Clerkships

lifeboat to the lifeboats.jpgA couple of days ago, we heralded the start of clerkship application season. Given the weakness in the legal economy, there should be a lot of people trying to snag a clerkship offer this year.
Today is the day that judges can start calling around and setting up interviews. A tipster reports:

Per the hiring plan, judges can start calling to extend interviews at 10 a.m. today. Thousands of 3Ls across the country are doubtless waiting anxiously by their phones. The whole process obviously will be agonizing …

Who is making calls? Share your boasts and fears in the comments.
Earlier: Clerkship Application Season: Open Thread

lifeboat to the lifeboats.jpgOnce everyone gets back from Labor Day weekend, the craziness known as the clerkship application process will begin. This coming Tuesday is the first date when applications may be received, according to the 2009 Law Clerk Hiring Plan (followed by many but not all federal judges).
It’s become pretty standard to advise law students and lawyers dealing with the awful legal job market to consider clerking. As Harvard Law School told its students, earlier this year:

One option we would like to highlight is a judicial clerkship, which conveniently tends to be for one year, is valued by the full spectrum of legal employers, and is a fantastic job in itself…. Be sure to consider all types of clerkship opportunities, including those at state and specialty courts, because the competition is likely to be fierce this season.

Indeed. This will probably be the most competitive clerkship season in a decade (or longer). Landing a clerkship is easier said than done.
Update: As reported by U.S. News & World Report (via the ABA Journal), some law schools are better than others at sending their graduates into clerkships. The top three: (1) Yale, (2) the University of North Dakota, and (3) Stanford. Check out the full list over here.
Correction: Whoops. It seems that some of that clerkship info is wrong.
It’s not just feeder judge clerkships, or circuit court clerkships, or district court clerkships in hot districts that are tough to land. These days, even district clerkships in so-called “flyover country” require great credentials.
Discussion of hiring standards and timetables, after the jump.

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Justice John Paul Stevens.jpgJust a quick follow-up to yesterday’s discussion of whether Justice John Paul Stevens’s failure to hire a full complement of law clerks for October Term 2010 might shed light upon his retirement plans. In today’s New York Times, Adam Liptak has an excellent article on the subject. It begins:

A Supreme Court clerkship is a glittering prize and the ultimate credential in American law, one coveted by the top graduates of the best law schools. Until recently, though, only connoisseurs of ambition and status followed the justices’ hiring process closely.

It turns out those hiring decisions may be a sort of early warning system for hints about the justices’ retirement plans. “We’ve started tracking Supreme Court hiring in real time,” said David Lat, the founder of Above the Law, a legal blog.

Thanks for the shout-out, Mr. Liptak! When it comes to being “connoisseurs of ambition and status,” we plead guilty.

Justice David H. Souter’s failure to hire clerks this spring accurately signaled his decision to step down. On Wednesday, the court confirmed that Justice John Paul Stevens, who is 89, has hired only one clerk, instead of the usual four, for the term starting in October 2010. That ignited speculation that Justice Stevens may be planning to step down next summer.

Some thoughts on what’s going on here, after the jump.

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Justice John Paul Stevens.jpgA few weeks ago, we were emailing with one of our sources about an interesting fact we noticed, based on Above the Law’s real-time coverage of Supreme Court clerk hiring. The fact: thus far, Justice John Paul Stevens has hired just one law clerk for October Term 2010 (Sam Erman (Michigan 2007 / Garland)).
We didn’t write about it at the time, because OT 2010 is still a year away, and it seemed a bit speculative to make much of it so far in advance. But others noticed this fact too — and were faster on the trigger about it. Like the AP:

Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens has hired fewer law clerks than usual, generating speculation that the leader of the court’s liberals will retire next year.

If Stevens does step down, he would give President Barack Obama his second high court opening in two years. Obama chose Justice Sonia Sotomayor for the court when Justice David Souter announced his retirement in May.

Souter’s failure to hire clerks was the first signal that he was contemplating leaving the court….

