pageok
pageok
pageok
Advice for Judicial Clerkship Applicants:

People ask me for such advice, but I have little to say beyond the unhelpful "Have gotten good grades."

My one potentially valuable bit of advice is Apply Broadly; even if you don't want to live some place for decades, you can handle a year, and even enjoy it. Applying only in the fun places puts you in constant competition with everyone else who is applying in the fun places. Also, applying only in the Ninth Circuit, as some people here out West actually do, strikes me as quite irrational: Why would you be willing to live in Idaho, Montana, Nevada, and Arizona, but not in Wyoming, Colorado, or New Mexico? If you are going to limit yourself geographically, at least limit yourself in ways that make sense.

Still, that's not a lot of help -- which is why I turn to all of you, and ask you to provide your advice in the comments. Please identify your source of knowledge (even in general terms, if you prefer to remain anonymous), though, so readers could have a sense of how generalizable the advice would be, how limited it might be to certain states or areas, and so on.

jgshapiro (mail):
I think people apply only to the ninth circuit on the theory that since they plan to live in the ninth circuit (probably CA), it would be helpful to have worked for a ninth circuit judge so that they know the ways of the circuit and know some of the judges there. Conversely, as the theory goes, it would not be nearly as helpful to have worked with a judge from the tenth circuit. The difference between Idaho and Wyoming is more than just cultural, because the idiosyncracies of the ninth and tenth circuits are different and the judges you will meet are obviously also different.

For the same reason, I think potential employers in the ninth circuit look much differently upon a clerkship in the ninth circuit (regardless of which part of the ninth circuit) than they do a clerkship in another circuit, making a clerkship in the ninth circuit more marketable to an employer in the ninth circuit.
6.23.2005 3:52pm
Larry88 (mail) (www):
Well, considering that 9th Circuit alums are all over the country (as are 2d, and 5th cir. alums), I don't know what you are talking about.
6.23.2005 3:55pm
A. Guest:
Don't forget Senior Judges. Some of them are quite active.

I personally think you learn more about the real workings of litigation from a district court clerkship than from an appellate court clerkship, and I think there is little if any stepdown in the "prestige."

You could also look into a state district court clerkship, or a clerkship with a Magistrate or Bankruptcy Judge, though I do think there many would look at it as a step down.
6.23.2005 3:56pm
TL:
I am hoping to re-focus the discussion because I asked Prof. Volokh via email the question to which he posted his call for comments. As a law student, I understand a good deal about the courts that are available. I have profs that have clerked for courts from Bankruptcy to the U.S. Supreme Court.

From whatever source, be it a former judicial clerk, a current or former judge, or attorney that has "caught wind" I and Prof. Volokh would like to hear suggestions of how a law student with good grades (but perhaps not top 5%, in my case) can find the best possible clerkship available.

Specifically if you could suggest experiences that resontate with judges you know or have worked for, I would be indebted to you. It also helps to identify if you have this info on personal experience, or if you are just another law student postulating.
6.23.2005 4:38pm
TL:
I am hoping to re-focus the discussion because I asked Prof. Volokh via email the question to which he posted his call for comments. As a law student, I understand a good deal about the courts that are available. I have profs that have clerked for courts from Bankruptcy to the U.S. Supreme Court.

From whatever source, be it a former judicial clerk, a current or former judge, or attorney that has "caught wind" myself and Prof. Volokh would like to hear suggestions of how a law student with good grades (but perhaps not top 5%, in my case) can find the best possible clerkship available.

Specifically if you could suggest experiences that resontate with judges you know or have worked for, I would be indebted to you. It also helps to identify if you have this info on personal experience, or if you are just another law student postulating.
6.23.2005 4:39pm
Mahan Atma (mail):
First, apply to a lot of judges -- as many as you can handle.

Then, once you get an interview, find a way to stand out. I've interviewed (as a clerk) plenty of applicants who have great records on paper, but who come across as completely generic and forgettable during the interview.

The applicants who stand out during the interview: 1) have researched the judge thoroughly; 2) have some part of their experience or background that makes them unique; and 3) behave in a way that is very likeable, friendly, relaxed, and INTERESTING-- in short, the kind of person you'd like to have as a co-worker.

