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What does a Clerk do?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 17, 2024
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Clerk derives from the word cleric and references control of the Catholic Church over the keeping of records, particularly since in most cases only clerics, priests and some nobles could read and write. They might work in many capacities, recording marriages, births, and deaths, working as secretaries for the church or for the royal families, or illuminating manuscripts. Today the term clerk is in much use and applies to many different types of occupations. Typically you’ll see clerk appended with other job descriptions such as legal, banking, sales, or file. What you will do as a clerk largely depends upon the other descriptions of your job.

Sales clerks, for instance, often work in retail stores, and when they are good at their jobs, they assist customers with information about products, help them to find what they need, and usually operate a cash register to record sales and returns. Banking clerks may also be called tellers, and are usually the point of contact for basic banking needs. They take deposits, give out withdrawals, cash checks and answer banking questions. They usually need good math and counting skills in order to perform this work.

Grocery clerks are another type of worker, usually referring to the folks who run the cash register at grocery stores. This is differentiated from other people in the store who might stock shelves, manage employees, or perform other duties required in a supermarket. Theoretically, a grocery clerk is similar to sales clerks, though they may be required to merely operate the cash register and check groceries rather than working away from the register.

Other forms of clerks have secretarial or administrative assistant jobs. File clerks might be responsible for filing documents, records, and for maintaining an orderly file system. Though this may be their principle work, they may additionally work at the front of the office to receive visitors, they may answer phones, and/or perform light typing or computer work.

A court clerk functions in the legal system to help maintain schedules of trials, file or have available documents needed by the courts. They may also prepare court reports, take care of evidence in a trial, and give needed information to juries. People training to be lawyers frequently vie for jobs clerking for various judges over the summer months when school is not in session.

The term clerks can also refer to singers of liturgical music. At the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, those participating in choirs are called clerks. In various large cathedrals, especially in the UK, people who participate in choirs may be called lay clerks.

The term has so many uses, only you, as a clerk of one kind or another, can best define the parameters of your work. With the exception of lay clerks, most clerking positions involve some interaction with customers, some organizational experience, and possibly excellent counting, filing, or accounting skills.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By subway11 — On Oct 10, 2010

Crispety- I think an accounting clerk would be interesting. They tend to maintain the financial records of a company which include all expenditures and invoices.

Some accounting clerks specialize in either accounts payable or accounts that need to be paid or accounts receivable or accounts in which payment or revenue is received.

Sometimes this job requires performing audits to ensure that the company is keeping appropriate financial records. This is a growing field that should continue to offer many opportunities for employment.

By Crispety — On Oct 10, 2010

A courthouse clerk really assists the lawyer and paralegal by making copies of certain court documents and contacting witnesses needed for an impending court case.

In addition, they may also offer the oath to a person that is offering testimony in a court of law.

Many law students work in this capacity to learn the ins and outs of the court system. Some work as a county clerk, circuit clerk, records clerks, probate clerks, or even clerk for the Supreme Court.

Being a clerk for the court is a very important job that requires attention to detail.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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