When I started law school, I didn’t even know what the word “clerkship” meant. If you are in the same boat and currently reading this, it’s okay, I’m here to validate you! The truth is, there isn’t enough information readily available about clerkships, unless you’re asking the right people the right questions. And for most first-generation lawyers, those connections and questions are generally not at the forefront of our experiences. Most law students do not learn about clerkships or even consider them as a career choice until well into 3L, when they hear of peers securing positions with judges.
I got lucky because my 1L Torts TA became a great friend and mentor to me during law school. I looked up to her so much, I would have followed her anywhere. After she interned with a judge and found it to be a transformative mentorship opportunity, she urged me to apply to the same chambers. I hit a few obstacles along the way: I had just transferred to a new school with new internship rules. I also learned that the judge wasn’t hiring for the semester I planned to apply. But I took the opportunity to write and introduce myself to the judge and everyone in chambers. I shared how I didn’t know much about this path, and how it was really important for me to learn from them at some point during law school. A year later, our courtroom deputy would tell me how my genuine interest in building relationships impressed them enough to make an exception and hire me.
Judicial internships during law school taught me how crucial mentorship was for my personal and professional growth. If my judge hadn’t asked me “what’s next,” and made a few calls on my behalf, I wouldn’t have thought to apply for the next thing on my resume. I found the work to be fascinating as well. It was an opportunity to research and work through complicated issues in the law. As a result, a post-graduate clerkship was an opportunity I knew I had to pursue in order to continue honing those problem-solving skills, while also making a lifelong connection.
Applying to Clerkships
Once I realized I was interested in securing a clerkship, the next question was how to get one. For state and local judges, clerkship postings are listed on the “Jobs” section of each courts’ websites. For federal clerkships, postings can sometimes be found on the Judiciary Jobs portal, but are generally posted on the Online System for Clerkship Application and Review (OSCAR).
There are a few general tips to remember when preparing for a clerkship interview. One of the things most applicants don’t consider is whether or not they can see themselves as a lifelong mentee to the judge. Is this someone who you look up to, who challenges you to be your best, who pushes you to consider new possibilities in your career? Is this someone who you can go to for candid career advice as you move forward in your career?
Interviewing during the COVID-19 pandemic can also prove to be a challenge because in-person interviewing is no longer an option. All of my interviews occurred on Zoom, with me logging into the main room to greet members of chambers before being pulled into a breakout room to meet the judge, or a separate breakout room to meet current law clerks. There was an instance where I logged in and was waiting alone in a room. I started panicking 5 minutes into my interview window when no one showed up. One of the law clerks popped up a few minutes later to tell me she was in the wrong Zoom “room”! So yes, it is possible to get lost in the virtual interview space.
You also run into situations like getting a calendar invite or Zoom link for the wrong day (this happened to me) or logging into a Zoom meeting early, only to be faced with another applicant whose interview ran late (again, guilty). One time, I was asked to attend a preliminary writing exercise on Zoom, where all applicants received a writing packet over email 10 minutes before the call. All 25 interviewees (immaculately dressed, of course) had to stay on camera in a large Zoom meeting while they completed and submitted the writing exercise to the judge. It was one of the most nerve-racking experiences I have had while wearing a blazer over sweatpants.
What I found helped me through all of these experiences is remembering that these are unprecedented times. The best we can do while interviewing remotely is try our best to transfer our physical selves into the virtual. Where the translation comes up short or where there are technical difficulties, we attempt to accommodate the gaps, genuinely and patiently. I found that everyone I met on this journey understood that we are all just making it up as we go. And that is totally okay.
And there are tips and tricks to put you a step above the other applicants:
- Have an excellent Zoom virtual background (a meeting room or office). The first impression that lands will be: “wow, how professional.”
- Always wear a blazer, no matter what. Dress like you’re meeting in-person and go all out (with at least what is visible on camera).
- Generate a calm, steady atmosphere. Even on Zoom, you can influence a room by reducing unnecessary hand movements and being an active listener.
- Be patient, listen until the other person is done speaking. Take a breath before speaking to prevent interrupting. Respond slowly to compensate for internet lags.
- Be engaging, lean forward to show you are interested. Use your facial expressions to convey your excitement.
Whether interviewing virtually or in-person, the most important thing you can do is to be your genuine, authentic self (while also being courteous and respectful). It truly is the surest way to put your best foot forward. And, if you need more help, you may want to look for a career counselor to prep you!
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