Now that Labor Day is behind us, fall is fast approaching. You can tell by the chill in the evening air.
Or is that just the cold offers we’re feeling? Last month, we asked you for stories about firms giving out cold offers to summer associates. As we explained, a “cold offer” or “fake offer” is, in the words of NALP, an employment offer made “with the understanding that the offer will not be accepted.”
This “offer,” made with a wink and a nudge, allows the employing law firm to report (and boast about) a 100 percent offer rate, when in reality it isn’t welcoming back 100 percent of its summer associates. It also has an advantage for the recipient: when she goes through 3L recruiting, she can truthfully say, “Yes, I received an offer from the firm where I summered.”
We recently heard a story about a pretty cold offer (not from summer 2011, but from not too long ago summer 2010). This summer associate, who wasn’t the most popular person in her class, received a full-time employment offer “contingent upon obtaining a federal clerkship.” Given how hard it is to land a federal judicial clerkship, that’s a pretty cold offer — especially considering that the student in question, now graduated, didn’t go to a law school known for cranking out lots of clerks.
Today is Friday, September 9, 2011. Do you know why today is special? Here’s the answer:
Yes, that’s right — we’re smack dab in the middle of the clerkship application season. Today was the first date and time (10 a.m. Eastern) when judges could contact applicants to schedule interviews, pursuant to the official law clerk hiring plan.
Let’s talk more about the process — and hear from those of you who are going through it….
Last month, the Supreme Court law clerks for October Term 2010 finished their clerkships, turning over their clerkly duties to the October Term 2011 class of clerks. As in past years, many of the OT 2010 clerks are joining private law firms — which welcome them with six-figure signing bonuses. These bonuses are paid on top of base salaries reflecting their seniority (many SCOTUS clerks join firms as second- to fourth-year associates), as well as the usual year-end bonuses.
For the past few years, at least since 2007, law firm signing bonuses for members of The Elect have hovered around $250,000. But this year, at least a few firms are offering even more.
Many prominent people, including Chief Justice John Roberts and Judge Harry Edwards, have raised their voices about the increasing irrelevance of academic writing to practicing lawyers and judges. Yet, despite railing at the academy, those judges — and law firms, and sophisticated purchasers of legal services — all rely on the academics to identify talented lawyers. Law schools brand the beef, and purchasers buy based on the brand. What do I mean, and why is that process natural and appropriate?
Let’s start with an example for people coming right out of law school: How should judges pick law clerks? One way — perhaps even the “fair” way — would be for judges to assume that each of the 45,000 people graduating from law school is equally likely to make a fine clerk. Judges would solicit applications from all 45,000 and then start the process of sorting the good from the bad.
That cannot work, of course. Judges don’t have the resources (or, necessarily, the ability) to study transcripts, read writing samples, conduct interviews, and do the other spadework needed to assess all of those candidates comprehensively. And judges can’t externalize the cost of the screening process; there’s no person or institution that would play that role for an acceptable price.
What are judges to do? They rely on law schools to brand the beef.
Rant as they may about scholars producing unhelpful scholarship, most judges rely essentially unthinkingly on those same scholars to have separated the potentially gifted lawyers from the crowd. Judges assume that the best students went to the best law schools; that, after arriving, the more talented law students outperformed the less talented ones; and thus that the best performers at the best law schools will make the best clerks. Judges typically pick their clerks from among the top graduates of the elite schools. Judges may think that professors are insane when they’re selecting topics for their scholarship and then devoting months to researching and writing on those subjects, but those same judges rely on the same professors to brand the beef astutely. Whatever criteria law schools are using within the asylum to rank their students, the outside world seems quite happy with it.
Over the past few years, we’ve seen a number of novels focused on the clerkship, a professional rite of passage for many a prestige-obsessed young lawyer. In these books, plucky law-clerk protagonists have tried to do justice while also holding on to their jobs (and their sanity, and even their lives).
One of the first was The Tenth Justice (1998), a thriller by Brad Meltzer that went on to become a bestseller. More recent examples of “clerk lit” include The Law Clerk (2007), by Scott Douglas Gerber, and Chambermaid (2007), by Saira Rao. (Rao’s buzz-generating book, which generated controversy because it was seen as based heavily on her clerkship for the notoriously difficult Judge Dolores Sloviter (3d Cir.), was discussed extensively in Above the Law’s pages.)
Today we bring you news of a new novel featuring a law clerk protagonist: Tropical Depression, by Arin Greenwood. It tells the story of Nina Barker, a neurotic young lawyer toiling away at a large New York law firm, who decides — after losing her job and her boyfriend — to leave it all behind, by accepting a clerkship with the chief justice of a faraway tropical island.
Let’s learn more about Tropical Depression and its author, Arin Greenwood — who, like her protagonist, graduated from a top law school and worked at a leading law firm, before accepting a clerkship on a remote Pacific island….
Here are two stories, from nearly thirty years apart. They’re bookends on the subject of why standard of review counts.
Travel back with me, if you will, to the summer of 1983. I’m ten minutes out of law school, and I’ve just arrived in the chambers of Judge Dorothy W. Nelson of the Ninth Circuit, for whom I’ll clerk. Our wise and sagacious predecessor-clerks — out of law school for an entire year! — are introducing us to the job. (We overlapped for one week.)
One of my predecessor-clerks, John Danforth, asked the new group: “Do you think standard of review matters in appeals?”
I knew the answer, and I was about to pop off: “Of course not! Once you convince the court that your side is right, the judges will do whatever it takes to rule in favor of your client. Standard of review is just a silly lawyers’ game.”
Fortunately, Danforth talks quickly. Before I was able to make a fool of myself, he said: “Standard of review decides cases. It decides cases. That’s the most important thing I’ve learned in a year of clerking. Standard of review makes all the difference in the world.”
