This past summer when Duane Benton, a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, was reviewing some 700 applicants for four coveted law clerk positions, three applicants who had a Truman degree rose to the top.
“Seeing ‘Truman’ on their resumes means their undergraduate education was as good as it could be,” Benton said.
Benton is as qualified as anyone to assess the value of an education, having attended Northwestern, Yale, the University of Memphis and the University of Virginia. Although he has no direct ties to Truman, he became impressed with the school 20 years ago during a visit to campus. Benton, who is also a CPA, is regularly asked to speak to accounting groups at universities. While serving as a member of the Missouri Supreme Court, the Truman Accounting Club invited him to Kirksville.
“At most colleges, about 10 students show up, in a sterile lecture hall, with perhaps one or two faculty,” Benton said. “At Truman, it was a banquet with over 100 students and all the accounting faculty. I knew then, Truman is different.”
Since that experience, Benton has kept an eye out for Truman graduates when it comes time to find new clerks. As a testament to the value he places on a Truman degree, three of the four clerks he hired are Truman graduates. Adam Hoskins (’08), Karianne Jones (’10, ’12) and Alyssa Mayer (’08) were all aided by having ties to the University.
“Each has a record of exceptional academic achievement,” Benton said. “Frankly, almost all the 20 to 30 finalists for clerkships have outstanding whole-person resumes. When I see ‘Truman,’ I know their college education was impeccable.”
Benton expects a lot from his clerks, who are tasked with analyzing the hundreds of cases his court has been assigned. They provide in-depth research and then express the results to him, both orally and in writing, before helping to draft the opinions of the court. One week a month, Benton’s court holds session in St. Louis, Mo., or St. Paul, Minn., and once a year, he hears arguments in Kansas City, Mo., or Omaha, Neb., during the court’s “formal” week. A majority of his time is spent in chambers, working closely with the clerks, providing them the opportunity to learn more about the legal system.
“Judge Benton is very well-respected as a judge and as a member of the Missouri legal community, and I thought he would be an excellent role model and mentor to a young attorney,” Hoskins said.
Hoskins plans to be a civil litigator, focusing on commercial litigation and employment. The variety of cases is what led him to the clerkship. For Jones, who hopes to pursue a career in appellate advocacy, it is an opportunity to discover what methods judges find to be persuasive and effective.
“I wanted a career that engaged my skills as a critical thinker, researcher and writer,” Jones said. “I enjoy thinking both academically and practically about argumentation.”
Mayer is on a slightly different track than her Truman counterparts, serving in a career position with Benton. After working as an assistant prosecutor in Platte County, Mo., she has spent the last year in her current role.
“I did not apply for a judicial clerkship right out of law school, and I grew to regret that decision,” she said. “Since working here, I’ve met some incredible judges and attorneys from the Eighth Circuit. It’s fascinating to see how decisions are made from this side of the bench.”
Hoskins, Jones and Mayer are not the first Truman graduates to clerk for Benton. One of his past clerks was John Hilton (’02), a former Truman State University Board of Governors member who currently works in legislative affairs for the federal judiciary in Washington, D.C.
“Clerking for Judge Benton was an invaluable experience, personally and professionally,” Hilton said. “He is a great judge, and will always be a role model for me. I am glad he thinks so well of Truman.”
In all likelihood, the fraternity of Truman clerks will grow.
“I will continue to hire Truman clerks in the future,” Benton said. “Based on my experience, I consider Truman to provide the opportunity for an education equivalent to that of any first-tier college, including schools in the Ivy League, Big Ten and the nation’s leading liberal arts colleges.”