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

A Top Law School ‘Fesses Up: Yeah, We’re Violating the Law Clerk Hiring Plan — What You Gonna Do About It?

Last month, we reported on the continued unraveling of the Law Clerk Hiring Plan (hereinafter “the Plan”). We cited, as evidence, the recent announcement by Georgetown University Law Center that it would be diverging in certain respects from the Plan.

Now another top law school — a top, top law school, one that sends many of its graduates into clerkships — has joined Georgetown in departing from the Plan. And the school’s dean has offered a full-throated defense of the decision to diverge.

Which school are we talking about? And is its argument persuasive?

The law school in question is Stanford. This should not come as a huge surprise; it’s simply confirmation of what we previously reported, back in June:

[W]ho is the “peer school[]” that departed first from the Plan? We’ve spoken to a few career services officers at leading law schools in the course of reporting this story, and word on the street is that it was Stanford Law School. Stanford supposedly started sending out application packets back in March of this year.

Stanford Law School

The difference between then and now, of course, is that now Stanford is breaking from the plan in open and notorious fashion. As my colleague Elie Mystal quipped to me this morning, “The horse was out of the barn, but now Stanford is tearing down the barn.”

Last night, Dean Larry Kramer sent around an email to the Stanford Law School community in which he explained the school’s approach to the clerkship application process. The email included a June 29 letter he sent about the Law Clerk Hiring Plan “to the members of the Judicial Conference of the United States, to the chief judges of every district and circuit, to the chair of the Online System for Clerkship Application and Review (OSCAR), and to a number of other federal judges.” The purpose of his letter, according to Dean Kramer, was “to let judges know what we are doing and, more important, to explain the reasons for our position.” (The full letter is reprinted on the last page of this post.)

In a nutshell, Stanford is doing what Georgetown is doing: if a judge does not follow the Plan, SLS will release clerkship applications to that judge in advance of the Plan timetable; if a judge does follow the Plan, then SLS will wait until September, when the Plan deadlines fall, to send out applications. From the memo: “[F]or judges who indicate that they are considering applications in the spring and summer, we are releasing letters of recommendation upon request. For judges following the Plan, we are not releasing recommendations until September.”

This makes sense to me. As I said with respect to GULC’s adopting this policy, “Deferring to the judiciary is generally a safe approach in the legal profession. If a school knows that a given judge isn’t following the (entirely voluntary) Plan, the school might as well cooperate, right?”

But my colleague Elie is a little disappointed in Stanford. “It’s not a ‘bad’ move, but it’s a common one. SLS is one of the schools that could be part of establishing a ‘new’ hiring plan. But instead it’s just doing what it has gotta do [for itself and its students]. That’s fine, just a bit common.”

In fairness to Stanford, though, the real muscle for “establishing a ‘new’ hiring plan” will have to come from the judges. Given the grim realities of the legal job market, law schools — even top law schools, like Stanford and Georgetown — just want to get their graduates jobs. Especially jobs like federal clerkships, which have tremendous cachet — cachet that translates into cash, when clerks head into private practice. A law school that follows the Plan to the letter will just end up disadvantaging its graduates (and itself).

Dean Kramer offers several arguments to explain why Stanford is moving in this direction. Let’s hear him out, shall we?

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