Find a way to make the conversation with the judge into a casual, easy-going exchange, not a stuffy job interview. I realize this will be practically impossible with some judges, but that's the kind of attitude you should have. Ditto with the clerks.

Realize that there are many idiosyncracies among judges, and so the whole process is extremely quirky and seemingly random. For these reasons, the most objectively meritorious candidate doesn't always get the job.

And by the way, a good district court clerkship is about a thousand times more fun and interesting than a mediocre appellate court clerkship.
6.23.2005 4:48pm
Anonoymous (mail):
From what I have heard (I'm just a law student)

1. For extracurricular activities: Law Review >>>>> Moot Court =~ Secondary Journals
2. Letters of recommendation from law professors are far more useful than letters of recommendation from lawyers at a firm or letters of recommendation from college. Make sure you form relationships with professors by becoming an RA, taking small classes so you can get to know them, etc.
3. Try to have an "in". Judges get tons of applications and it's hard for them to know who's who. If you have a friend who can recommend you to a judge, tell him to do it. It is scary how many Supreme Court clerks are friends, roommates, spouses, etc. of previous Supreme Court clerks.
4. Work at a prestigious firm your 2L summer. Appellate firms in DC are good.
5. The process is very random, arbitrary and frustrating, especially if your grades are good but not incredible. Don't take rejection to heart.
6.23.2005 4:52pm
Shelby (mail):
Apply early. I had the good grades (top 5% at Hastings), but I think I didn't make the applications a priority early enough, and didn't land any interviews despite sending out about 80.
6.23.2005 4:53pm
Anon (mail):
I clerked for a top-twenty judge, but got there via the traditional route of top grades at a top school. But my thought is from years of practice at law firms is that if one isn't going to clerk for a "feeder" appellate court judge who has a shot of getting you to become of the Elect (tm A3G), one gets much more real-world legal experience working for the typical district court judge than for the typical appellate court judge—plus the added bonus that, if you want, you can go on and do a second clerkship for an appellate judge without anyone looking askance at your resume. (Exception: a prospective patent attorney is better off with Federal Circuit experience than district court experience.) Once you're out of your clerkship, you're much more likely to be doing litigation than appeals, and below the feeder appellate judges, there isn't that much more resume prestige that comes from being on the Court of Appeals.
6.23.2005 4:55pm
KW (mail):
I think that it depends on what you mean by "best."

If you want to play the staight-up prestige game, then the short answer is that you're out of luck. You and everybody else are all applying to Kozinski, and there's no silver bullet that will get you past the better-credentialed.

The key is not to do better research on the courts and the judges themselves. I mean, a lot of research. The kind of research that will enable you to figure out which judges are the most well respected, before the rest of the law school pack figures it out.

To take an example with which I'm familiar, as a former EDNY clerk --

There are a lot of highly respected judges on the Eastern District. If you had asked three years ago who some of the most respected non-senior judges were, one of the first answers would have been Reena Raggi. Everyone knew that she was one of the smartest, most levelheaded, hardest working judges in the district. But that was _not_ generally-known-to-law-students kind of information. It was the kind of information that you could get by reading opinions, by talking to clerks and former clerks and even judges.

And then, Judge Raggi was elevated to the Second Circuit. If you were one of the people who realized ahead of time that she was likely to move up, then you applied for a Raggi clerkship, and the competition was a tenth of what it is for the Second Circuit. And now you would have a Raggi clerkship on your resume, not bad at all.

Talk to clerks and if you can, judges. Do an internship. Do everything that you can to find out which judges are "undervalued" on the market. Judge John Gleeson, also EDNY, is one example. Judge Carnes, 11th Cir., is another. Judge Cassell in Utah is one to keep an eye on. And so forth.

(Limited disclosure: I did not clerk for any of the judges I've mentioned in this comment).

