UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- The first time Penn State Law student Tom Brier met U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Thomas Vanaskie, he knew he wanted to work for him.
Now, more than two years later, that dream has become a reality as Brier has been selected for a highly competitive clerkship working alongside Vanaskie in his Scranton, Pa., chambers.
“In a lot of ways, this is the culmination of everything I worked for since I first met Judge Vanaskie,” Brier said. “To be here now, I definitely have butterflies, almost like before a basketball game in college, but I’m also incredibly excited at the same time.”
But getting to this point wasn’t easy, Brier said. In fact, he began working toward this goal in his very first year of law school, when he made a point to introduce himself to the respected judge and Penn State Law adjunct professor after a panel discussion led by another Penn State Law professor.
Brier told the judge that he hoped to work for him someday, so Vanaskie encouraged him to apply for an internship that summer. Brier took the advice, worked hard in his 1L courses, and successfully applied for an internship in Vanaskie’s chambers that summer. Brier found the work challenging but engaging as he prepared a bench memorandum and wrote interoffice memos on a wide range of federal cases—giving him his first taste of what his federal clerkship would look like.
“Tom was very impressive, both in his work ethic and his dedication to, and passion for, the law,” Vanaskie said. “His interest in law was very keen and covers every field. From a judge’s perspective, that’s what I look for—someone, like Tom, who isn’t afraid of getting involved in numerous issues, as we take all sorts of cases as they come to us.”
Brier enjoyed the responsibility he was entrusted with during his internship, which only strengthened his resolve to work for Vanaskie after graduation.
“In the back of my mind, I knew I wanted to clerk for him, and that summer he really became a role model of mine,” Brier said. “I was impressed by his temperament and the way he handled himself on the bench, where he was very judicious and an incredibly hard worker, all of which are things I aspire to be.”
With his clerkship goal in mind, Brier continued his dedicated approach to his work at Penn State Law. Although he now had valuable internship experience under his belt, he also realized how challenging it would be to secure a post-graduation position in Vanaskie’s office after seeing how many applications came in over the summer he was there.
However, Brier had the opportunity to work alongside Vanaskie again both as a student and as a colleague before submitting his application. He studiously applied himself to his work in Vanaskie’s course on electronic evidence, where Vanaskie said Brier impressed him with his writing ability and critical analysis in a detailed paper examining standing in data breach cases.
He also distinguished himself when he became the only law student invited to present a paper at an interdisciplinary conference on cybersecurity law and policy held at the George Washington University School of Media and Public Affairs last September. Brier, who presented a paper examining the outcome of the high-profile Microsoft Corp. v. United States case, spoke alongside such luminaries as Professor David Clark of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who played a critical role in the development of the internet, as well as numerous professors from across the country and multiple high-ranking officials with the Federal Communications Commission.
“I didn’t have much in the way of criticism of his paper,” said Vanaskie, who served as the respondent to Brier’s presentation. “He was right on in terms of his analysis, and his presentation blew us away.”
Brier had done as much as he could to prepare himself for the demands of a federal judicial clerkship, but he still had to apply. He went through the standard process, sending in his resume and letters of recommendation, and then he crossed his fingers.
“It’s an extremely competitive position; we get around 600 applications in at a time, and I only had two openings,” Vanaskie said. “I interviewed a number of candidates, but in the end it was an easy decision. I’m glad that Tom wanted to clerk for me, and I’m glad to have him with me.”
For Brier, the position is a dream come true—one that will be a valuable experience to start his legal career.
“I honestly don’t think it would’ve happened at any other law school. For one, I don’t know any other school with two sitting Third Circuit judges on the faculty,” Brier said. “And then, all the professors I’ve had have been invaluable. I’ve used every lesson from my courses, received so much support from the faculty, and gotten such great advice from nationally recognized litigators and scholars—especially professors Phil Sechler and Anne McKenna, who were true mentors to me.”
“Without Penn State Law, I doubt I would’ve been fortunate enough to have this incredible opportunity.”