Robert M. Bernstein
Robert M. Bernstein ’13 is quick to point out that his coursework at Columbia Law School has placed him in good stead for the clerkship he is set to begin at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit in the fall.
But those learning experiences were of little help when it came to completing the “Boggs quiz,” the set of general knowledge questions that 6th Circuit Judge Danny J. Boggs works up each year to test prospective clerkship applicants.
After Bernstein applied for a clerkship with Boggs last year, he received an email with the quiz just before Labor Day. It is to be taken on the honor system, and no outside materials can be used. Bernstein stayed up all night poring over the 56 questions—which included “Name three of the Canterbury Tales,” “What is H2SO4?” and “Within twenty, how many bones are there in the average human body?”—before submitting his answers the next morning.
The quiz mostly serves as a conversation starter for Boggs’ in-person interview, which went well for Bernstein. Still, it probably did not hurt that he answered approximately 60 percent of the questions correctly, double what has been reported to be the average score.
When he arrives at Boggs’ chambers, Bernstein will bring with him a plethora of relevant experience. As a second-year student, for instance, he honed his appellate advocacy skills as a finalist in the 2012 Harlan Fiske Stone Moot Court Competition. This past spring, he worked in the Justice Department’s Civil Appellate office as part of the Externship on the Federal Government in Washington, D.C. In that role, he had the chance to work alongside a team of lawyers on the government’s U.S. Supreme Court brief in the lawsuit challenging Proposition 8, California’s ban on same-sex marriage.
Bernstein graduated from Princeton University with a degree in religion and worked as a research fellow at the First Amendment Center in Washington, D.C., before pursuing his J.D. At the Law School, he continued to pursue his interests in religion and legal writing, penning a note on interpretations of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act for The Columbia Journal of Law and the Arts.
“For me, the highlight of law school was the intellectual atmosphere,” he says, “the chance to think about incredibly rich, fascinating legal issues, and, to have the luxury of devoting so much time to thinking about difficult legal questions.”