Good luck!
6.23.2005 4:57pm
KW (mail):
Also, I second the suggestion to develop a relationship with a professor. If you know that Judge Wichelhaus is friends with Professor Raffles, then it behooves you to be that professor's TA, or RA, or star student.
6.23.2005 5:02pm
Dubs:
Anon, I'm just curious. When you say "top-twenty" Judge, are you referring to the AP Poll, the Coaches' Poll, BCS...what?
6.23.2005 5:03pm
Arthur (mail):
As a former clerk in the Western District of Virginia, I Emphasize the point that a year in ruritania can be a great opportunity; in many ways, better than a major city clerkship. First of all, there's less competition to get the job. There are still interesting cases, and probably better odds on significant civil trials since the there's a smaller criminal docket and small town lawyers perfer trials over settlement. Also, you may have a closer relationship with your judge, since you travel together (he sat in three different venues) and (s)he doesn't have a bunch of other judges to hang out with. Living on a clerk's salary is easier in the small town too.
6.23.2005 5:10pm
DaveK (mail):
I just graduated with good grades from a top-tier, but not Yale-or-Harvard, law school; I'll be starting a clerkship in August.

Unfortunately, the cruel truth is that a lot of the process is luck; I discerned no particular pattern to the judges who did and did not interview me. Furthermore, I know that Prof. Volokh's common "Apply Broadly" refrain is only so helpful--many of us have spousal or family commitments that preclude just up and moving for a year (which, when multiple people are involved, can be harder in some ways than up and moving for ten).

So my best advice:

1. Even if you're limited geographically, don't forget less-noticed courts in reasonable commutes. For example, applicants in NYC have good judges in EDNY, NJ, and maybe even CT; applicants in DC have good judges in Alexandria, Greenbelt, and Baltimore.

2. Even if you think you have a good handle on what courts are available, take a second look. Don't forget the Federal Circuit. Don't forget magistrate and bankruptcy judges. Don't forget the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces. Don't forget senior judges. And don't forget state courts--the real beauty of them is that you don't need to worry about them over the summer, but instead can apply if and only if you don't get a federal clerkship through the law clerk hiring plan.

3. If you don't get a clerkship, take heart: the process seems increasingly to favor those who work for a year or two. Just try again. I had more than one judge tell me point-blank that they hire only people with at least one year of post-law-school work experience. If you're on the cusp of that presitigious circuit clerkship this year but don't get it, go learn a lot from a district clerkship and apply again next year. Or just go work for a firm; you'll get good legal experience, you don't have to worry as much about partnership if you're leaving soon anyway, you'll make a heck of a lot more money as a clerk, and you'll be a much more desirable clerkship applicant a year from now.

4. Don't let your ego get in the way of a good clerkship at a less-theoretically-prestigious court. You may well have just as good or better an experience with a state-court judge, and most employers won't look down on such a clerkship in the slightest. (Law students are just about the harshest group of people around when it comes to evaluating the "prestige" of a clerkship, largely because they haven't been there yet.) See also #3: lots of people do a year with a state court and then find themselves much more competitive for a federal clerkship the following year.

5. Don't sweat the small stuff. Put together a nice polished application package (no typos, please!), and be interested and personable during interviews, and you'll be fine--I doubt that gimmicks will get you far.

6. If you don't get any interviews, don't panic. Some judges called me at 8 am the first day; others called me months later. And again, see #3.

The good news is that the marginal cost of an extra application is pretty small; just learn to use mail merge and take an afternoon to stuff envelopes.

Best of luck to all! With any luck, you'll all find clerkships you're happy with, and the process of getting there--in which you get to have face-to-face chats with Article III judges--will be fun.
6.23.2005 5:17pm
Cheburashka (mail):
I can pass along the advice I heard Judge Kozinski give a 1L when she asked him after he'd spoken at a forum on clerkships:

"Don't eat, don't sleep, don't screw, don't shower, don't sh*t, just study."
6.23.2005 5:19pm
Tim Zinnecker (mail):

If you don't land a clerkship at the desired level, consider taking a clerkship at a different level and applying next year to the level of first choice. I did not land a federal appellate clerkship during my first year of application but did land a state supreme court clerkship that (in my opinion) helped me receive multiple offers from federal appellate judges the next year.

Consider taking a "Supreme Court seminar" course or some other course that requires you to write a mock opinion. This may be a useful writing sample, particularly if you don't have a publishable law review casenote/comment.

Keep your eyes peeled for judges who are recently confirmed (at all state and federal levels). They may receive fewer applications for clerks, thus improving your statistical chances of success.

