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

Should 1Ls Start Applying For Clerkships?

That’s not a joke. It might still be too early to apply for clerkships as a first-year law student, but 1Ls should at least be thinking about their clerkship applications — which judges they want to apply to, which professors to seek out as recommenders, and the like — as the spring semester draws to a close.

In case there was any doubt about that, it’s effectively the message the judges are sending too. As we noted in yesterday’s Non-Sequiturs, there’s some important news about the Law Clerk Hiring Plan that first-year law students should know….

Here’s the latest from the OSCAR Working Group, which oversees OSCAR, the Online System for Clerkship Application and Review (an extremely useful resource for both clerkship applicants and judges):

There will be a phased approach for opening OSCAR to law school students for 2014. After receiving feedback from law schools, the OSCAR Working Group recommended allowing rising second-year law school students to have read-only access to OSCAR on June 1, 2014 and full system access on August 1, 2014. The read-only access will allow rising second-year law school students to view and research clerkship positions and upload their application materials to the system. Full system access will allow these students to build online applications and submit them for consideration by judges listing clerkship vacancies.

Translation: current 1Ls, be ready to start firing out applications over OSCAR as of August 1. And that’s if you use OSCAR, which streamlines the application process and makes everything electronic. You might want to reach out directly to judges you are particularly interested in prior to August 1 and send them applications directly, whether by email or in hard-copy form.

But what about the Law Clerk Hiring Plan, you ask? Wasn’t it still writhing on the floor, bleeding from multiple stab wounds but still possessing a pulse?

Uh, not really:

At the Working Group’s recommendation, the Hiring Plan has been eliminated. Hiring data gathered by the Administrative Office indicated that federal judges continued to abandon the Hiring Plan in FY 2013, leading the Working Group to conclude that its continuation would detract from the Judiciary’s goal of creating a transparent law clerk recruitment process. To further this goal, the Working Group developed a list of Federal Law Clerk Hiring Best Practices.

Some folks will bemoan the chaos, but not everyone is shedding tears over the Plan. As one recent graduate who shared the news with us remarked, “Good riddance. 2Ls at schools without established clerkship programs won’t have the false impression that they can wait until the Hiring Plan date and still have a chance with most judges. It’s a more honest approach, for whatever that’s worth.”

Who are the winners and losers from the official demise of the Law Clerk Hiring Plan? We conducted a quick Q-and-A with Professor Carl Tobias, who has written extensively about the federal judiciary.

Any thoughts on the significance of this move? Whom does it benefit and whom does it hurt?

I think that it obviously benefits students/schools who have been closely tracking the machinations and could anticipate the official announcement today. I think students can now safely apply and should already have done so for very early judges, but my sense for many judges is that they are waiting for third semester grades, but may not await law review editorial board selections. It also benefits those with established ties to judges.

How significant a move is it? Wasn’t the Plan already dead as a practical matter in many courts?

Not that significant as it was effectively dead, especially in the appeals courts and particularly the favored ones like D.C., Second, Ninth, and feeder judges. However, I believe that a number of judges did not hire early last year out of uncertainty, habit, disdain for the unseemly chaos, or the candid recognition that many applicants can do the job.

What are the prospects for a new Plan coming about?

The prospects are not very good in the short term. I think that it is still possible to have a new plan for next year, but the OSCAR Working Group judges would have to hustle and I don’t sense much consensus among judges around the U.S. In the past, judges like the late Judge Ed Becker, then-Judge Stephen Breyer, and Judge Harry Edwards have galvanized consensus and forged plans that worked, and that could be possible now. Circuit Judges like Michael Boudin, William Fletcher, Merrick Garland, and Robert Katzmann, or District Judges like D. Brock Hornby and Lee H. Rosenthal, could do that if they wanted…. Much remains unpredictable, but it is difficult to see why judges would delay this season, which appears to be well under way.


Indeed. Good luck to applicants gearing up for, or in the middle of, the stressful but important process of applying for clerkships. Just don’t forge your transcript, and you’ll be fine.

Update from the 2013 OSCAR Working Group [OSCAR]

Earlier: Clerkship-Seeking 2Ls, Start Your Engines
Harvard Law Students Are The Best — At Making Up Fake Transcripts

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