Indeed. We started the speculation about Justice Souter’s retirement back in April 2009, over at Underneath Their Robes, based in part on his lack of law clerk hiring (and based in part on a sighting of him with Senator Pat Leahy).
But back to Justice Stevens:

In response to a question from The Associated Press, Stevens confirmed through a court spokeswoman Tuesday that he has hired only one clerk for the term that begins in October 2010. He is among several justices who typically have hired all four clerks for the following year by now. Information about this advance hiring is not released by the court but is regularly published by some legal blogs.

Cough cough — like Above the Law?
Commentary from expert observers, plus a reader poll, after the jump.

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Now that the New York Times has covered it, it’s official: the recession has hit the legal profession.
Here’s more evidence. Yesterday afternoon, while walking along 53rd Street in Manhattan (between Broadway and Eighth), we came across The Man in a Van. Aaron Heideman, aka The Man in a Van, is traveling around the country, collecting stories of how people have been affected by the recession. Contributors write down their narratives on a giant poster (which, when unfurled, spans 50 yards). Selected stories are written on the van itself.
Here is one person’s story, from a former law clerk — someone who would usually have no trouble landing a job:
how has the recession affected you man in a van project.jpg
Two additional pictures — a larger shot of the banner, plus one of the van — after the jump.

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Supreme Court hallway Above the Law Above the Law Above the Law.JPGWe’ve previously reported on the hiring of Supreme Court law clerks for October Term 2009. Their names appear here (everyone but Justice Sotomayor’s clerks) and here (Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s clerks).
As we mentioned, we weren’t 100 percent certain on the Sotomayor clerks. Happily, as it turns out, our intelligence was correct. Thanks to everyone who shared information with us; we can’t accurately track Supreme Court clerk hiring without your help.
The Public Information Office of the Supreme Court has released the official list of October Term 2009 law clerks, and it matches up with what we’ve reported in these pages. For a copy of the official list, click here to download (as a Word document). (Note that it doesn’t include law school and prior clerkship information, which usually comes in a second, more detailed list.)
Not counting the law clerks’ middle initials, the official list doesn’t contain much information that hasn’t already appeared on ATL — with one exception. We now know that retired Justice David H. Souter’s clerk will be Thomas Pulham, formerly of the D.C. office of Jenner & Block (which has sent a number of its associates into SCOTUS clerkships).
Based on the official list, we’ve made some small tweaks to our list (e.g., changed some maiden names to married names). Check out the final list, a mash-up of the official list with the law school and prior clerkship information that we’ve gathered on our own, after the jump.

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law clerk judicial clerkship Abovethelaw Above the Law blog.jpgAs goes Harvard Law School, so goes the rest of the law school world. Last month, HLS pointed its students towards an escape from Biglaw purgatory: clerkships.
Now Penn Law is doing the same, revising its clerkship policy to allow students to blanket the country — and cyberspace — with clerkship applications. From Law Clerk Addict:

JUDGE LIMIT POLICY

In light of the current market conditions and the expectation that the competition for clerkships this year will be greater than in the past, CPP and the Faculty Clerkship Committee decided to reconsider the 100 judge limit and have agreed to the following new limit: Applicants will be limited to 75 paper applications. There is no limit on the number of OSCAR judges you may apply to.

At least there’s still a limit on paper applications. Trees everywhere are breathing sighs of relief.
(For those of you who clerked in the Mesozoic Era, as we did, OSCAR has nothing to do with the Academy Awards; rather, it’s the Online System for Clerkship Application and Review.)
Update: UVA is following suit. Full message after the jump.
More after the jump.

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Supreme Court hallway Above the Law Above the Law Above the Law.JPGThe National Law Journal suggests that the down economy could be hitting the pockets of the Elect. Some firms are suggesting that the $250,000 bonus to hire a former Supreme Court clerk is just too expensive in today’s economy:

At firms that have been shaken by the downturn, however, a $250,000 bonus will be hard to sell, some practitioners say. “Intuitively, it doesn’t feel right to pay that kind of bonus when you are trying to make economies wherever you can at the firm,” said veteran advocate Carter Phillips, managing partner at Sidley Austin’s Washington office. Thomas Goldstein of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, where there have been cuts, agrees that it’s tough to justify a $250,000 bonus when a firm is considering letting go a staff person paid $50,000. Because of that juxtaposition, he predicted bonuses will shrink — though he said it’s too early in the hiring season to say how much. “The number of firms willing to pay that amount of money will be down.”

