Clerkships, Federal Judges, Frank Easterbrook, Job Searches

Rejection Letter Potpourri: It’s Not You, It’s Me, And How Many Awesome People Want To Work For Me

The rejection letter is a lost art. Heck, in this day and age, most “rejection letters” are simply the cold silence of an empty inbox. That’s how I roll. It’s so much easier to just not respond to a request than to go through the whole, “Thank you for your interest in replacing Elie at Above the Law. Unfortunately, I’m not dead yet.”

Nowadays, you have to feel lucky to even receive a perfunctory rejection letter. Whether it’s “the position has been filled” or “we’ll keep your résumé on file” or “you should have included a picture of your breasts,” few people bother to let applicants know even fake reasons for why they didn’t get hired.

Apparently, the only people who still take the time to send meaningful rejection letters are federal judges. Over the past few weeks, tipsters have sent in a few from judges that at least try to give rejected applicants some sense of what happened.

Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised about our judiciary’s attention to such details. After all, we’re talking about people who will write long-ass arguments about issues even when their analysis has been “rejected”….

The first rejection letter in this batch comes from a high-profile jurist, Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook (7th Cir.). It turns out that Easterbrook isn’t so famous that he’s above comforting the little people who aren’t quite good enough to make it into his chambers.

The background: Chief Judge Easterbrook hires only University of Chicago law students as his clerks, based on recommendations from the U of C Clerkship Committee. If you’re not from the University of Chicago, you’re out of luck. Here’s the tail end of a rejection letter he sent to one of our (non-Chicago) tipsters:

This method has an arbitrary consequence for many, but there is an arbitrary quality about the whole clerkship selection process. My way of choosing clerks closes the doors to many excellent candidates, but the places my two clerks do not occupy will still be open in other chambers. You have my best wishes in finding a position with one of the many judges who have yet to choose.

Don’t give up, the process is so random that you’re bound to find a clerkship eventually, unless you’re like, super unlucky.

The full Easterbrook rejection is on the next page, but we’ve got more fun ones to get to. This other rejection letter also tried to buck up the spirits of our tipster. This one is from Judge Lawrence J. Block (Fed. Cl.). This applicant didn’t meet Block’s standards, but Block wants him to keep trying — because he’s sure the applicant would really benefit from a clerkship if one of Judge Block’s colleagues on the Court of Federal Claims has low enough standards to hire him:

Best wishes in your employment quest. I strongly encourage your continued interest in the Court of Federal Claims since I think you would find a clerkship here beneficial and fulfilling.

Well, it’s nice for the judge to take the time to write the applicant… oh wait, sorry, Judge Block took no time to write this rejection letter. From the signature line:

Very truly yours,

Judge Lawrence J. Block
United States Court of Federal Claims
(Email sent by chambers’ staff; please do not respond.)

My favorite rejection letter was sent by Judge James O. Browning (D.N.M.). Browning didn’t give our rejected tipster some plucky platitude. Instead, he gave our guy something to shoot for… by describing the qualifications of two people who did get his clerkship, in maddening detail. I’ve had to redact a lot to protect the identities of the actual clerks:

Thank you for your application to serve as my law clerk. I recently completed selection of my law clerks for 2013-2014 and want to advise you of my decision. It was a difficult decision, and the pool of applicants was very strong. I regret that I could not hire more.

I first decided to hire [a Winner]. [Winner] is a third-year student at [a better law school than yours]. [Winner] is [on Law Review] and [blows your grades out of the water]. She is a recipient of [awards you did not receive]. [Winner] is a [graduate of college, with honors]. [Winner] spent the past summer [doing awesome things], and [actually wants to live in this jurisdiction].

My most recent selection is [somebody else Awesome], who is a third-year student at [a school I like] and is in the top three percent of her class. [Awesome] is the Citation Editor on [Law Review]. She received [more awards than I can count]. Her case note has been accepted and is slated for publication [is yours?]. She has also submitted another paper for publication. [Awesome] received her B.A. in Political Science from [a cool college], where she graduated cum laude, and [has a Master’s degree, bitches]. [Awesome] clerked last summer [so she knows what she’s doing], and, upon completion of her clerkship, looks forward to [having a wonderful life].

I regret that I cannot extend an offer to you as well. Your resume, credentials, and references are impressive [just not as impressive as these other two people]. I wish you the best in your career [seriously, good luck with that]. I know that you will do well [but if you don’t, I’ll tell everybody that I saw that coming]. Best regards.


James O. Browning
United States District Judge

Maybe I took some liberties in my editing, but I think you get the point.

Click though to look at the full Easterbook rejection letter. And the next time you receive no response instead of a full rejection letter, consider yourself lucky.

(hidden for your protection)

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