Don't hesitate to apply with a judge solely because you may disagree with the judge's political/social/moral perspective. Perhaps the judge is looking for someone other than a parrot as a clerk.
6.23.2005 6:24pm
DaveK (mail):
"Don't eat, don't sleep, don't screw, don't shower, don't sh*t, just study."

I find it hard to think of worse advice for law school or life in general.

(And I say this having graduated as one of two summas in my law school class.)

Then again--and with all due respect to Judge Kozinski--from what I hear, someone willing to follow that advice would probably be happy in one of Judge Kozinski's clerkships.
6.23.2005 6:25pm
Greg:
I got good grades (top 15%) from a good school (between 6 and 10) but never applied while in school.

After I worked for a year and a half at a conservative public interest firm doing appellate work (that should narrow it down), I applied to conservative appellate judges around the country. I got a fair amount of interest, one in person interview, and, more importantly, an appellate clerkship.

If you don't get a clerkship right away, apply after a year or two of work. If you're conservative/libertarian, don't forget places like Pacific Legal Foundation, IJ, Mountain States Legal Foundation, Washington Legal Foundation, etc. That can be a nice way to set yourself apart from the huddled masses.
6.23.2005 6:36pm
Stuart Buck (mail) (www):
Two pieces of advice that come from having read through a few hundred applications a few years ago:

1. Keep your cover letter short, simple, and understated. The worst cover letters were those that tried to be creative in a show-offy way, spent pages bragging about extracurricular activities (i.e., cooking, mountain climbing), etc.

2. This is practically impossible for any law student to figure out ahead of time, but letters of recommendation vary in quality by an enormous degree. Some professors say nothing more than, "So-and-so was in my class, and she got an A-minus. I would therefore put her in the top 20% of clerkship applicants." Useless, in other words, particularly when the judge already has a transcript to look at. At the other extreme, some professors (William Eskridge at Yale was one) go all out for the students that they admire. They'll fill up one or two single-spaced pages explaining all sorts of details about why the student's legal mind goes beyond his or her grade. Maybe she came up with an ingenious interpretation of a particular statute in class. Or something like that. The sort of information that you can't get from a transcript or resume.

Anyway, I know that advice is nearly useless, but be aware that it is a factor nonetheless.
6.23.2005 6:51pm
MOD (mail):
I've clerked for a federal magistrate judge, a district judge, and this year a circuit court judge in the 9th. Other than a stint on the Supreme Court (which is certainly not in my stars), I have 'maxed out' on clerkships in the federal system. At the DC, I was partly responsible for reviewing applications.

The demand is so high for these jobs that you simply must "apply broadly" unless you are a top tier, top grade type. Even then, as another writer commented, much depends on luck...the sheer volume of applications makes it inevitable that some applications will get a fairer look than others. When I applied for a circuit court spot, I basically papered the entire country, excepting certain unsavory (to me) geographic spots and a small number of judges for whom I absolutely did not want to work. I understand that some folks are limited to certain regions...you do what you can.

My recommendations are:

1. Consider working for a year or two with a prominent law firm before applying. Many judges, especially younger ones, are increasingly viewing this as a plus. Though it's still tough to get into a big-name, prominent firm, if you can do this you will have something of value that a top tier, top grade candidate coming straight out of the blocks will not have. Coming from a law firm also exempts you (for most judges) from applying during 'feeding frenzy season,' (early September) and this makes your resume more likely to be read. I took this route, and it helped me.

2. Do not limit yourself to the information available on the federal judicial website about available positions. Many judges, especially older ones, don't participate, and you don't want to miss them.

3. Keep your finger on the pulse of new appointments! This recommendation is made from personal experience. When a judge gets confirmed, she needs clerks, NOW! Chances are that she's got some folks in mind from whatever walk of life she's coming from, but it can't be any more than the number of applications that a long-time judge receives. Pounce before these judges have been confirmed (send your material, ask to meet, etc.). That way, once the Senate gets around to acting, you're in the mix. (you can find out who's been nominated on one of the White House sites).