But surely these firms aren’t talking about collusion, are they? SCOTUS clerks command top dollar, and firms that are struggling can’t artificially deflate the price for this top talent — even if they want to:

Firms won’t be sorry to wave goodbye to what Goldstein calls the “incredible escalation” that the $250,000 bonus represents. Even before the recession, firms were grumbling about it because of a recurring pattern: Some clerks grab the bonus, work at the firm for a year or three, then skip off to academia with loans paid off and kids’ tuition in the bank. “Firms are going to be more interested in clerks staying around and practicing law,” [former solicitor general Paul] Clement said.

While some firms might be priced out of the Elect market, we are still talking about a “recession-proof” set of credentials.

More after the jump.

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Harvard Law School seal logo.jpgDon’t get too close to any Ivory Tower in your town today. The news that Cravath is leaving the class of 2010 out of work for a year has sent monocles flying as students at top law schools learn a powerful lesson about free market capitalism.
Harvard Law School sent out a letter to all of its rising 3Ls in the wake of the Cravath announcement. It essentially warned them that you can’t trade in an HLS degree for food and shelter:

Dear Rising 3Ls:
We hope you are getting off to a great start in your summer jobs. We write to alert you about a situation that may require action on your part. As you know, many law firms deferred the start dates of class of 2009 associates from 2009 to 2010. Without clear indication that the economy will turn around by 2010, some firms are planning ahead and already notifying summer associates from the class of 2010 that their start dates are likely to be deferred until 2011 or later. See, e.g., Cravath and Skadden. Generally firms have been generous in providing fellowships or stipends to the class of 2009 given the surprise to that class, but firms may not provide such options to you in the class of 2010 because you have more advance notice about economic conditions. If you are at a law firm this summer and hope to return after graduation, you should ask yourself now what you might do to fill the 2010-2011 year if necessary. [Emphasis in the original.]

What should the class of 2010 do for post-graduate employment, “if necessary”? Stipends look like they are going to be less generous, so people might actually need to earn some money for a year.
So, what can you do with a law degree once Biglaw decides that they don’t want you? I hear law firms in Baghdad are booming right now.
Harvard has its own ideas, after the jump.

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Wilmer Hale logo.JPGThere has been a lot going on at WilmerHale recently. Summer associates are coming, regular associates are “transitioning.” The uncertainty has made some WilmerHale alumni who are currently clerking wonder if they can return to the firm when their clerkships end.
Above the Law has received reports from current clerks who were expecting to be hired back by WilmerHale after their clerkships are over. Some tipsters report that WilmerHale has decided not to rehire any of its former associates who took a year off to clerk. We know that many clerks are worried about being in a similar situation, so we asked WilmerHale clarify its position on rehiring clerks. The firm gave us this response:

All former summer associates who received an offer and then went on to clerk after graduation from law school have been invited to join the firm as associates. The firm, however, does not tell associates who leave for a clerkship that they can return after their clerkships are complete; rather, former associates must reapply to the firm, and we have not historically given offers of employment to all former associates at the conclusion of their clerkships. This year, we extended offers to some but not all of the former associates who inquired about returning; in addition, we have hired a small number of very promising judicial clerks who had not previously been with the firm.

So, if you clerk before you start at the firm, you are golden. But if you worked for a couple of years and then decided to clerk, best of luck.
Despite the difficulties clerks are facing when trying to get back into the Biglaw market, there are still many people who want to cool their heels as a clerk. One deferred incoming WilmerHale associate was so happy to receive a clerkship that the firm posted his gushing thanks on its internal website.
More details after the jump.

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