Thursday, March 24, 2011

Judicial Clerkship Applications: A Brief Guide

What It Is

Most judges employ one or more law clerks who act as their research assistants, proof readers, sometimes opinion-drafters, and sometimes play other roles in assisting the judge. Clerkships are often one or two year positions, although some judges hire “career clerks.” Clerkships are commonly filled by recent law school graduates, and many judges see this as an opportunity to mentor young attorneys at the beginning of their careers (although attorneys who have been in practice for a while have been known to take time off from practice to spend a year or two clerking). As a current law clerk, I can personally affirm what I have heard from so many people before me: clerking is great experience, allowing the clerk to see the legal field from the other side of the bench, observe a lot of practitioners, deal with a wide variety of cases, hone research and writing skills, and learn from an experienced judge. It also looks great on a resume.

Clerkships are desirable, meaning that they are also highly competitive. There are always a lot of applicants for each position. Lately, it has only gotten worse. (See some of the reports from the last couple of years here, here, here, and here.) Given the current state of the legal job market, a lot of law school graduates as well as practicing attorneys are finding that t a year on a state or federal payroll, without worrying about billing hours, looks pretty appealing.

Application Procedures

So, what does it take to get a clerkship? There are tons of resources available on this subject, so in this post, I will give the bare-bones outline.

Good research and writing abilities are an absolute must. Good grades are usually a make-0r-break. And good recommendations, especially from people who the judge knows, are extremely helpful.

To apply for the job, the standard application requirements are:

  • Cover letter;
  • Resume;
  • Law school transcripts;
  • Legal writing sample showing your writing and research abilities and ability to craft an argument—for example, a law review article or comment, a sample brief from a legal writing class, or actual brief from an internship (but make sure to check with your boss first, to see if you can use the brief and if anything needs redacted);
  • Letters of recommendation (most judges require three letters of recommendation).

This webpage from Indiana University School of Law has good advice on what you should have in your cover letter, writing sample, recommendation letters and other application materials. See also this site from George Mason.

Of course, it’s always good to double-check when you are ready to apply to see if the judge has any unique or different requirements.

Select where you are going to apply.


Be aware that you have to apply about one year in advance.

Federal Clerkships

The place to apply for federal clerkships is Federal clerkships are by far the most competitive field (see here).

Many federal courts follow a hiring plan (see here), supposed to keep the hiring on a schedule so that the “hiring of law clerks will be done no sooner than the Fall of the third year of law school.” (Or, for those in part time programs like Oak Brook College, that would be the fall of the final year of law school.) Law school graduates may apply and be hired at any time. The key dates this year are:


Fall 2011

First date when applications may be received [actually, this is the day that judges start looking at applications, which means you should have your applications on the OSCAR website by that date]:

September 6, 2011
(OSCAR release:
10:00 a.m. (EDT))

First date and time when judges
may contact applicants to
schedule interviews:

10:00 a.m. (EDT),
September 9, 2011

First date and time when interviews may be held and offers made:

10:00 a.m. (EDT)

September 15, 2011

Remember, if you’re hired in September 2011, that means you start your job in August 2012.

Not all federal judges follow the hiring plan, however (it’s only “binding” on those who choose to participate). So try to double-check on the judges you’re applying with. The most well-known judges often hire earlier than the plan, on the theory that then they get the “top” clerk applicants before other judges start making offers (and more and more judges seem to be doing this – see here). This has created a lot of controversy and discussion, and searching online will turn up some information. See here, here, and here.

State Courts

State courts have quite a bit more variety in hiring timing than the federal courts. Most commonly, the judges at state courts hire before the federal courts do. That means that if you apply in state courts, you generally should have your applications in by June or July for the positions that would start over a year later (usually August or September). For information on state courts, visit For slightly dated but still useful reference on state hiring practices, see

Further Resources

Law Clerk Addict

The Vermont Law School Guide to Judicial Clerkships

Indiana University Clerkship Resources

George Mason Clerkship Guide

University of Virgina Clerkship Information

UVA Clerkship Blog

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Slaves of some professor?

At the OBCL Alumni Association Meeting, I did a short presentation encouraging OBCL students and alumni to pursue the writing and publishing of legal scholarship. Trying to make the point that scholars and scholarship have an important impact on the world, I quoted Keynes' old line that even those who think of themselves as eminently practical men are actually the slaves of some defunct economist - and, I added, the same applies to law schools and legal scholars. I was pleased to see the same point being made, with the same quote from Keynes, in yesterday's Wall Street Journal:

The British economist John Maynard Keynes famously observed, 75 years ago, that statesmen who think that they are pursuing policies of their own devise are really showing themselves to be "the slaves of some defunct economist." In America today statesmen are more likely to be the slaves of some defunct legal theorist. Our litigation-prone culture and complex legal structure—not least the matrix of overlapping state and federal powers—regularly translate questions of policy into questions of law. As a result, American law schools wield more social influence than any other part of the American university.

Read the rest here.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Alumni in the News IX

99A Oak Brook alum Sean Sangree receives Porterville’s Prosecutor of the Year Award.

Mike Reitz talking on the Dave Boze Show about the top ten reform ideas for public employee unions. Writing for the Freedom Foundation, Mike invokes the ghost of Democrat icon FDR for confirmation that public employees unions are bad public policy. Mike speaks to a loud crowd on the steps of the Washington Capitol in support of Wisconsin’s Governor Scott Walker’s efforts to limit collective bargaining by public employees.

99B Alum Chris Walsh is elected Chairman of the Fresno County Republican Party. This Fresno Bee article talks about his successful prosecution of a Fresno gang member resulting of a term of 60 to life.

Lael Weinberger recently wrote a law review article entitled "The Business Judgment Rule and Sphere Sovereignty" for Cooley Law Review. He also has a book chapter entitled, "Enforcing the Bill of Rights in the United States" which is being published in Jurisprudence of Liberty (LexisNexis 2011).