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Federal Appellate Clerkship Statistics:

Federal Appellate Judicial Clerks 2008 reports some very interesting data about federal appellate clerkships. Note that the site has information only about 452 clerkships, and between active judges (165, with 3 or 4 clerks each) and senior judges (104, with 0 to 3 clerks each, I think), there are considerably more jobs out there than that. Still, the data is the best I've seen, and strikes me as likely at least reasonably representative. Particularly interesting tidbits:

1. The Long(ish) Tail: Though 77.2% of the clerks come from the top 18 schools (top 18 rather than top 20 because the top 18 has been unusually stable in the U.S. News rankings over the years), that means that 22.8% come from below the top 18, 13.1% from below the top 30, and 8.1% from below the top 50.

2. Yale: 26.5% of the Yale class is clerking for circuit judges; that doesn't even count the district court clerks. The runners-up are way behind (Stanford at 15.2%, Chicago at 13%, and Harvard at 9.9%).

3. Successes: Northwestern, #5 on the list of most appellate clerks placed (as a percentage of the class), does considerably better than its U.S. News ranking (#12). Same for Chicago (#3 / #6), Duke (#6 / #10), UCLA (#9 / #15), Vanderbilt (#11 / #16), Texas (#12 / #18), and Notre Dame (#14 / #28). I exclude from this list schools which placed 3 or fewer clerks; if you want to see them (e.g., Richmond [U.S. News #77], which placed a higher percentage of its class than Cornell [U.S. News #13] and USC [U.S. News #16]), go to the site.

4. UCLA: Did I mention how well we did? In 2008-2009, 18 federal court of appeals clerks will be from UCLA, which amounts to 5.4% of our class (note that some of them will be from classes other than the class of 2008, but likewise some of our 2008 graduates will likely get clerkships for future years). Woohoo! Not the percentage of Yale, Stanford, Chicago, or Harvard, but within 1.5% of everyone else, and #9 in the rankings (maybe tied for #8, or at least very nearly so, with Michigan).

5. Notes: (A) Much of this may be based on law school culture; some excellent law schools who routinely place their graduates in excellent jobs might simply not urge their graduates to get clerkships as much as some other schools do. (B) There is some random variation in these numbers from year to year. (C) The numbers may change if other schools report more data to this site. So take these statistics for whatever you feel they are worth.

Anonobvious:
Wow, that data is absolutely sickening. The system values school name way, way too highly.

"[S]ome excellent law schools who routinely place their graduates in excellent jobs might simply not urge their graduates to get clerkships as much as some other schools do?" What a bunch of self-serving BS. I'm sure the reason Georgetown places only 1/5th as many clerks as Stanford and almost 1/10th as many clerks as Yale is because the Career Counseling office doesn't send enough reminder emails about applying for clerkships.
11.19.2007 5:33pm
alias:
Yale: 26.5% of the Yale class is clerking for circuit judges; that doesn't even count the district court clerks. The runners-up are way behind (Stanford at 15.2%, Chicago at 13%, and Harvard at 9.9%).

Given the small number of circuit clerkships, I wonder if it might be more sensible to compare absolute numbers rather than percentages.

OTOH, a student who has offers of admission from both Harvard and Yale might find your take more interesting.
11.19.2007 5:39pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Hmm -- how can we know whether "[t]he system values school name way, way too highly" unless we know how much better on average the top Yale students might be than (say) the top UCLA students?

To take an oversimplified but not entirely misleading model, say that the appellate clerkships go to the students at the very top of the class. If the 75th percentile Yale student is roughly at the quality level of the 95th percentile UCLA student, then it would make sense that the top 25% of Yale students would get jobs that only the top 5% of UCLA students would get. Of course, if the 75th percentile Yale student is no better than the 75th percentile UCLA student, then (under this oversimplified model) judges would be irrationally focused on Yale's reputation. But why should we think that the 75th percentile Yale student is indeed no better than the 75th percentile UCLA student?
11.19.2007 5:43pm
Former Law Review Editor:
What a bunch of self-serving BS. I'm sure the reason Georgetown places only 1/5th as many clerks as Stanford and almost 1/10th as many clerks as Yale is because the Career Counseling office doesn't send enough reminder emails about applying for clerkships.


