Law Students

Clerkship Hiring Process

How to Position Yourself for a Federal Judicial Clerkship

Working for a judge is one of the best experiences a young lawyer can have. (A remarkable 97% of judicial clerks said they’d take the job again, in retrospect.) Unfortunately, getting a clerkship is one of the most stressful experiences a law student can have!

If you’re thinking of applying for a clerkship, educate yourself about what to expect, and then try to roll with the process. Yes, it’s stressful when you’re in the middle of it, but the potential rewards are great.

How the Judicial Clerkship Application Process Works (in Theory)
Theoretically, the federal judicial clerkship application process is pretty straightforward. You submit your application via a centralized system (OSCAR) on a particular day, judges have a bit of time to review the applications, then they schedule interviews and make offers.

The reality is a lot messier! Complicating factors include:

  • Judges aren’t required to follow the hiring plan. Certain judges have never paid attention to the plan deadlines and have hired “off plan,” but this seems to be happening more and more frequently. In addition, many judges are hiring two years early (which is allowed under the plan, but limits your options if you want a post-graduation clerkship).
  • Only 3Ls are covered by the plan. If you’re a law grad, you’re not covered by the clerkship hiring plan and can submit your application whenever you want. The result? You’re likely to be hired early, before 3Ls can officially submit applications.
  • Some schools aren’t following the hiring plan. This year, a new twist! Some schools have decided their graduates shouldn’t have to follow the hiring plan, and are openly submitting materials early. Now that the floodgates have opened, expect to see this becoming more common.

So, what should you – the poor clerkship applicant – do in the face of such chaos? Basically, gather as much information as you can about conditions on the ground, and then hustle.

In a fluid environment like the current clerkship market, having good information is critical. Draw on all your possible resources: professors, your school’s clerkship advisor, current clerks, mentors from other legal jobs, friends in the class ahead of you, internet message boards, OSCAR listings, and so on, to find out whether the
judges you’re interested in are hiring early. If they are, talk to your recommenders and ask if they’ll send in your letters of recommendation early. Most probably will, given the unofficial breakdown of the system. If so, get your applications off as soon as possible and hope for the best.

Don’t panic! Despite the craziness, many, if not most, judges still hire under the official plan, which means your application will be submitted on September 4, 2012. Judges can schedule interviews starting on September 7, 2012 and can hold their first interviews (and make their first offers) on September 13, 2012.

Up next: Preparing Your Clerkship Application

For more clerkship advice, check out Judicial Clerkships 101: What You Need to Know to Get the Job You Want

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