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Judge Litkovitz Shares How a Clerkship Shaped Her Professional Career

One might say that Karen Litkovitz ’84 has a different outlook about the court—and judges. She not only clerked for several judges before and after graduating from UC Law, she now is a federal judge herself. All of her experiences have given Judge Litkovitz a broader perspective and deeper understanding of the work she does.

Born in Lorain, Ohio, she grew up in Avon Lake, before heading to Bowling Green State University where she majored in statistics and business pre-law.  After graduating cum laude in 1981, she began law school at UC that fall.  “I enjoyed the strong camaraderie and bonds forged with like-minded individuals,” said Judge Litkovitz of her time at UC Law.  After graduating in 1984, she married her husband whom she had met in their first semester together, and they spent their honeymoon studying for the Ohio bar exam.

Judge Litkovitz did not know much about judicial clerkships early on in her time as a law student.  “I really didn’t know much about judicial clerkships until my third year of law school,” she said.  “I applied for a clerkship with then Magistrate Judge Robert Steinberg and was fortunate enough to land that position.”  She spent two years with Judge Steinberg honing her legal research and writing skills under his tutelage.  She then went on to practice for eight years at the Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati, representing low-income people with housing, disability, and public assistance law issues. 

Move to Scale Back Becomes Judicial Opportunity

Though she loved her colleagues and her work with Legal Aid, Litkovitz decided to scale back her legal career to focus on raising her three sons.  This, however, led to an opportunity to return to the judicial realm.  “I had an unexpected telephone conversation with Judge Steinberg’s law clerk in 1994,” said Judge Litkovitz.  Judge Steinberg’s clerk was interested in job sharing, but was unsure of where to find somebody who would be willing to clerk only one day a week.  “Having previously clerked for Judge Steinberg and being interested in balancing family and work life, I jumped at the opportunity to get my foot back in the door of the federal courthouse on a part-time basis.”  As her children grew, she gradually increased her time working as a clerk, eventually being hired by Magistrate Judge Timothy S. Hogan as a full time judicial clerk.  Judge Litkovitz explained that she would not be a magistrate judge today without Judge Hogan’s mentoring.  “He allowed me to actively participate in settlement conferences and court hearings, and to gain other experience that I could not have otherwise obtained.  Importantly, he saw in me the potential as a judge, something I didn’t immediately recognize or appreciate.”  Judge Hogan encouraged her to apply for his position when he retired, and with over 15 years of judicial clerking experience she was selected for the position in 2010.

Clerkship Provided Glimpse into Work of a Judge

Judge Litkovitz shared that her focus as a clerk was on prisoner civil rights, habeas corpus, social security disability, employment discrimination, and various other types of civil cases filed in the federal courts.  One of the cases she found most interesting arose out of the 1993 prison riot at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility.  “It was a class action [lawsuit] brought by prisoners who did not participate in the riot,” said Judge Litkovitz.  She developed a streamlined procedure for the magistrate judge’s review of over 100 individual prisoner appeals as the law clerk assigned to the case.  “My work on that case gave me a glimpse of prison life few outsiders ever see.”  Today, as a magistrate judge, Judge Litkovitz is responsible for the initial proceedings in felony criminal cases, including initial appearances, bail hearings, arraignments, and detention hearings.

Judge Litkovitz shared that she enjoys her role as a mediator when the opportunity arises.  “During my time as a judicial clerk, I developed a personal interest in mediation and took the ‘Making Mediators’ and ‘Decision Analysis’ workshops at UC College of Law’s Center for Practice,” she said, noting that the workshops have helped her tremendously in her work as a mediator in settlement conferences.  “Judges are problem solvers.  I find that alternative dispute resolution is a fair, cost-effective, and often a more satisfying way to resolve legal disputes.”

Taking Advantage of Opportunities

When asked if she had any advice for students interested in pursuing a federal clerkship, Judge Litkovitz highly recommended taking advantage of UC Law’s judicial externship program.  As for those who aspire to become a federal judge, she shared the following bit of guidance:  “Work hard, cultivate relationships with your peers and colleagues, and be open to the unexpected possibilities life brings you in your legal career.  You never know where it might lead you.”