Ok, explain Cornell vs. UCLA then.
11.19.2007 5:43pm
George Weiss (mail):
Hmm -- how can we know whether "[t]he system values school name way, way too highly" unless we know how much better on average the top Yale students might be than (say) the top UCLA students?

To take an oversimplified but not entirely misleading model, say that the appellate clerkships go to the students at the very top of the class. If the 75th percentile Yale student is roughly at the quality level of the 95th percentile UCLA student, then it would make sense that the top 25% of Yale students would get jobs that only the top 5% of UCLA students would get. Of course, if the 75th percentile Yale student is no better than the 75th percentile UCLA student, then (under this oversimplified model) judges would be irrationally focused on Yale's reputation. But why should we think that the 75th percentile Yale student is indeed no better than the 75th percentile UCLA student?


one itsy bitsy problem:
yale does not rank its students
11.19.2007 5:48pm
George Weiss (mail):
as a matter of fact...there is only pass/fail high pass...yale doesnt even give out regular grades
11.19.2007 5:49pm
Anon123 (mail):
Actually, the data may not be representative. Certain law schools had a particular student submit a list of all clerkships obtained by students from that school (or, say, all circuit clerkships obtained by students on law review from that school, which for most schools is essentially a list of everyone who got a circuit clerkship). I could tell that was the case because, sometimes, on a particular day, the blog would add a ton of clerks from the same school that had all been submitted at the same time. Other schools did not have a student submit a list of all circuit clerkships in the same way. I think this makes some of the rankings unreliable. Put differently: I think it's likely that Columbia got more clerkships than Northwestern, but Northwestern had a guy send a list of all the people on law review who got clerkships and Columbia didn't.
11.19.2007 5:55pm
DJR:
Very interesting, and probably more informative for students than the USNews rankings.
11.19.2007 5:57pm
Anony:
What I find interesting is that there are a number of schools that place very heavily in a single circuit like UCLA (9th) or Texas (5th), whereas there are other schools with similar raw placement numbers that place a similar number of grads in a number of circuits like UVA, Vanderbilt, NYU and Northwestern.
11.19.2007 5:59pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
George Weiss: As I said, the model is an oversimplification, and one of the reasons is that some schools don't rank students at clerkship time, and most schools don't rank them precisely. But even Yale students get ranked by judges based on the numbers of Hs and Ps they get, as well as other factors; this partly happens by judges implicitly ranking students within the pool of applicants they get, and partly by judges having a sense of what the pool is like from year to year, and how many Hs and Ps the typical good Yale applicant has.
11.19.2007 5:59pm
George Weiss (mail):
EV-

my point is..because of the lack of ranking..its very hard to see anything but the name yale.
11.19.2007 6:12pm
George Weiss (mail):
addendum-

even if they see H's and P's that really only is a good comparison of yale people to each other

whereas..you can sorta compare a 5% person at UCLA with a 5% person at USC
11.19.2007 6:14pm
genob:
Who can afford to clerk after paying (and/or borrowing) for law school?
11.19.2007 6:21pm
George Weiss (mail):
genob:
Who can afford to clerk after paying (and/or borrowing) for law school?

three types:
1. people who clerk only after paying their loans (rare)
2. people who get parents to pay for law school (most comon)
3. people who hope their clerkship bonus will help them payoff loans and dont mind living in debt and very very frugally for a while (i dont know how common)
11.19.2007 6:25pm
genob:
Agree. I'm curious if that might explain the numbers at least in part. (differnt demographics at different schools might mean that many "circuit court capable" students at some schools don't even consider applying. Does Yale have a higher percentage in 2 and 3? Do they limit the loan obligations of graduates through scholarships and grants more than some public schools, etc.?)
11.19.2007 6:29pm
George Weiss (mail):
genob:
Agree. I'm curious if that might explain the numbers at least in part. (differnt demographics at different schools might mean that many "circuit court capable" students at some schools don't even consider applying. Does Yale have a higher percentage in 2 and 3? Do they limit the loan obligations of graduates through scholarships and grants more than some public schools, etc.?)

no idea
11.19.2007 6:36pm
TerrencePhilip:
genob,

loan deferment and the bonus often given by big firms to ex-clerks sweeten the deal.

