By Lauren Levy, Jessica Beugen
On Thursday, Feb. 2, UF Levin College of Law Alumna Kathryn Kimball (JD ’12) returned to her alma mater during JMBA’s annual Professionalism Week co-sponsored by John Marshall Bar Association, Young Lawyers Division and the Federal Bar Association: North Central Florida Chapter to share her story of becoming a U.S. Supreme Court clerk.
Kimball, who will be working as a judicial clerk for Justice Clarence Thomas in 2018, will be the first Levin graduate to become a U.S. Supreme Court clerk.
Students were thrilled to have to opportunity to hear Kimball’s story.
“I am so grateful Kathryn returned to her alma mater to share her journey with us,” 1L Cait Shield said. “She was so down to earth and truly an inspiration. She is a shining example of what determination, hard work, and the Gator Nation can do for UF Law students. I can’t wait to see where her career takes her, and hope I may follow in her shoes one day.”
“I’m from Polk County, so seeing another woman from Polk County achieve something so remarkable is very exciting. Kathryn is incredibly inspiring and we are very lucky to call her a member of the Gator Nation. I will definitely follow her career and I can’t wait to hear about her future successes,” said 2L Megan Oliva.
Born in Lakeland, Florida, Kimball says she came to the state’s flagship law school with a clear vision – she wanted to be a prosecutor. Her favorite first-year law class was Criminal Law with Professor Mike Seigel. Seigel, who passed away in Jan. 2015, quickly became a mentor for Kimball. Kimball emphasized the importance of finding a good mentor and how instrumental both Professor Seigal and Professor Calfee were to her success. She went on to become Professor Seigel’s research assistant, helping him write articles and a white-collar crime textbook, and he assisted her in getting an internship at the U.S. Attorney’s Office following her 1L year.
Due to the encouragement of her mentors, Kimball decided to challenge herself and become even more involved at Levin. She joined the honor committee and became a research editor on the Florida Law Review. According to Kimball, during her second year, she was sitting in the office of Professor Dennis Calfee, former faculty advisor for the Florida Law Review, and he told her she needed to run for an executive editor position.
“He was like, ‘What are you doing? You need to be more involved. This is an opportunity. You have the talent. You have an obligation to run,’” Kimball recalled. She ran for Notes and Comments Editor, and landed the position.
“Part of the reason I chose to come to UF is that I thought the Gator Nation was truly unparalleled to other law schools,” she said. “Gators help each other. They’re go-getters. They’re active. They’re initiators, and I found that to be true while I was here. [There is the ideology that] we will be better if we invest in each other, and I wanted to be a part of that.”
As part of her new role, Kimball drafted the Law Review write-on competition hypothetical and graded the student essays to determine who would make it onto the Journal. “It was like practicing to be a law professor,” she said. “I got to write a final exam, and I thought it was a lot of fun – maybe nerdy, but super fun.” Her 3L year, she got to help students write notes and comments, looking at legal ideas and poking holes in arguments. Helping students to discover areas of the law they were passionate about was her favorite part of her role, Kimball said.
Kimball, who went on to graduate No. 1 in her class, was encouraged by both Seigel and Calfee to apply for clerkship positions. Siegel told her about the Honors program for the Department of Justice, and explained that getting a clerkship would help her chances of being selected for the program.
She spoke with alumni who were former clerks, and was told that clerking is an experience that is extremely important for an attorney. “You’ll begin to think like, and emulate, the judges you work for. They will inform your character, integrity, and how you think about the law.”
She began to consider applying to the U.S. District Court, but Calfee told her she should set her sights on the Circuit Court. She laughed as she explained how she was probably the first person at Levin to pull the judicial almanac from the library (which contains attorney’s comments on various judges) and began to study.
At the time, Judge William Pryor, of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Birmingham, Alabama, had not hired a clerk from UF Law, but after reading some of his opinions and law review articles, she sent in her application. “I was in a study room with two of my good law school friends when I got a call from a 205 [area code] number,” she said. “There was this sweet, southern voice on the line: ‘Do you want to come and interview with Judge Pryor after your final exams?” She was overjoyed, she said.
Following her interview, she was offered a position with Judge Pryor for the 2014 term. Because she had a gap year in between, she thought it would be beneficial to gain experience through a U.S. District Court clerkship in the interim.
Thinking it was important to clerk where she wanted to practice, she thought that Judge James Moody Jr., of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida in Tampa, would be a good fit. Though she lacked the one year of post-law school experience recommended for the position, she applied anyway. He offered her the position with a caveat.
“He told me, ‘If your class rank falls, you don’t have the clerkship anymore.’” Kimball recalls. “He was joking, but he was so stoic when he said it.”
While working for Judge Pryor, she was exposed to his network of former clerks – which included Calfee and Seigel – and realized that some of them went to clerk on the U.S. Supreme Court. Around that time, Justice Clarence Thomas had also come to visit UF Law and had expressed an interest in hiring a UF Law clerk.
Because there were hundreds of well-qualified applicants, Kimball knew she would need Judge Pryor’s recommendation and would have to talk to people who went through the process before her if she wanted a shot. At the end of the year he wrote her a letter of recommendation, but told her not to get her hopes up because he had never had a state university graduate clerk on the U.S. Supreme Court.
After clerking for Judge Pryor, she finally landed her prosecutor position in the Tax Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, where she currently works. Still, she submitted her application for a clerkship with Justice Thomas. “I felt that I owed it to UF,” she said. “These opportunities of clerking opened up that I’d never dreamed of, so I felt I should go for it.”
Over the course of two years, she continued to read and study in her free time in the small chance that she would get called for an interview, which Kimball describes as a rigorous process.
Then in the summer of 2015, she got an email asking her to reapply for the clerkship with Justice Thomas, which she did. That November, she also unexpectedly got a call from Justice Alito’s chambers, asking her to come in for an interview, but she did not get the position. Then last May, she received a call from Justice Thomas’ chambers, during which she was grilled for an hour on constitutional law, jurisprudence, and hypos. Because she had been studying and doing mock interviews, she was prepared, which led to a callback to come in and interview with Justice Thomas and his clerks. She gave it her best effort, and at last she got that long-awaited call offering her the position for the 2018 term.
Kimball acknowledges the UF Law community for their support in helping her get the coveted position. Dean Emeritus Robert Jerry Jr. advocated strongly on her behalf. “Justice Thomas was like, ‘That man called all the time. When you see him, you tell them that’s why I interviewed you,’” she said, quoting the Justice.
Kimball, who just got married last month, remains down to earth. “I’m pretty sure my whole family still thinks I ‘intern’ for judges,” she said.
Calfee, who sat across from Kimball, called her “the ice-breaker” for future UF Law students who aspire to clerk on the Court. “Once we have one clerk there, it’s a contact there for all of you,” he said.
Kimball also gave a few tips to students, stressing the importance of taking substantive law courses that emphasize black-letter law, and getting straight to the point in cover letters.
“[The discussion] was very informative,” 2L Jessica Fernandez said. “When you come to law school you sometimes pigeonhole yourself, but there are wide opportunities the Gator Nation exposes you to, and you can dream big.”