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Federal Clerkship Counts as Law Practice When Running for AG, Says Kentucky Court

Office of the Attorney General at the Idaho State Capitol Building in Boise, Idaho.
By Laura Temme, Esq. on November 04, 2019 1:54 PM

It's not every day a state circuit court weighs in on someone's job qualifications.

Daniel Cameron, a 2011 graduate of the Brandeis School of Law at the University of Louisville, declared his candidacy for Kentucky Attorney General in January 2019. And it wasn't long before his opponent raised questions about his level of legal experience. Then, one member of the voting public decided they were concerned enough to file a complaint seeking Cameron's disqualification from the race.

Cutting It Close

The Kentucky Constitution requires AG candidates to have eight years of legal experience before their election. Cameron's bid to become Attorney General cuts it close - the election will take place just a few weeks past his eighth anniversary as a licensed attorney. However, the complaint against Cameron alleged that although he obtained his license to practice in 2011, his legal practice experience did not begin until 2013. Cameron clerked for U.S. District Court Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove for two years before entering private practice, which some argued did not count as "practicing law."

What Does "Practicing Law" Really Mean?

The complaint relies heavily on distinguishing between a licensed attorney and a practicing attorney. Prior cases in Kentucky define the practice of law as "any service rendered involving legal knowledge or legal advice." Despite the many types of work experience encompassed by this definition, Cameron's opponents pointed to the Ethics for Federal Judicial Law Clerks, which instructs law clerks that during their clerkship they may not "practice law."

The court held that "practicing law" should be interpreted broadly, finding that Cameron's experience as a clerk involved legal knowledge or giving legal advice. "There is no meaningful distinction," the court said, "between the professional responsibilities Mr. Cameron performed as a federal judicial law clerk and his responsibilities as legal counsel for Senate Majority Leader McConnell."

After the court's decision, Cameron released a statement saying he was not surprised at the ruling and was "thrilled to put this frivolous lawsuit behind us."

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