Feeder Judges

Justice Clarence Thomas in conversation with Judge Diane Sykes.

Over the past few years, some amazing speakers have appeared at the Thursday evening dinner of the Federalist Society’s National Lawyers Convention. Last year, Justice Samuel A. Alito offered a very funny look back at his time at Yale Law School. In 2010, Justice Antonin Scalia engaged in a spirited and wide-ranging conversation with legal journalist Jan Crawford.

Last night’s event will be tough to top. Justice Clarence Thomas, speaking with Judge Diane Sykes of the Seventh Circuit, delivered remarks that were “equal parts hysterical, poignant and inspiring,” as Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett noted on Twitter.

I was lucky enough to attend, seated just one table away from the stage. Here’s my account of the evening (plus a few photos)….

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Is it acceptable to say a friendly hello to a Supreme Court justice if you see one of the nine out in public? That’s the question posed in a recent Dear Prudence column. As a federal judicial stalker an Article III groupie myself, I say yes. Because who knows? The justice might give you an autograph (and some free wine).

But some people don’t need to chase after Supreme Court justices. Some people will get to work closely with the members of the high court as law clerks, crafting the opinions that will rule us all.

Thanks to everyone who responded to our recent request for SCOTUS clerk hiring news for October Term 2014. Let’s look at the updated list of clerks hired so far….

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We’re a few weeks into the new Supreme Court Term, and it’s shaping up as a very interesting one. As veteran SCOTUS litigator Tom Goldstein said last month when he kindly joined us for one of our ATL events in D.C., even if the two prior Terms might have offered more fodder for the general public — Obamacare, same-sex marriage, affirmative action — the current one, October Term 2013, could turn out to be the biggest one for legal nerds in terms of the actual direction of the law in several areas.

Which brilliant young lawyers will get a front-row seat to the making of history? We’ve previously published the official list of OT 2013 law clerks, which we received from the Supreme Court’s Public Information Office. And now we have another gift from the PIO: the updated official list of the current crop of law clerks, which lists their law schools and prior clerkships.

Which law schools and feeder judges produced the most Supreme Court clerks for October Term 2013? And how is hiring looking for the following Term, October Term 2014?

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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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A clerk at One First Street (click to enlarge).

Ten years after their time at One First Street, where do Supreme Court clerks wind up? Back in 2004, I tossed out a number of possibilities: high-ranking government posts, lucrative partnerships at leading law firms, and tenured professorships at top law schools.

That seems to be about right. Professor Derek Muller put together this interesting analysis — via Orin Kerr, via Judge Dillard on Twitter — of the SCOTUS clerk class from ten years ago. The clerks for October Term 2003 now occupy some pretty prestigious perches, including posts in the Solicitor General’s Office and the Office of Legal Counsel, professorships at Harvard and Yale, and partnerships at Sullivan & Cromwell and Paul Weiss.

Who will follow in their footsteps? We have some new goodies for devotees of SCOTUS law clerk hiring.

Keep reading for a look at (1) the official list of Supreme Court clerks for October Term 2013, courtesy of the Court itself; (2) our unofficial list of OT 2013 clerks, with law school and prior clerkship information; and (3) an updated list of October Term 2014 hires thus far. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has hired multiple clerks for OT 2014, suggesting that she’s not going anywhere….

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A clerk at One First Street (click to enlarge).

Readers of Above the Law aren’t the only people interested in Supreme Court clerk hiring. Televangelist Pat Robertson — a graduate of Yale Law School, and winner of our reader poll for YLS’s most disgraceful graduate — recently wondered if Justice Anthony Kennedy might have been swayed by gay law clerks when he struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act.

(We’re everywhere! Even the Vatican!)

For the record, I don’t know the sexual orientations of Justice Kennedy’s outgoing law clerks — well, not all of them — and I don’t intend to go digging for such info. But in fairness to Robertson, before you yell at him for making a big deal out of gay SCOTUS clerks, please note that the topic has made headlines recently. Indeed, it would be interesting to look back on his historic Term for gay rights from the perspective of a lesbian or gay clerk. Perhaps we’ll hear from such a clerk in the future (although the absence of leaks about the big rulings suggests that this group is an impressively tight-lipped bunch).

If I were selected to serve as a law clerk to a justice of the United States Supreme Court, I would be gay — as in very, very happy. Let’s look at the brilliant young lawyers who have been hired as SCOTUS clerks for the next two Terms of the Court….

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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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Raise your hand if you like prestige. Alright, you can all put your hands down, because we’re about to drop some news on you about one of the most prestigious career paths available in the legal profession. Of course, we’re talking about federal clerkships, which are great opportunities to pursue if you’re lucky enough to be given the chance — not to mention the fact that if you happen to be clerking for a feeder judge, you might just have it made (the going rate for a SCOTUS clerkship bonus is $280K!!!).

In our coverage of career placement statistics from the most recent graduating law school class, we’ve tackled a wide range of career options, from professional couch-sitters to “elite” Biglaw associates. Today, we’re bringing you news on clerkships from the God of Rankings himself, Bob Morse of the U.S. News law school rankings.

So are you ready to see the law schools that had the highest percentages of graduates move on to become federal clerks? Let’s check out the list….

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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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