Congratulations! You’ve got a judicial clerkship interview. That’s super exciting.
So, what can you do to maximize your chances of getting the job?
Here’s my one, best piece of advice:
Find someone who’s clerked for that judge, and convince them to talk to you.
Yes, I’m advising you to get in touch with someone who’s likely a total stranger. Don’t freak out — it’s not impossible, or even that scary.
Here’s how to do it:
- Figure out if you personally know anyone who clerked for (or even interviewed with) this judge. This is kind of a no-brainer, but did anyone in the class ahead of you have an interview with this judge? If you don’t know, ask around in your school’s Clerkship office. If you find anyone, get in touch with this person and pick their brain! If you happen to know a former clerk, track that person down and ask for advice. Having a real personal connection here is a huge advantage, so work it!
- Look for any graduates from your law school who clerked for this judge. Ideally, you school should keep a list of where all alums clerked, so you’ll be able to easily look up this information (bonus points if they stay in touch with these alums, so you have updated contact info and they’re expecting calls). If that’s asking too much, you’ll have to get creative. Here’s an easy place to start: Google “[JudgeFirstName] [JudgeLastName] clerk ‘[LawSchoolName Law]‘” (So, John Smith clerk “Columbia Law”). There’s a decent chance you’ll come up with some hits (assuming anyone from your school ever worked for this judge), just given how many law firm bios have both of these pieces of information. If that doesn’t work, try the Judicial Yellow Book, which your law school should have access to.
- Look for former co-workers who clerked for this judge. Did you summer at a law firm? If so, you’ve got hundreds, maybe thousands, of new “co-workers.” Search the firm website, and see if anyone clerked for the judge you’re interviewing with. Similarly, you can Google for “John Smith clerk ‘Davis Polk’” and potentially find some hits.
- Look for people from your undergrad who clerked for this judge. Here we’re starting to stretch the connections a bit, but why not? Google “John Smith clerk Dartmouth” and see what comes up. The Yellow Book also has undergraduate information for law clerks, so you can look there, too.
- Just find someone. If all else fails, just find someone who clerked for this judge! In this case, Google and the Yellow Book are your new best friends. Unless the judge is brand new, you’ll be able to find the names of several former clerks.
How to Get in Touch with Former Clerks
So, let’s assume you have at least the name of a few former clerks for the judge you’re interviewing with. What next?
- Find their email and/or phone number. In this hyper-connected time, I trust that most of you know how to locate someone’s contact information on the Internet. In case you don’t, here are the three best options for lawyers: Google, LinkedIn, and Martindale-Hubbell. Frankly, Google’s going to get you most of the other hits, so just start there. And, if you know or suspect what state someone’s admitted in, you can often find updated contact info on the state bar website. Oh, and you can use your Lexis/Westlaw access to do a people search. It’s frankly astonishing how much information they have, so use it.
- Send a brief email requesting a call. If you’ve located an email address, I think it’s best to send an email requesting a call. Just calling out of the blue seems a bit intrusive. Keep your email short and to the point, but don’t obsess over it. An appropriate subject line would be something like, “Would you be willing to discuss your experience clerking for Judge John Smith?” In the email, you briefly explain who you are, why you’re contacting them, what you want them to do, and your timeframe. So, something like, “Ms. Doe, I’m a law student at School X and I have an interview with Judge John Smith next Friday for a clerkship. I saw that you clerked for Judge Smith and also went to School X, and I’d love to speak with you about your experience. Do you have time to have a quick call before Friday? I’d really appreciate it. My phone number is xxx-xxx-xxxx, or I’d be happy to call you.” Be polite, and keep it short. These are busy people.
- Lather, rinse, repeat. Don’t just email one person and call it a day. You can’t assume that everyone’s going to talk to you (or even get the email). Send out several emails if you can. Doing so will drastically improve your chances of getting at least one former clerk to talk with you, and — assuming you get replies from more than one person — you’ll learn something different from each person.
If you send out enough of these emails, you’ll likely find a few people who are willing to talk with you. (Hint: Most former clerks love talking about their clerkships, since it was the best legal job they’ve ever had.)
What Should You Ask?
Assuming you’ve located someone, what should you ask them?
Your basic goal is to find out a few things:
- Are there any red flags?
- What’s the interview like?
- What is the judge looking for in a clerk?
Are there any red flags?
Most judges are great, but some aren’t. Better to know this before you take the job!
Since it would be rude to ask directly whether this judge is a jerk, ask generally about how your contact enjoyed her clerkship, whether everyone in the chambers worked well together, and if she still keeps in touch with the judge and her co-clerks.
If the answer is “Yes, we’re all one happy family,” great. If not, well, that’s just something to be aware of.
What’s the interview like?
This is the single biggest reason to talk to former clerks.
Judicial clerkship interviews are far more variable than law firm interviews. One might be a friendly chat, and another might be an aggressive interrogation. Finding out about the judge’s interview style in advance will allow you to be mentally prepared for what follows. (And, if you’re really lucky, you might even learn exactly what you’ll be asked about.)
What’s the judge looking for in a clerk?
Again, you probably don’t want to ask about this directly, but try to subtly ascertain what the judge is looking for in a clerk. For example, “Did you have a lot in common with your co-clerk(s)?” might clue you in to characteristics the judge finds appealing.
After you’ve chatted for a few minutes, end the call and send a thank you email. Again, nothing crazy! Just “I really enjoyed learning more about your clerkship with Judge Smith, and I appreciate you taking the time to chat.”
You shouldn’t expect it, but — if you’re nice and professional — it’s even possible the person you spoke with will put in a good word for you. You never know!
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