Please hire us! We're Americans! Want to see our passports and birth certificates?
It’s that time of the year again: clerkship application season. Here is the requisite open thread for discussion, where you can trade news and gossip about which courts and judges are hiring, which ones are done, which clerkships are great, and which clerkships you’ll hate.
Pursuant to the 2010 Law Clerk Hiring Plan for federal judges, applications could be received last Tuesday, September 7. Today, September 13, is the first day when judges can contact applicants to schedule interviews. The calls were allowed to go out at 10 a.m. Eastern time (sorry, Californians). Interviews can be held and offers can be made starting on Thursday, September 16, at 8 a.m. Eastern time (again, our sympathies to Californians; but think of it like Christmas morning, when waking up early brings joyful news of a gift).
Word on the street is that the Plan is starting to break down, with an increasing number of judges, including some of the most prestigious and popular ones, hiring ahead of the deadlines. Getting federal judges to follow rules isn’t easy; they’re used to making the rules, not obeying them.
Furthermore, the Plan by its terms “does not cover applicants who have graduated from law school”; these applicants may be interviewed and hired by judges at any time. More and more judges are going down this path and hiring law school graduates rather than 3Ls, which (1) gives them clerks with more experience, either in practice or in another clerkship, and (2) allows the judges to avoid the mad scramble for talent under the Plan.
How competitive will the hunt for federal judicial clerkships be this year? Let’s discuss….
Barack Obama's purported birth certificate - click to enlarge.
Orly Taitz and the Birthers aren’t the only people obsessed with Hawaiian birth certificates. A young lawyer by the name of Adam Gustafson — a 2009 graduate of the Yale Law School and former vice president of the Yale Federalist Society, who’s currently clerking in Hawaii for Judge Richard Clifton (9th Cir.) — is making a federal case over them.
And Chief Judge Susan Oki Mollway, the district court judge who wound up with the case, is not impressed. She recently dismissed Gustafson’s complaint — in forceful fashion:
This case is an example of why people who overreact to situations are accused of “making a federal case out of nothing.”
Plaintiff Adam Gustafson and his wife… proceed pro se against various state officials. The Gustafsons complain about having been asked to state their race and any Spanish origin on a birth certificate registration form submitted in October 2009 for their Hawaii-born daughter. The Gustafsons articulated to the State their objection to a birth certificate identifying their races.
The court has no quarrel with the Gustafsons’ wish for a birth certificate devoid of such information. What follows, though, shows questionable judgment.
Ouch — quite the benchslap. Gustafson’s boss, Judge Clifton, should keep Gustafson far away from any appeals of decisions by Judge Mollway.
Filing a federal lawsuit in Hawaii, while clerking in Hawaii for a federal judge? It’s gutsy of Gustafson. At least he won’t have to travel far for any appearances.
So what about Gustafson’s case reflects “questionable judgment”?
Summer is just around the corner, with Memorial Day just a few weeks away. Summer associates are starting to arrive at law firms. Meanwhile, in government, many law clerks are getting ready to leave chambers. Summer is traditionally the season when clerkships turn over. (At the Supreme Court, July is the magic month for the changing of the guard.)
What does this mean? Well, it means that clerks need to start thinking about their post-clerkship plans. Many will return to law firms where they summered or worked full-time before clerking. But others — such as clerks who got no-offered as summer associates, or who weren’t happy with their prior firms — are looking for new opportunities.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that the job market for law clerks is improving. One friend of mine, who took a second clerkship last year after having a tough time finding a position with a law firm (despite excellent credentials), went back on the job market a few weeks ago — and promptly wound up with three offers.
Watch to find out what some of our subscribers received in their May box!
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We currently have a number of active openings for associate roles at US and UK firms in HK / China, Singapore and two new in-house openings. As always, please feel free to reach out to us at email@example.com in order to get details of current openings in Asia, as well as to discuss the Asia markets in general and what we expect for openings later this year. Our Evan Jowers and Robert Kinney will be in Beijing the week of March 25 and Evan Jowers will be in Hong Kong the week of April 1, if you would like to meet them in person.
The US associate openings we have in law firms are in the usual areas of M&A, cap markets, FCPA / white collar litigation, finance, and project finance. The most urgent of our top tier (top 15 US or magic circle) law firm openings in Asia (among many other firm openings that we have in Asia) are as follows:
• 2nd to 5th year mandarin fluent M&A associates needed in Beijing and Hong Kong at several firms;
• Korean fluent 2nd to 4th year cap markets associate needed in Hong Kong;
• 2nd to 5th year Japanese fluent M&A associates needed in Tokyo;
• 4th to 6th year mandarin fluent cap markets associate needed in Hong Kong;
• 2nd to 4th year M&A / cap markets mix associate needed in Singapore.
The last time I flapped my wings your way, I tried to make at least enough noise about your mobile phone to make you more than a little bit uncomfortable. I hope I did. If enough of us become anxious enough about the known and unknown unknowns and knowns in our mobile phones, then we can start making wise decisions about how to manage that information and its resultant investigations.
Today, I’d like to put a finer point on the last installment’s topic by asking a question that seemed to catch most attendees off-guard at a conference panel that I moderated last week: is there discoverable personal information in a mobile app? Our panelists’ answer was a uniform “yes” with one stating that, if he had to choose only one type of data that he could discover from a mobile phone, he’d choose app data. Why? Because there’s simply so much of it and because almost all of it is objective – not just user-created like an email – but machine-tracked like GPS, usage duration, log in and log out times, browsed web addresses, browsed actual addresses. Also, most of us seem to have the idea that data doesn’t actually “stick” to our mobile devices the way it “sticks” to our hard drives. Maybe there’s a disconnect based on the fact that our phones are mobile so we assume the data is mobile to?
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