My other recommendations are ones that have already been made, so I'll stop there. There are a couple of points above with which I have some disagreement: (1) a federal clerkship is a federal clerkship, whether you're practicing in CA or ME. A ME firm may have a slight preference for someone who worked for Judge Gignoux, but my sense is they would be duly impressed with the credential regardless of the judge. (2) a circuit court clerkship is, all things being equal, more prestigious. Is it more prestigious to work for Judge Cassell than a not-widely-known judge on the 8th? I'd say yes. But if you're talking about a rough, global gauge of prestige, you get a little more bang for your buck with a circuit court clerkship.

Good luck. Just keep at it and watch out for those incoming baby judges!
6.23.2005 6:59pm
M.F. (mail):
I would recommend putting a line about your interests on your resume, especially if you have something interesting about yourself, like if you hiked the AT or something. It makes you memorable. My judge called my references to get more info about me, and he commented on some of my interests from my resume.
6.23.2005 7:10pm
LL (mail) (www):
I am going to begin clerking this August for a judge on the 5th Circuit. The best advice I got when going through the application process is to apply to any place you are willing to go...and even some that you might not. Also, know your profs well enough that they have something interesting to say about you in their letters of recommendation. Apply as early as possible. Most federal appellate clerkships are filled within the first two weeks after the first mailing by the law schools...mid-September, I believe. Additionally, make sure your writing sample is perfect in every way. The current clerks likely will make the first cut, and even the smallest typo will give them a reason to put your file in the 'no' pile. Finally, make sure that your interests and personality come across on your resume. I added an interest section that had some quirky interests on it that I got a bunch of questions about. More than anything, this can act as a conversation starter!

Simply stated, it's a buyers market! Good grades are a prerequisite. I was top 12% from a top 10-15 school, applied to over 150 appellate and district judges, and got calls for 5 interviews. It's not great odds. But it's not like taking the LSAT. If you don't get a clerkship at the first go-round, you can always apply again. Many judges like to have clerks with more work experience.
6.23.2005 7:11pm
Carolina:
Don't bleach your resume of any interesting details. I clerked on the 9th, and we got, literally, hundreds and hundreds of applications. There were a few with absolute 24k gold credentials (e.g., editor of Yale Law Review). Some others were clearly underqualified. But the great majority fit into the category of "good grades at a good school." Distinguishing these applicants can be quite hard.

So please, don't get rid of all the interesting details in the fear of offending a judge because you were a law clerk for Greenpeace or the NRA or PAW or NOW or the Heritage Foundation. Or you were in the army or got arrested at a protest or your favorite hobby is comic books. You will certainly get your application chucked in the trash at some chambers if you leave the juicy bits in. But that's where the plain-vanilla smart kid at a good school ones go anyway. By keeping it interesting, you are raising the chances of the judge saying the magic words: "This guy sounds interesting, bring him in for an interview."

Anyway, just my 0.02 after spending a year helping a judge make the initial cut on the applications.

P.S. Connections help a lot. They don't have to be your best friend. But if you can open your cover letter with "Prof. X suggested I write regarding a clerkship . . .", and Prof X knows the judge, that is a HUGE boon. 1L summers with policy type-organizations can be great for making these sort of connections.
6.23.2005 7:14pm
Paul Menair (mail):
My clerkship was with a senior, district judge in a small federal courthouse on the second floor over the post office in a small rural town. The experience was invaluable, and my judge is actually much, much more of a recognizable "name" to people than you might expect from where his division is situated. Some advice, in random order, some of which is duplicative:

1. Do not automatically discount the idea of a district court clerkship. However, also realize that it is hard to say no to a federal judge - if your first offer is at the district court level, it may be (depending on the judge and other circumstances) impossible to say no. Luckily this was not a problem for me, but it would have been a very uncomfortable interview if I was less than definite about wanting a trial court clerkship.

2. Apply everywhere. The federal bench is small, they all know each other, and the litigators from the big cities have cases all over the place. The fact that your clerkship is in a town that you never heard of before you drafted the cover letter does not mean that there will be no name recognition when you list your clerkship on your resume.

3. It may have helped me that my writing sample was on a Title VII issue. An big part of the volume of cases in federal court is employment discrimination. For whatever that is worth. The more general point is that it helps to show an interest in the issues that federal judges deal with.