As for Anonobvious's statement that the system values "school name" too highly, the very top law schools do have good names; but they also have lots of funding, and lots of connections, and the combination of all the above keeps feeding on itself to draw strong applicants for professorships and student spots. Just look at the stats of the people who qualify for admission at Harvard, Yale, or a few of the other top schools- they are almost invariably, ridiculously good students. For every top 10 school proud of its name, there's a top 20 school looking to rise up several notches. School prestige may be a rough filter (no one denies you may encounter the occasional bad apple- I know of a HLS grad who got disbarred), but on average it is a very good filter for intelligence and willingness to work very hard.

If you are interviewing 2 people for a job, like them both, and one did well in a much more rigorous and competitive environment, that won't guarantee who's "better" but will surely give you a lot of useful information about the candidates.
11.19.2007 6:37pm
George Weiss (mail):
TerrencePhilip:

yes. and it is decided which law school you go to before you do any work at all in the law.

why should your undergrad grades and 1 standerdized test that has nothing to do with the law determine who gets better legal jobs 3 years later?

is there no better way to focus attention on the quality of the work in law school? writing CLASS RANK standerdized tests AFTER law school somthing like that
11.19.2007 6:43pm
George Weiss (mail):
note: in med school...there is a standardized test that is given more weight than med school performance that students take AFTER having gone to med school.

and in med school it would make MORE sense to judge people on their undergrad performance...since the pre med scricula at least require course that have to do with science/medicine
11.19.2007 6:46pm
hlc:
I think that Anony raises a good point. I would guess that elite law schools that have more of a monopoly on a certain geographic region might place a higher percentage of their students in appellate clerkships in the region.

It is likely going to far to suggest that many judges engage in the sort of balancing between schools to determine the best candidate. Many judges have hired from the same schools time and again. They rely upon professors from those schools for recommendations and know that they will be getting a quality candidate without having to look at the many many qualified candidates that they will be unable to hire.
11.19.2007 6:46pm
Pliny, the Elder (mail):
The Yale numbers simply confirm what many of us already knew: if your goal is a judicial clerkship, go to Yale. I recall that when I was applying, more than 15 years ago, more than 60% of Yale's grads clerked immediately after graduation. When I clerked for a state supreme court, one of my co-clerks was a Yale grad and he was on the 2d of 3 clerkships. I have to confess that it gave me soem comfort to think that he spent a hell of a lot more money to get the same job I had. However, and to repeat, if you are certain you want a prestigious clerkship, you should aim for Yale.
11.19.2007 6:51pm
JKS (mail):
Also, look at *which* circuits. And its not just an issue of most prestigious. Columbia/NYU/Cornell for example dont get a "home circuit" advantage like Michigan, Northwestern, and even Penn and Harvard do. Many judges dont look kindly upon applicants with no connection to an area.
One reason UCLA does so well is because it is the best law school in Southern California. And there are a TON of judges in Southern California.
11.19.2007 7:18pm
Curt Fischer:
Question for discussion: is there a conflict between a hypothetical federalist lawyers' desire for vesting greater power and authority to state governments and the same hypothetical lawyers' participation in a system where federal clerkships are held to be more prestigious than state ones?

In other words, must professors balance a trade-off between i) commitment to the ideals of federalism and ii) their duty to their students to help foster students' careers *in the context of the current system*?

If all professors help the best students get federal clerkships, and help promulgate the prestige of federal clerkships and federal courts in general, won't the state courts suffer by comparison?

(Note: I'm not trying to antagonize anyone but am legitimately interested to see if anyone here agrees that their may be a conflict of if my concerns are off-base.)
11.19.2007 7:38pm
JohnThompson (mail):
What kind of a moron would want to be a clerk? Someone whose mom and dad had paid for law school, I'm guessing.
11.19.2007 8:10pm
A.:
Or someone who wants an easier time getting a big firm job and a handsome clerking bonus. Or someone who wants to become an appellate judge or a law professor.

