Court Clerk: Career Guide
Court clerks perform administrative duties in the criminal and civil justice systems, assisting other officers of the court as well as judges and lawyers. A court clerk might work in a district court, a court of appeals, a bankruptcy court, or the Supreme Court. They maintain court records, administer oaths to witnesses and jurors, and authenticate copies of the court's orders and judgments with the court's seal. This guide provides further information on what court clerks do, how to become one, and the occupation's salary and outlook. Opportunities for growth exist laterally by applying to work with state or federal agencies, or by taking on supervisory responsibility. The largest employers of court clerks are municipalities but many court clerks are also employed at the state and federal levels.
Career Description, Duties, and Common Tasks
Court clerks are either appointed to each court by the judge of that court or elected at the county or district level. To be considered a “court of record,” a court must have a court clerk. The clerk is responsible for the court's money and record keeping, acting in effect as both the chief information officer (CIO) and the chief financial officer (CFO) of the court. Some court clerks also serve as jury commissioners or probate registrars. They typically work in courts or office buildings. Court clerks perform tasks similar to other administrative assistants, but do so on behalf of the legal system. A court clerk may:
- Complete office tasks as necessary
- Document the receipt of legal documents
- Keep records of court appearances
- Perform accounting and bookkeeping duties
- Prepare meeting agendas
- Record licensing requests of municipal, county, and other agencies
- Prepare draft agendas or bylaws for town or city councils
- Answer official correspondence
- Issue licenses or permits
- Collect fees
- Prepare dockets of cases to be called by a court
- Research and document information for judges
Court clerks manage budgets, analyze court financial data, and perform other administrative tasks. Court clerks may also manage other staff in larger courts. Court clerks are experts in project management, human resources compliance, negotiation, diplomacy, probate law, financial compliance, information systems, court procedures, jury management, and business management.
Steps for Becoming a Court Clerk
Court clerks do not necessarily need a specific degree, especially in smaller court systems, but many aspiring court clerks benefit from a certificate or associate's degree program in administrative assisting and/or the criminal justice system. Coursework to prepare for this career typically includes Introduction to the Criminal Justice System, Court Processes, Business Administration, and Archival Systems. Some courts require only a high school diploma for an entry-level court clerk position, but others require an associate's or a bachelor's degree in business management, criminal justice, or a similar degree. Federal courts tend to require law degrees or master's degrees.
Prospective court clerks with legal experience, an accounting background, and customer service skills will stand out above others. Internships as court clerks (either in conjunction with attending school or otherwise) will help people gain on-the-job experience, which can provide a competitive advantage when applying for available positions. To become a court clerk, you should:
- Apply for an open position as a court clerk.
- Undergo a background check.
- Pass a drug test.
- Be interviewed.
- Get hired as a court clerk.
- Get trained once hired as a court clerk.
Court Clerk Job Training
Whether court clerks start with an internship or pursue a degree, they also get on-the-job training once they are hired, usually as deputy clerks. As deputy clerks, workers learn a variety of administrative duties essential to the clerk of court position. As you gain experience, you may be given more responsibility and a higher pay rate. This may include promotion to positions such as court clerks and eventually, chief court clerk, with enough experience. While it is possible to gain enough experience working as a court clerk to move into a higher pay range, those with a degree in public administration, business administration, or criminal justice are usually promoted more quickly than those without a degree.
Other Helpful Skills and Experience
For people interested in becoming a court clerk, it is helpful to have experience in customer service, bookkeeping, and legal procedure. Candidates should have excellent accounting, budgeting, business management, and word processing skills. Court clerks with experience in human resources, benefits management, and/or financial compliance may have an advantage over others.
Possible Job Titles for This Career
- Clerk of the Court
- Clerk of Court
- Clerk of the Peace
- Clerk of the Police Court
- Circuit Court Clerk
- Court Clerk
Court Clerk Salary and Job Outlook
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average annual salary for court clerks was $41,100 as of 2017.1 Clerks in state government tend to earn higher salaries, with a national average salary of around $44,550.1 The profession is expected to grow an average rate through 2026, with a 6.4% rate of growth nationally.2 Court clerks may not have much job growth due to the fact that there are not many new judicial openings, but there will be openings for replacements due to people leaving positions for retirement or other reasons. In such a competitive work environment, court clerks with degrees and applicable experience will likely be the most hireable.
If you are interested in a career as a court clerk, you may also be interested in learning more about the related careers below.
- Correctional Case Manager
- Corrections Officer
- Parole Officer
- Police Officer
- Prison Guard
- Prison Warden
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: What are the typical hours expected for a court clerk?
Answer: Court clerks typically work around 40 hours a week during court hours. Most courts are open between the hours of 8:00 am to 4:00 pm, Monday through Friday. Clerks might also work after hours to complete administrative tasks they did not complete during court hours.
Question: Is it worth it for me to pursue a degree in criminal justice or business administration if I want to be a court clerk?
Answer: Yes. While many court clerk positions do not require a degree, having one makes you more marketable and hireable, especially in a tepid market with few court clerk jobs available overall.
- Federal Court Clerks Association: A professional organization that promotes development and education opportunities to those who work for the federal court system.
- National Center for State Courts: A national organization that promotes education and research on judicial administration.
- National Conference of Appellate Court Clerks: A national organization offering educational opportunities, seminars, and a quarterly newsletter.
1. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment and Wages: Court, Municipal, and License Clerks: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes434031.htm
2. Projections Central: Long Term Occupational Projections (2016-2026): http://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm