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

Clerkship Hiring Is Getting Earlier and Earlier

A few years ago, when the New York Times asked him how early he starts recruiting law clerks, Chief Judge Alex Kozinski quipped, “At birth.” Chief Judge Kozinski was joking — kind of.

Back in January, the Most Holy D.C. Circuit — blessed be its prestigious name — officially abandoned the Law Clerk Hiring Plan. Since then, we’ve received reports of 2Ls around the country being hired for clerkships during this current semester, before they even have spring grades.

Historically speaking, this isn’t the first time hiring has started this early. When I went through the process years ago, I had my clerkship lined up before April. But it’s certainly a break with more recent practice, in which judges generally have waited to hire law clerks until the fall of 3L year.

Perhaps in response to these developments, the judges behind OSCAR (the Online System for Clerkship Application and Review) have made some tweaks to what remains of the Law Clerk Hiring Plan. Check out how early the “official” timetable now begins….

This was just posted over at the OSCAR Blog:

This is to inform you of a change in the 2013 Federal Law Clerk Hiring Plan (Hiring Plan). The OSCAR Working Group judges decided to advance the first date when applications may be received from third-year applicants from August 19, 2013 to June 28, 2013 and revert to a single date to receive applications, schedule and conduct interviews, and make clerkship offers. The OSCAR system will release all online third-year law school student applications on June 28, 2013 at 12:00 pm Noon (EDT).

June 28 is a Friday. Top law firms, expect your summer associates to do even less work than usual that day (if such is possible).

Also note that the Plan provides for “a single date to receive applications, schedule and conduct interviews, and make clerkship offers.” This could be a recipe for an utterly shambolic process, a mad scramble for talent on June 28, full of hastily conducted interviews, exploding offers, and questionable behavior by both judges and applicants. (Of course, defenders of the new Plan might say that the current process is no model of decorum and deliberation.)

How mad the scramble will be will depend upon how strictly the Plan is followed by how large number of judges. We might see a rise in the current practice of judges informally getting to know particularly promising applicants in advance of the official Plan period, through lunches or coffees or the like, and then making official offers on the magic day of June 28.

Here’s another possibility, which we’ve also seen over the past few years: some judges, wanting to avoid the insanity, will just start hiring more clerks “off cycle” — e.g., law school graduates already working as lawyers, who are not covered by any of the Plan rules (which, of course, are advisory to begin with).

So what to make of the Plan setting June 28 as D-Day? One student at a top law school suggested to us that this might be a positive development. Judges are already starting to hire clerks right after 2L spring grades become available, so at least now the computerized OSCAR system is consistent with the reality on the ground. The deadline change could make the process of applying early, which is already happening anyway, easier and less insane. As a 3L at a different school put it:

This is a huge benefit for 2L students since they can now utilize OSCAR a lot earlier in the process. Hopefully the Working Group will make the final cut next year and just open up OSCAR to any law student.

But some still think this whole process is starting ridiculously early. Here is what one federal judge wrote to us regarding the new June 28 date:

A federal clerkship, even outside of the big cities, attracts hundreds of application including many from T-14 schools. I received over 600 applications two years ago in my city of less than 250,000. The résumés for over 500 of the applicants suggested that any of them could do the job.

I continue to be puzzled by the early dates that some federal judges use to hire law clerks. Last year I did not hire until late November 2012 for my August 2013 clerk. I was overwhelmed with very highly qualified applicants. There is a highly competitive market for federal law clerks and it seems to me that waiting for information from the second year summer jobs is reasonable and prudent.

Federal judges are generally reasonable and prudent people; that’s how they became federal judges. But when it comes to law clerk hiring, they sometimes toss reasonableness and prudence out the window. Turning into “gunner groupies,” they reach underneath their robes to remove their Article III undergarments and fling them at law review editors in chief and Sears Prize winners.

Speaking of gunners, here’s some bad news for you guys: OSCAR will now limit you to 100 clerkship applications. So pick your targets carefully, since you can no longer carpet bomb the entire federal judiciary with your résumé and transcript.

Good luck to everyone, judges and aspiring clerks alike, who is going or will go through the clerkship process. Clerkships can be wonderful experiences, both for clerks and for judges, so all the headache and heartache will hopefully be worth it in the end.

Federal Law Clerk Hiring Plan Date Change [OSCAR]
OSCAR Version 7: Limit of 100 Clerkship Applications [OSCAR]

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