4. Take Federal Courts, or whatever they call it at your school. Whether or not you get a clerkship.

5. In my division, magistrate judge clerkships were really dull, because all that they did were social security appeals, habeas, etc. Very routine. However, this is not true everywhere. Moreover, one of the magistrate clerks during my tenure is now a career clerk for my judge, which is a job that I would love to have.

6. If you get an interview, read every published opinion by the judge that you can get your hands on and be prepared to discuss them.

7. You are applying for a job that involves a great deal of daily personal contact with your employer. Judges like to brag on their clerks (first in their class, etc.), but they also are looking for people that they will look forward to talking about the law with.
6.23.2005 7:18pm
Carolina:
Oh, one more thing to add to the above. Some judges, frankly, will absolutely not hire beyond a certain set of law schools. I was at the top of my class in a state law school that is usually ranked in the 70-100 range by USN&WR. So I used the judicial yellow book and other sources to get the hiring records of judges. Although most of the judges I applied to had never hired from my school, if I saw, for example, they once hired from U of Oregon, that tipped me off that I had a shot.

For those attending a non-top law school, it's something you need to consider, imo.
6.23.2005 7:22pm
Carolina:
One more comment, then I'll quit. Judges are often reluctant to interview lots of people because they know how much it costs for a poor law student to be flying around the country at their own expense.

I was able to pick up an interview with a judge who I hadn't heard from by calling his chambers and saying: "I am already flying across the country to interview with Judge X. It would be very inexpensive for me to arrange a one-day layover in your city; would Judge Y be interested in talking to me?" The secretary called back the next day and said "Sure."
6.23.2005 7:27pm
Voiceguy in L.A.:
One suggestion that was hinted at, but needs to be highlighted more clearly, is this: Let your key law professors (the ones who think highly of you) know that you are interested in clerking. When I was at Stanford I discovered that a number of judges simply call their law professor buddies to ask which students they should be considering. No one ever knows about these calls except the law professors in question, and unless you have made your interest known, they may not think of you.

VG (former 9th Circuit clerk)
6.23.2005 9:48pm
Anonymous Law Student:
Good grades help, but you can still suck (in the view of the clerkship process at least. For example, I had a 3.4 GPA from a 15-20 school and I'm off to the circuit courts) and get circuit clerkships if you're willing to head out of your way.

I second Arthur's suggestion to work in ruritania for a year, particularly if you're aiming for circuit courts- remember, you're going to be working for a judge on the same panels as the more urban judges, all while actually being able to afford where you're living and not having to put up with traffic.

After all, you'll probably spend the rest of your life in cities. Enjoy your personal Walden Pond while you have it.
6.23.2005 10:20pm
Bill Dyer (mail) (www):
I began writing a comment here, but it became too long, so I've posted it on my own blog instead. (I suppose I'd rather be guilty of link-whoring than comment bandwidth abuse, Prof. Volokh.)
6.24.2005 4:52am
larry88 (mail) (www):
A follow-up to Carlonia's post: while most judges are reluctant to interview more than 5 people, there are some judges which interview over 20! This is abusive, and these judges know who they are. They don't care how many hundreds of dollars applicants have to spend, they just like doing this.

If possible, before spending $500 or so, find out if this judge is one of them. Or better yet, find out if he already hired.
6.24.2005 11:20am
RPS (mail):
I will echo Anonymous Law Student's point. People can talk about getting great grades, doing research, making yourself look interesting, working here or there. But you know what? You and 100 other people will have done the same thing and all of you are more than capable to do the work, but only 3 or 4 can be hired.

I think the single most important thing you can do is have someone who the judge knows and respects make a call (not a letter). There is a reason why so many judges hire based on the recommendations of certain people. Those people know the judge and know what they like. It's just like when you are deciding what movie to see: are you going to ask Joe on the street or one of your friends who knows what you like?

These professors are at your school. You may not know them from Adam. But they want students from their school to get clerkships and you want to get a clerkship, so most likely they will help you.

As far as who to apply to, think about what type of experience you want to have. Do you want to interact with the judge and get to know him personally? Or are you content to just come in and punch the clock?