[And as a student who's going to finish law school with ~$250K in loans but a bit less of the taste of sour grapes in my mouth, I must note that sometimes rich parents have smart kids.]
11.19.2007 8:15pm
merevaudevillian:
A clerk's salary is $53,000 to $59,000. That's enough to live on and pay down loans if you're just holding out for a year or two before that bonus check from the firm arrives and you start on a $160,000 salary.
11.19.2007 9:20pm
George Weiss (mail):
merevaudevillian
A clerk's salary is $53,000 to $59,000. That's enough to live on and pay down loans if you're just holding out for a year or two before that bonus check from the firm arrives and you start on a $160,000 salary.


that depends on
1. where you live (true that there are bonuses for location but lets not kid ourselves...they don't really compensate for a high cost of living area especially at those low level principal salaries..since the cost of living bonus is a % of the principal)
2. the amont of your loan
3. your willingness to hore yourself out to a big firm for 60+ hours per week and have no life becuase you clerked for a year...knowing that instead you could ahve not clerked and started with 125,000 and got out of the whole sooner.
4. how much you would like to go into public interest/NGO work (most people want to clerk because they are either seeking a academic job (minority) or a high level interest job (majority))..and if you wanna go into that you cant rely on a big salary when your clerkship is up wither...in fact..you might even take a pay CUT.
11.19.2007 9:30pm
Duffy Pratt (mail):
Prof Volokh:

What you say about comparisons might be OK in theory. However, there is no such thing as a 75th percentile student from Yale. There simply no numerical bases on which to compare Yale students.

I also don't think the judges are going on name alone. Instead, I think they make their decisions based on their past experience, word of mouth among their colleagues, and on their interviews. Students from these schools have done well for them in the past. That means that students from those schools are more likely to get interviews, and thus jobs. If a judge decided to interview noone but students from Hofstra, and routinely came up with satisfactory clerks using that method, why should anyone else second guess the judge?
11.19.2007 9:35pm
Law Reviewer:

What a bunch of self-serving BS. I'm sure the reason Georgetown places only 1/5th as many clerks as Stanford and almost 1/10th as many clerks as Yale is because the Career Counseling office doesn't send enough reminder emails about applying for clerkships.


Actually, my peers and I have been amazed at many of our school's top students (we're a top 30 school), especially those on Law Review, didn't even apply for a clerkship because they were more interested in working first.

I think statistics on what percentage of the students who applied for a clerkship and got one would be much more useful for comparing school-to-school.
11.19.2007 9:38pm
Ben P (mail):

and 8.1% from below the top 50.


Congratulations on throughly depressing me on my chances on getting an apellate clerkship after I graduate even If I am in the top 5% of my class.

Maybe I should have chosen a top 20 and $150k in debt rather than my local state law school and a scholarship with $0 Debt on graduation.
11.19.2007 9:43pm
OrinKerr:
Duffy Pratt writes:
What you say about comparisons might be OK in theory. However, there is no such thing as a 75th percentile student from Yale. There simply no numerical bases on which to compare Yale students.
I don't think I follow this. My impression is that a 75th percentile student from Yale is someone who has maybe equal numbers of H's and P's. Is that way off? And even if it's off, why is that not a numerical basis (any more than it would be if we replaced "P" with B and "H" with A)?
11.19.2007 10:03pm
George Weiss (mail):
OK
I don't think I follow this. My impression is that a 75th percentile student from Yale is someone who has maybe equal numbers of H's and P's. Is that way off? And even if it's off, why is that not a numerical basis (any more than it would be if we replaced "P" with B and "H" with A)?


the problem is we haven oway of knowing whether its off.

as to comparing H's to A's and P's to B's..thats
1. speculation
and
2. doesnt matter anyway becuase htey dont rank their students.

even if yale had aregular grading system and gave out A's and B's youd really have the same problem...
11.19.2007 10:55pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
George Weiss: It's speculation for you and me, but it's probably pretty well-informed speculation for judges who've (1) seen hundreds of Yale resumes, and (2) might also have some good contacts at Yale who'll give them the scoop on how the resumes break down. #2 is sheer speculation on my part; #1 seems quite likely.
11.19.2007 11:53pm
George Weiss (mail):
EV-

seeing hundreds of yale resumes and also having contacts at yale is great for comparing yale people to other yale people.

but how do you compare someone at harvard or GULC in their top 5% with someone at yale with no rank and just a resume?
11.19.2007 11:58pm
Duffy Pratt (mail):
And don't forget, the first semester at Yale is Pass/Fail, which basically means Pass (I know of no-one who has ever failed a first semester course). And there is a substantial portion of the curriculum is also P/F, or P/F at the student's option.

While transcripts might form a basis for comparison among Yale students (and I have my doubts even about this), I don't see how you would be able to draw any fair comparison between students from Yale and other institutions.
11.20.2007 12:56am
Eugene Volokh (www):
George Weiss: What I'm saying is that a judge with some experience on the bench will have a pretty good sense of where the Yale applicant stands in the class. The question then is the one I identified (and to which I don't have a ready answer) -- whether a 95th percentile from Georgetown is roughly as good as a 75th percentile from Yale (or something along those lines).
11.20.2007 1:09am
George Weiss (mail):
oh wait if he can compare yale people to other yale people then he can get a impercise class rank.

good point

thanks EV
11.20.2007 1:12am
Robert Loblaw:
Even as a lowly district court clerk, I can assure you that nobody has any trouble telling which Yale Law grads are the top ones. Some people have almost all H's in real classes. Lots more have a fair number of P's. Some people have glowing, detailed recs from professors that even I've heard of. Lots more have generic "hard worker" recs from adjuncts. What's so hard?
11.20.2007 2:51am
tarheel:
I would sure be interested to hear what about the Yale educational experience makes their graduates so much better prepared for a federal clerkship.

Of course, I suspect the answer is -- nothing. The reality is that judges are simply outsourcing their hiring to the Yale admissions office. Good enough for Yale, good enough for me. That may be a rational policy, but let's not pretend that judges are making fine distinctions based on the number of Hs and Ps a student has on his transcript.
11.20.2007 6:56am
Duffy Pratt (mail):
I've observed two judges during the selection process. Both gave initial preferences to students from prestigious schools, and also to students from local schools. Thus, to a certain extent, they were allowing a group of schools to assist in the preselection. Among Yale applicants, the number of H's and P's might be used to make rough distinctions between students, but no more than that.

A student from another school would have to have something fairly special in his/her background to get to the interview stage. The interviews then tended to be the most important part of the selection process. The basic idea is that just about everyone who the judge interviewed was probably capable of doing the job, and the interview was trying to nail down the best "fit."
11.20.2007 7:26am
Happyshooter:
I wonder if Michigan's lack of success is tied to the AA court case for the Law School.
11.20.2007 8:54am
A.C.:
It does seem that the pendulum should swing against Yale eventually, even if other highly ranked schools are the only ones to benefit. Too many clerks, and eventually too many law professors, from just one school can result in an intellectual monoculture. That may be the whole idea in some quarters, but it's still something the rest of us should watch out for.

What's wrong with clerking at the trial level, while we're at it? Plenty of people like it better!
11.20.2007 10:51am
Anon Visitor:
In addition to some of the factors already mentioned (geographical connections, a school's institutional push towards clerkships, etc.), I wonder if the size of the student body doesn't play some role here. Specifically, my impression (from having gone through the application process) is that an applicant's success will largely depend on whether he has professors making calls on his behalf.

Obviously there are limits to this -- a student near the bottom of his class will struggle to get a clerkship no matter who calls for him, while a student with a 4.0 should do well regardless. But if you have two students with comparable resumes, one of whom has a Professor calling judges on his behalf, and the other of whom only has the paper file he has submitted, the former will do significantly better than the latter.

