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Former Friendly Clerks: Q&A with David Seipp


This blog has been focusing on Judge Henry Friendly recently, so I figured who better to speak on his behalf, than his former law clerks. From Chief Judge Merrick Garland to Chief Justice John Roberts, some of the most influential attorneys have clerked for Judge Friendly. (I was actually able to get in touch with Judge Garland and he sent me a link to this panel discussion on Judge Friendly's legacy).


About Professor Seipp

David J. Seipp is Professor of Law and Law Alumni Scholar at Boston University School of Law, where he teaches English Legal History, American Legal History, and Trusts, Wills and Estate Planning.  He has an A.B. summa cum laude from Harvard College in 1977, a B.A. in the Honour School of Jurisprudence from the University of Oxford in 1979, an LL.B. in Legal History with first class honours from the University of Cambridge in 1980, and a J.D. magna cum laude from Harvard Law School in 1982.  He clerked for Judge Henry J. Friendly on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and was an associate at the law firm of Foley Hoag and Eliot in Boston.  He joined the Boston University faculty in 1986.

Professor Seipp has published numerous articles and book chapters about concepts of property, crime, and tort in the early common law, the relation between English common law and canon and civil law, the history of legal education, and the thought of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.  A full list of his publications can be found at  He has compiled an internet database that indexes and translates over 22,000 cases reported in England between 1268 and 1535, the Year Books.  This database is freely and publicly accessible at, and is consulted by scholars, lawyers, and students between 2,000 and 3,000 times each month.  He is currently writing a volume of the Oxford History of the Laws of England.

He is a member of the Selden Society and the American Society for Legal History, a life member of the American Law Institute, a life fellow of the American Bar Foundation, a director of the Anglo-American Legal Tradition, and a trustee of the Ames Foundation.

Q&A with Professor Seipp

1. What made Judge Friendly such a unique judge and do you see any comparable judges in today’s judiciary?

Judge Friendly had a longstanding reputation for brilliance.  His judicial opinions could give shape and clarity to previously muddled or ill understood areas of law, and some of them have had a profound and enduring effect.  He tolerated the presence of his clerks but saw little use for us.  Judge Friendly wrote the first drafts of all of his opinions on the circuit court, and supplied his own citations.  We met with the judge before oral argument, having read the parties' briefs and record, so that the judge could hear if anything we said could shake his perceptions of the case and the arguments.  We worked on his draft opinions to see whether we could add anything of use or suggest any improvements.  I doubt whether there are more than a handful of judges who do such a large amount of their own drafting.

2. How has clerking for Judge Friendly made an impact on your legal career?

Judge Friendly discouraged his clerks from going into law teaching.  I saw some sense in that, and I practiced for three years before going onto a law faculty.  My favorite type of work in law firm practice was the preparation of appellate briefs.  I think my year with Judge Friendly prepared me very well for that work.  In teaching, I try to get across to students a judge's-eye-view of a litigated case, what motivates judges in deciding as they do, and what guides the writing of judicial opinions.  These are lessons I observed in clerking for Judge Friendly.  I also was nominated to and voted into the American Law Institute, who publish the Restatements, and I have been influenced greatly to attend annual meetings and to involve myself in this work by Judge Friendly's close involvement with the ALI.

3. As an influential attorney, what advice would you give young attorneys who are considering clerking for a judge?

I am not an influential attorney.  As a law teacher, I advise law students and recent graduates to apply for clerkships because an insider's view of the process of deciding cases would help any lawyer make better, more effective arguments for clients in litigation and give better advice in planning and transactions to avoid litigation.

4. Any other thoughts or comments?

When Henry Friendly graduated from Harvard College in 1923, he wanted to pursue an academic career in history, specifically medieval English constitutional and legal history in the tradition of his great teacher Charles McIlwain.  His family persuaded Felix Frankfurter, then on the Harvard Law School faculty, to talk to young Henry and advise him to give law school a shot.  Friendly took to it.  But I like to think that my own academic career focused on English legal history represents in my small way the path that Judge Friendly did not choose, but one at which he would have done equally brilliant work.

Thank you Professor Seipp for taking time to speak with our blog


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