How to Ace Your Judicial Clerkship Interviews

Don't Be LateIf you followed my previous advice and found a former clerk to chat with, you should be pretty well-situated for your upcoming judicial clerkship interviews. If not, well, get on it!

After you’ve tried to get the inside scoop, here are a few more general suggestions for clerkship interviews:

  • Make sure you know everything on your résumé cold. Before your clerkship interview, get out your résumé and go through it line by line. For every job, think about what you did, and what you learned. Ditto for each activity listed. If you included any papers or publications, review these! (You might think this is unnecessary, but I was asked in a clerkship interview to discuss my undergraduate honors thesis in detail. Given that I hadn’t looked at it — or even thought about it — in years, this was more challenging than it should have been.)
  • Be ready to talk about your short-term and long-term goals. Judges tend to be curious about what you’re planning to do with your life. More than in law firm interviews, you might be asked to discuss your career aspirations, so be ready. Even if you’re not 100% sure what you’re going to be doing in five years (who is?) have an answer prepared that seems reasonable. And try to tie it in to your past experiences, too. Judges also like to talk about how you’ve ended up where you are, so be ready for this discussion.
  • Roll with whatever happens. I had some very odd clerkship interviews. Judges can get stuck in court (leaving you waiting with the current clerks for way longer than anyone would like), it could be someone’s last day, the current clerks might obviously hate each other or just be really weird. Whatever, just aim to stay positive and be friendly and accommodating. (If you really have to get to another interview, and you left a reasonable amount of time between them, you’ll have to try to reschedule with the judge who left you waiting. Not ideal, but just make the best of it!)
  • Be nice to everyone. This shouldn’t need to be said, but you cannot be rude or arrogant to anyone you encounter during your clerkship interviews. Think about it — clerks come and go, but a good secretary is forever. If you’re obnoxious to anyone in chambers, you’re not getting the job.
  • Have a plan for an exploding offer. It’s possible you’ll get an exploding offer (one that you have to accept on the spot, or lose). Have a plan for what you’ll do if this happens! Basically, you can accept the offer, turn it down, or negotiate for more time. If you know you’ll need to negotiate, have a script ready to go so you’re not left tongue-tied. Also, think about whether you’d be receptive to an offer that doesn’t start for several years. Judges are increasingly hiring two years in advance, so these type of offers are becoming more common. Better not to be surprised by the idea.
  • Prepare some questions. There’s nothing more annoying than asking an interviewee if he has questions, and getting nothing back. If you aren’t sure what to ask, inquire about how work is assigned, or what an average day is like. But, seriously, you can come up with some questions can’t you? How often do you get to sit and talk to a judge? It’s pretty cool, even if you don’t end up with the job! Take advantage of the situation and try to learn something.
  • Plan to check your phone. Just FYI, many courthouses make you check your phone at the door. One one hand, this is good, since it won’t accidentally go off during your interview! However, it can be annoying if you’re running from interview to interview and you later find a message from a judge offering you a job. If you can’t carry your phone with you, it’s not a bad idea to remind the judge of that fact, if he starts talking about how/when offers will be made. (Of course, a judge might assure you he’s not making any offers that day, leave a voicemail an hour later, and then act annoyed that you didn’t immediately call back. Hypothetically, of course.)

Good luck! Clerkship interviews can be intimidating, but they’re usually not so bad once you get started.

Have questions? Leave them in the comments!

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You might also find this helpful: Judicial Clerkships 101.

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About Alison Monahan

Alison Monahan is the founder of The Girl's Guide to Law School, which helps law students and prospective law students get in to law school, get through, and stay true to themselves. Alison is a graduate of Columbia Law School, where she was a member of the Columbia Law Review and served as a Civ Pro teaching assistant. You can find her on Twitter at @GirlsGuideToLS.

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