in Washington, D.C. as helping her become a better lawyer.

“I learned a great deal from observing the habits of lawyers at the top of the profession who possess wonderful judgment and a commitment to producing the highest quality work,” she said.

Continuing a family tradition of law, Wilkinson follows in the footsteps of her father, J. Harvie Wilkinson III, a 1972 Law School graduate who currently serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. She said that when she told him about her clerkship for the chief justice, “… He was thrilled, because he remembers his years clerking for Justice Powell so fondly.”

Wilkinson, who received the Law School’s Thomas Marshall Miller Prize at graduation last spring, had advice for current law school students interested in clerkships following graduation. “Clerking is a wonderful opportunity and I would advise students looking to clerk at any level to talk to former clerks about their experiences. It’s the best way to learn about the job,” she said.

Having also gotten married this summer, Wilkinson may have trouble looking past 2009 and the end of her Supreme Court clerkship. But she believes she’s found a good combination for success: “In athletics, academics, and the workplace … working hard, being considerate of others, and rolling with the punches is a good place to start,” she said.

Reported by Ken Reitz