The process of getting a judicial clerkship isn’t for the faint of heart. Most students who seek a post graduate clerkship tend to opt for the federal clerkship option. However, the federal clerkship process has changed quite a bit over the last few years making it more difficult for students to obtain. The federal clerkship process used to be a lot more streamlined, with a specific application submission date in September and a specific interview date about a week later for all selected applicants. The streamlined nature of this process took some pressure off of the applicants. It essentially provided applicants with a one stop shop to get their applications in.
Today the process isn’t as orderly. As more judges began recruiting outside of the slated interview period, the Federal Law Clerk Hiring Plan was eliminated a few year ago. Judges now mostly determine their own recruitment and hiring schedule. This new plan has provided a lot more flexibility for the judges, but puts a lot more work on you, the applicant. Having a variety of interview and hiring schedules means that applicants need to be a lot more vigilant in their efforts to secure a position. However, the plan may also be returning soon. There is a two-year pilot program going into place, so judges can now opt in to a return of the Federal Law Clerk Hiring Plan. So how do you graduate from law school with a coveted clerkship offer in hand? I won’t lie to you, it’s not easy. But giving the tips below a try may at least give you an orderly guide to work with in a process that’s no longer super regimented.
1. Keep Your Options Open
If you want to increase your chances of landing a judicial clerkship, the first thing you can do is keep your options open. As indicated above, most students tend to flock towards a federal clerkship position. This is understandably a very prestigious role, but, if we’re being realistic, there are very few federal clerkship openings each year and far more applicants than actual openings. Therefore, every year, the majority of federal clerkship applicants walk away in a state of despondency with no offer in hand. No this does not necessarily mean that they’re unqualified for the position but just that the demand far outweighs the supply.
So considering the high probability of the above scenario, why put all your eggs in one basket? If you’re interested in becoming a judicial clerk, I highly recommend applying to clerkship opportunities in other courts. State court clerkships are very highly regarded by employers. Also, getting a clerkship in an appellate, trial or a specialty court could provide you with some excellent skills that you may not be able to gain in a federal clerkship.
2. Research the Judges
Another way to increase your chances of getting a clerkship is to carefully research the judges that you would like to clerk for. In the case of federal clerkships, judges are no longer required to participate in a set hiring plan. Therefore, the onus will be on you most likely to determine when the application period opens for a judge and the deadlines you must meet to be eligible. However, because the pilot program for the Federal Clerkship Hiring Plan is returning this year, it’s important to check if the judge is participating. Don’t assume that you can solely rely on OSCAR to retrieve all the judicial postings because all judges don’t post on this site. Your safest bet is to research these judges individually by either checking the clerk website for that judge’s jurisdiction, checking online job posts or even checking with your career services office to determine whether they have any hiring information about your judge of interest.
3. Use Your Network
Don’t restrict your hiring opportunities to traditional job search tools. Take advantage of your network to try to get a clerkship. The reality of the clerkship rat race is that a lot of qualified applicants apply. Therefore, if you want to stand out, it helps if you already know the judge you’re applying to work for or at least know someone who has a connection to him or her. Talk to graduates from your law school who have done a clerkship or are currently clerking for that judge. This individual may be able to give you the edge to get the position or maybe even clerk for another judge in the same chambers.
Also consider connections you have made throughout prior work experience. If you had a judicial externship in the past, consider applying to that same judge for a post graduate clerkship. If you did a good job while employed under your prior role, chances are you will be at the top of their list during hiring season.
4. Apply at the Right Time
Another important consideration to keep in mind if you want a clerkship is applying at the right time. If applying for a federal clerkship, this opportunity is now open to rising 2L students as opposed to just 3L students. However, although the opportunity is open to rising 2L’s, this may not necessarily be the right time to submit your application. Before you apply, consider whether your grades are strong enough to be competitive. If your grades aren’t the strongest it may be best to wait until a later year when you can improve your GPA. If you’re already a 3L and you don’t foresee your grades improving much then maybe consider applying for a clerkship after you’ve acquired some post graduate work experience. Then the focus will be on your work experience as opposed to solely on your grades.
Once you’ve done the above, be sure to carefully prepare. Then you should be one step closer to landing a clerkship position.
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