To tie that point to class size -- a student has to get to know a Professor reasonably well for him to call on that student's behalf. And, in my view, it's more difficult for a student to get to know Professors well at larger schools. It's reasonable to respond that the relevant statistic is student:teacher ratio, not absolute class size. But I think absolute number is actually more relevant, because at large schools, you're less likely to have the same teacher in multiple courses; you're less likely to see them around campus; and, from the perspective of any single teacher, you're one of 1800 at the school, rather than one of 400.

I think this could partially explain the big difference in percentages between, say, Harvard and Yale, and between Georgetown and some of its peer schools.

Another factor might be the alma mater of the judges -- there's no question that judges like to hire from schools that they attended or taught at, so a judge's preference for a certain school is going to reflect more than just his evaluation of the quality of its students. If the next five Circuit Court judges were all alumni of school X, it's a virtual guarantee that the percentage of school X's students that land federal clerkships would soon go up.
11.20.2007 11:26am
George Weiss (mail):
Anon Visitor:

excellent point about size of the student body making it easier to know professors...i hadnt thought of that.


but Standford has even fewer students than yale...and its not even close to where yale sits in terms of percentage.

for the past year there were 576 yale FT students but only 534 standford students....

but 26.5% of the clerks were from yale and only 15.2% were from stanford.

also chicago has only 600 students and was 13% of the pool.

however...chicago yale and standofrd were the top theree..so there you go...also due was a high roller...with 5.9% and it has 578 full time students.
11.20.2007 12:34pm
George Weiss (mail):
*that was: duke not due
11.20.2007 12:37pm
Chicago:
Although someone above suggested that Yale is a sensible place for law school if you want a prestigious clerkship, I'm not sure that's so. The best Yale applicants will have all -- or all but a handful -- of Hs, but there will be a (very small) number of others with the same distribution of grades. At least with respect to grades, all of these applicants are equally situated. The best students at Harvard are easier to distinguish because the grading system has more gradations: The difference between an A+ and an A in a few classes is pretty revealing, but it might be entirely overlooked in Yale's grading system. So at Harvard, a truly extraordinary student -- the Sears Prize winners or rare summa grad -- will immediately stand out based on grades alone.

I'm not sure what this means for prospective law students. Perhaps they should choose Harvard if they rationally believe they are smarter and harder working than their future classmates. Or perhaps they should choose Harvard regardless because either they will do extraordinarily well (in which case Harvard is better than Yale), above-average (in which case going to Harvard probably won't hurt), or average (in which case an appellate clerkship is out at either school).

On a somewhat related note, it's hard to determine percentiles from Yale grades. If, as seems likely, the bottom of the class doesn't apply, then the judges are seeing a sample skewed by the better students. It's still possible to sort the applicants using the relative number of Hs and Ps, but it does make it difficult to perform the sort of percentile comparison Eugene imagines.
11.20.2007 1:27pm
anon0489692 (mail):
I think Northwestern's accross-the-board encouragement of clerkships (federal appellate, district court, magistrate &bankruptcy judges, state court) has really paid off. They have a great advising program. (I'm a current district court clerk.)
11.20.2007 1:35pm
Duffy Pratt (mail):
I think its false that only the "best" students at Yale apply for clerkships. Also, if you wanted to know how the schools fare in getting clerkships for students, it would probably be better to look at the number of clerkships vs. the number of students who sought them. When I was there, I think almost every student who wanted a clerkship was successful in finding one. I can't think of a single person I knew who was trying to get a clerking job and failed to get one.

Also, I doubt its true that the "bottom" of the Yale class doesn't apply for clerkships. I can't back that up with numbers (nor can anyone I know support the claim with numbers), but people I knew decided to clerk or not for other reasons, not because of their grades. The same was true about appellate v. district court clerkships. The big time resume builders all wanted the prestigious appellate clerkships. But there were at least as many people who opted for district court clerkships because of the varied nature of the work, because of the reputation of the particular judge, and/or because of their own career goals.
11.20.2007 5:19pm
Michigan guy:
In response to an earlier inquiry about Michigan, I should note that several people at Michigan seemed to have taken circuit clerkships for 09-10.
11.20.2007 5:43pm