Clerkships, Federal Judges, Feeder Judges, Immigration, Job Searches, Law Schools

Clerkship Application Season: Open Thread

Today is Friday, September 9, 2011. Do you know why today is special? Here’s the answer:

Yes, that’s right — we’re smack dab in the middle of the clerkship application season. Today was the first date and time (10 a.m. Eastern) when judges could contact applicants to schedule interviews, pursuant to the official law clerk hiring plan.

Let’s talk more about the process — and hear from those of you who are going through it….

In last year’s clerkship application open thread, we wrote:

Word on the street is that the Plan is starting to break down, with an increasing number of judges, including some of the most prestigious and popular ones, hiring ahead of the deadlines. Getting federal judges to follow rules isn’t easy; they’re used to making the rules, not obeying them.

Furthermore, the Plan by its terms “does not cover applicants who have graduated from law school”; these applicants may be interviewed and hired by judges at any time. More and more judges are going down this path and hiring law school graduates rather than 3Ls, which (1) gives them clerks with more experience, either in practice or in another clerkship, and (2) allows the judges to avoid the mad scramble for talent under the Plan.

Based on what we’ve heard, these trends seem to be continuing — the Plan is losing judicial adherents, and many judges are focusing their efforts on graduates rather than 3Ls.

Readers, is this consistent with what you’re experiencing? Or are these trends starting to reverse themselves? Please let us know, in the comments or by email. (If we receive enough interesting feedback, we might do a follow-up post.)

Here’s one trend that we are hearing more about: unfunded clerkships. One reader explains:

I don’t know if y’all have OSCAR access, but I thought you would be interested in a federal clerkship that was posted [recently]. [One Texas judge] posted a clerkship in OSCAR with the following note:

“This is an unfunded position, meaning there is no salary or benefits, but the work is the same as a funded position. Judge [Redacted] has a very active intellectual property docket, and this is an excellent opportunity for a new attorney to gain experience in complex patent litigation. He is seeking an intelligent, responsible individual with strong research and writing skills and good interpersonal skills.”

Two thoughts: First, I am enough of a realist to know that there are people who will take advantage of the victims of this crappy job market, but I find it disturbing that a federal freakin’ judge is among their ranks. Second, as if federal clerkships weren’t already the province of the elite, most of them going to the top students from the top schools, this guy has created a job that only a trust fund baby or a lottery winner can accept.

We have previously explored the pros and cons of unpaid federal government positions, for both the system and the individuals, in this post: Would You Work as a Federal Prosecutor — for Free? (discussing the “Special Assistant U.S. Attorney” or “SAUSA” phenomenon).

This is admittedly anecdata, but I do know of at least one case where an unfunded clerkship worked out for someone. A friend was having difficulty finding a law firm position, so she took an unpaid clerkship (which she was able to do in part because her husband has a good income that covers them both). Clerking was an excellent experience for her, and it also helped her access the network of former clerks to her judge. Thanks in part to the experience and connections she gained through the clerkship, she landed a job at a leading law firm.

Okay — let’s open up this open thread. In the comments, feel free to opine or enlighten about any aspect of the clerkship application process that strikes your fancy. You can certainly debate the fairness or unfairness of unpaid clerkships. But you’re also welcome to dish about which judges and courts are hiring, which ones are finished, who is following the Plan, and who is hiring independently of it.

Working as a law clerk was the most enjoyable and interesting legal job that I’ve ever had. I strongly encourage law students and young lawyers to consider clerking. Good luck to everyone going through the application process this year.

P.S. Last year we raised the issue of non-citizen law clerks. Has anything changed on this front? Feel free to update us, in the comments or by email.

Federal Judges Law Clerk Hiring Plan [official website]

Earlier: Clerkship Application Season: Open Thread (2010)
Clerkship Application Season: Open Thread (2009)

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