Clerkship Scramble

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….

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Consider it official: the federal clerkship hiring season is now underway. For 2Ls, that is.

As we reported back in June, “[t]he Law Clerk Hiring Plan is pretty much dead, at least in its strictest version, and it seems like every judge is going his or her own way.” As a result, ambitious 2Ls around the country have already started applying to their favorite federal judges.

Some applicants have been emailing judges directly with materials, and others have been submitting hard-copy applications. They’ve had to do this because OSCAR, the Online System for Clerkship Application and Review, has refused to release the clerkship applications of 2Ls.

Until now. Let’s take a look at what was just posted over at the OSCAR website….

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These are trying times for clerkship applicants. The Law Clerk Hiring Plan is pretty much dead, at least in its strictest version, and it seems like every judge is going his or her own way.

The best applicants can hope for, in the absence of any standardized approach to law clerk hiring, is transparency. Ideally judges should provide clear and comprehensive information about their own particular approaches to hiring clerks. Thanks to this nifty thing called the internet, it’s not that hard.

As in many things, the Southern District of New York provides a model for other courts to follow….

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Last month, the powers-that-be behind OSCAR (the Online System for Clerkship Application and Review) made some changes to the remnants of the Law Clerk Hiring Plan (to the extent that folks still follow the Plan). The upshot: OSCAR will release the electronic clerkship applications of rising 3Ls on June 28, 2013, at 12:00 p.m. (ET). At that point, judges are free to schedule and conduct interviews and make clerkship offers.

In writing about this news, I questioned the wisdom of this approach: “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.”

Well, it seems that some judges agree with this analysis and are taking a different tack….

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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….

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Last month, we reported on the continued unraveling of the Law Clerk Hiring Plan (hereinafter “the Plan”). We cited, as evidence, the recent announcement by Georgetown University Law Center that it would be diverging in certain respects from the Plan.

Now another top law school — a top, top law school, one that sends many of its graduates into clerkships — has joined Georgetown in departing from the Plan. And the school’s dean has offered a full-throated defense of the decision to diverge.

Which school are we talking about? And is its argument persuasive?

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Over the past few days, we’ve received numerous emails from our readers asking about the fate of the Clerkship Scramble. This website, a popular read among the clerkship-crazed (we count ourselves in this camp), went offline sometime last week, on or about July 4. If you go to its former address, you’ll encounter this message: “Sorry, the blog at clerkshipscramble.blogspot.com has been removed. This address is not available for new blogs.” The site archives are gone, and they don’t seem to be available via Google Cache either (at least not on a comprehensive basis).

The Clerkship Scramble has been gone for just about a week, and readers already miss it. Fans have described it to us as “very useful,” “a promising site that filled a much-needed information gap,” “the best unofficial resource for law students applying to clerkships,” and “so good!” The site maintained data about clerkship placement rates by law school, compiled rankings of Supreme Court feeder judges, offered advice about the application process, and broke clerkship-related news (such as Georgetown Law’s decision to abandon the Law Clerk Hiring Plan).

So what happened to the Clerkship Scramble?

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Last year, the law clerk application process was chaotic — perhaps even more chaotic than usual. The disarray even made the pages of the New York Times.

One of the driving factors behind the chaos was the growing number of judges who do not follow the Law Clerk Hiring Plan (hereinafter “the Plan”). Of course, the Plan is entirely voluntary, as certain judges like to emphasize. But following it — at least by a critical mass of judges, especially feeder judges on the Second Circuit and the D.C. Circuit — can provide some measure of order to an otherwise shambolic process.

This year, look for the disorder to grow. At least two top law schools are not following the Plan….

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