Nearly two centuries have passed since Manhattan was dotted with farmland, so native New Yorker Brandon Ruben ’16 can be forgiven for growing up with little knowledge of crops or animal husbandry. This past winter, however, he got his hands dirty in the legal wrangling of a cattle ranch dispute thanks to his clerkship with the Hon. Claire V. Eagan ’76 of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District Court of Oklahoma.
Ruben’s yearlong clerkship with Judge Eagan is the second of his three scheduled clerkships that will take him from the Great Lakes region to the Great Plains to our nation’s capital. Beginning this August, Ruben will serve his third yearlong clerkship with the Hon. Robert L. Wilkins of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Ruben clerked post-graduation for the Hon. Terrence G. Berg in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.
“When you live other places you get a sense of the everyday, on-the-ground concerns that motivate people to bring those concerns to their elected representatives,” Ruben explains. “Instead of simply seeing a news report about a certain population in a certain state that’s really passionate about a given issue—and reading about it from a passive perspective—you get a chance to live in the community and see why the given issue is so important to this group of people.”
Ruben entered law school with a clear career goal—to serve as a public defender—and a desire to clerk after graduation. Judge Berg’s clerkship application post on the U.S. Courts’ Online System for Clerkship Application and Review, seeking applicants with a public interest background interested in participating in Big Brothers, Big Sisters in Flint, Michigan, convinced Ruben that he would get along well with the former acting U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan. Today, Ruben describes Berg, a judge whom he says treats each person in his court with equal dignity, as a legal leader he seeks to fashion himself after.
Ruben’s current clerkship with Judge Eagan, which came about from Fordham connections, has not only introduced him to a new geographical location with new legal matters but also afforded him an up-close view of Eagan, a fixture on the Northern District of Oklahoma bench since October 2001.
“Judge Eagan models what it takes to master the process of being a judge and, more generally, to speak and write with authority as a legal actor,” Ruben says. “I have learned from her that, as an attorney, to achieve the levels of efficacy and credibility that she has, one must maintain an unfailing commitment to precision.” In Eagan’s chambers, deciding where to place a comma or choosing a certain word are decisions to be taken just as seriously as selecting cases to cite, he adds.
A basketball fan, Ruben likens clerking to watching hours of game film with a top-flight coach, in order to learn the sport’s intricacies inside out. Next up, he will join the chambers of a judge he “greatly admires”—the Hon. Robert L. Wilkins, one of the primary leaders behind the creation of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.
“I hope these experiences allow me to be a zealous advocate, a civic actor who is able to understand a variety and multiplicity of positions, and someone who is able to move the discourse not necessarily toward agreement—because agreement need not always be the goal—but more toward the possibility of mutual understanding,” Ruben says.