And I echo everyone who said to look off the beaten path. Some of the best clerkships are those that aren't in high profile cities - and vice versa.
6.24.2005 11:20am
RPS (mail):
"6. If you get an interview, read every published opinion by the judge that you can get your hands on and be prepared to discuss them."

Not good advice.

"I was able to pick up an interview with a judge who I hadn't heard from by calling his chambers and saying: "I am already flying across the country to interview with Judge X. It would be very inexpensive for me to arrange a one-day layover in your city; would Judge Y be interested in talking to me?" The secretary called back the next day and said "Sure.""

Very good advice.
6.24.2005 11:27am
Me:
Thanks in advance for anyone who can answer any of the following questions:

1) MOD suggested applicants not restrict themselves to judges advertising their clerkships on the fderal judicial website, but how is one to know whether a judge not listing there is not hiring (especially for some of the senior judges), or whether they just aren't using that system? How bad would it be to send an application to a judge who turns out not to be hiring, whether that year or ever anymore?

2) When judges say they want post-law work experience, how many truly mean law firm-like experience, and how many, if any, would also count pre-law experience such as grad school that involves lots of research and writing and means that the applicant is older/more mature?

3) When judges ask for undergrad transcripts, would they also want grad school transcripts? For judges who don't ask for undergrad transcripts, would it be a good idea to send them anyway? In my case, my undergrad and grad transcripts, both at good schools and involving lots of writing, are essentially straight As. My law school transcript, which is almost exclusively exam-based, is not. So (a) would sending unsolicited transcripts annoy judges, and (b) would this only highlight my average law school grades?

4) Must the resume be 1 page, or can you have 2 pages, especially if you're older and where the second page is essentially publications?

5) What should the writing sample be? I've heard that one shouldn't send only a case comment because judges think many people work on these and it's not representative of the applicant's own writing ability. Also, my own case comment doesn't involve lots of case analysis--it's theory/policy. If applying to the DC Circuit, which has a lot of admin cases, would it be a plus to send, for example, comments (essentially a brief) written on behalf of a client for a federal agency's proposed notice of rulemaking? How long is too long for a writing sample?

6) Where you don't have a name to drop, should the cover letter be brief and fairly generic, or should you attempt to highlight some aspect of your application, etc.?

7) Finally, grades. I'm on law review/journal at a top three school with a PhD and impressive undergrad credentials, but my law school grades are only a little above average at my school. How competitive am I?
6.26.2005 12:08am
Carolina:
This has dropped off the main page, but I'll respond in the hope you might see it. FWIW, I clerked on the 9th and helped the judge screen apps in the initial cut.

1) No harm in sending to a judge that's not hiring. If it's a judge you are really interested in, just call chambers and ask.

2) Being more mature might help a bit with some judges, but grad school or pre-law work in general is not going to be that impressive. It very well may help if it's unusual or interesting. Being a manager of a blockbuster video is not going to help. Playing in a professional jazz ensemble might.

3) I have never heard of an employer, in the law or otherwise, who put much stock in grad school transcripts. The general consensus is that no one gets below a B in grad school, so grades are meaningless. If the judge is not impressed by your Ph.D., the grades you got in the program won't change his mind. Sending unsolicited material of dubious usefulness (e.g., grad school transcripts) might annoy some.

4) As someone just beginning your chosen profession, I would avoid the 2-page resume at all costs. It comes across as pretentious and suggests you can't edit down to what matters. If you absolutely must put in a page of your pre-law publications, call it an attachment or addendum to your resume.

5) Your case note is the norm. IMHO, work product from your 2L summer is better - just get your firm's permission.

6) Brief and generic is better than obviously phony/patronizing. However, if you can find something interesting, true, and that doesn't come across as the cover letter equivalent of a bad pick up line, I'd use it.

7) You should be competitive for most Circuit Court clerkships. Things like having a PhD are hard to "rate." For a lot of judges, it may not mean much. But you only need one, and someone out there might be fascinated. If your PhD is in a "hot" field like Genetics or something, it might make you one of the sought-after applicants. Tough to say.

P.S. You might be tempted a use a reference from your PhD program for a letter. Don't, unless it's a world famous academic describing how your assistance was instrumental in their Pulitzer or Nobel Prize. It implies you can't find law profs to say good things about you.
6.27.2005 10:26pm