Clerkship Hiring -- How Bad Is It?:
I've been hearing through the grapevine that the competition for federal clerkships this season has been much tougher than in the past. With the economy down, and firms limiting or delaying hiring, many more people than before applied and judges have more and better applicants to chose from. I haven't seen anything written on this, though, and I don't have anything more than anecdote to say if it's true, and if it's true, how bad it is. So I wanted to offer an open thread on the clerkship process for current law clerk applicants to offer their 2 cents. Among VC readers who recently applied for federal clerkships, what's the sense you have of how this year compared to previous years?
Speaking as a current clerk at a state supreme court, we're receiving a ton of applications, but surprisingly few from well-qualified applicants. The couple really good ones have been weeded out with phone interviews because they had judicial philosophies drastically at odds with my Justice's, and my Justice wants a clerk of like mind (although I realize some judges prefer otherwise).
9.23.2009 8:10pm
Bumpjon (mail):
I am currently externing for a district court judge in Montgomery AL. He said that he normally gets 75-100 applications for his two positions; this year, he got 485. He said that (and my recollection may not be 100% accurate here but you'll get the jist) that he had the number 1 or 2 students from McGeorge, Chapman, Akron, Tulsa, Ohio State, Emory, North Carolina, Hofstra, etc.

That said, I am a top 25% at Alabama with only 1 semester on a journal that only applied to 35-40 clerkships and I managed to get an interview with a judge on the Court of Federal Claims and a bankruptcy judge in Montgomery. So it may not be nearly as bleak as I originally thought.
9.23.2009 8:18pm
guest (mail):
First year associate at big firm in big city. T14, senior editor of LR, top 10%; 2 district court interviews, one rejection, waiting on one, but the lapse in time between interview and now makes me think rejection.

It's tough out there.
9.23.2009 8:22pm
Jeffrey Lebowski:
EIC of the flagship journal at a tier 4 school; top 5%. After applying to about 30 federal judges (circuit, district, and magistrate), the only thing I've received are a couple rejection emails.
9.23.2009 8:52pm
I'm a recent grad of GW; top 10% on a secondary journal. I applied to somewhere around 150 clerkships (district and circuit) and got one interview (that happily became an offer). My judge (in a district court) told me she got somewhere around 1,400-1,500 applications. I'm hearing similar things from others (numbers like triple the normal number of applications sound common). It's a jungle out there.
9.23.2009 8:57pm
3L (mail):
I am a 3L at Columbia, secondary journal, strong grades (Columbia does not rank). I applied to about 150 judges and got one interview. I consider myself lucky--many people I know got none.
9.23.2009 9:00pm
Circuit Clerk (mail):
I am currently clerking on a circuit and while we were not involved in the hiring in chambers, it seems from friends' experiences that it's tough. More district courts seem to be interviewing more and taking their time deciding. My judge hired more alums than in the past as well.
9.23.2009 9:12pm
AutoAdmit is full of stories of district or bankruptcy judges receiving 600-800 applications.
9.23.2009 9:57pm
Top 5% at a T50 school. Law review editor, moot court board, summer associate position at a prestigious firm, recipient of writing awards...50+ applications (between circuit, district, and magistrate judges)...0 interviews.

I'm not sure how I would have fared in a "normal" year, but I have a feeling that things wouldn't have been this tough.
9.23.2009 10:11pm
George Weiss (mail) (www):
T50 VERY low grades (bottom 10% but passing) no law review or moot court. some law clerk positions with small firms and a prosecutor's office and one with the fed gov. 120 applications to md state judges only. 2 interviews but most judges have responded they are not looking until oct-dec.

so im saying not impossible if you have the right expectations.
9.23.2009 10:29pm
Welcome ATL readers!:
3L at flyover T30, top 5%, law review managing board, moot court champ, BigLaw summer, damn good writer, graduate degree in humanities field.

Repeatedly assured by faculty and CSO that I was a lock for COA in virtually any circuit.

Zero interviews at district court and COA levels, although I probably should have applied locally and earlier to judges who have a track record hiring from my school. Many of my judges apparently hired early and chose graduates or connections.

Good thing I actually got offers from my summer firms.
9.23.2009 10:29pm
~40th percentile at T10, no journal/moot court, straight through from undergrad, no-offered at V10, ~50 district court apps (mainly to senior judges, who am I kidding), zero interviews. What now?
9.23.2009 11:49pm
Vermando (mail) (www):
It's brutal. From what I understand, 2/3 of the judges in one of the more prestigious appellate circuits had already completed their hiring by the time the official hiring plan started. I'm at a top school and one of the top students here - law review, externships, etc. - didn't even get an interview there. I lined up mine this summer (so I suppose I was part of the problem, from the perspective of those conforming to the rules) hiring plan be damned.
9.24.2009 12:24am
Patrick Bateman:
I had a couple of interviews with judges, but they all had bone business cards. Can you believe that? Bone. In this economy.
9.24.2009 12:28am
GainesvilleGuest (mail):
I'm a current 3L who just finished applying (unsuccessfully, heard from the last judge a few days ago).

I go to a school near the bottom of the top 50. Anecdotally, it is much worse than in the past. I am in the top 2% of my class, and I got very few bites from federal district judges in my state. I suspect I was competing with applicants from higher ranked schools in greater proportions than are normal. I conclude such because students in last year's class with rank's lower than mine were able to obtain district court clerkships in our state. It is also looking like overall my class will have significantly fewer district court clerk's than last year's class.
9.24.2009 12:42am
MGoBlue (mail):
Judging by comparing previous years' numbers and what we've got so far here, it's a bloodbath. Combo of alums and every HYS student applying has hurt even T10 schools.
9.24.2009 1:01am
Orin is right.

As a clerk for a federal judge, and the first one in our chambers to sort through and catalog the applications, I've noticed that we've received literally double the number of applications received two or three years ago. (In fact, I might be looking at your application right now, Mr(s). hopeful applicant.) The same is true for most of the other chambers. Moreover, the number of "top-tier" and "bottom-tier" applicants have both increased, as has the number of applications with firm experience.

The number of likely candidates (based on a combination regional connection, personal recommendation, grades, etc.), however, have remained more or less the same for most judges.
9.24.2009 1:03am
tough out there:
currently (!) clerking outside of my ideal geographic area, but loving the experience. absolutely beats my summer biglaw experiences. i decided i'd like to clerk in my ideal geographic area for at least another year or two. my applications were spread over five districts and i didn't get a single nibble.

what a great time to be a young lawyer.

9.24.2009 1:41am
Larrya (mail) (www):
IANAL, but I'm looking for a job. One admin positon I applied for last week was also open two years ago, when it drew a total of four applications. This time there are over a hundred, in a fairly rural county, population 40,000, with a high percentage of retirees.
9.24.2009 1:59am
Sean M.:
I'm first at a T30 school, Law Review, Moot Court. Five interviews so far and zero offers. It's brutal.

Here's hoping my one D.Ct interview in October goes well.
9.24.2009 9:09am
~25% percentile at T10, law review, humanities graduate degree.

Applied to about 60 federal judges: ~15 COA, ~45 District.

Got 2 interviews with district judges, and received offers from both.

Both judges remarked that they have received hundreds more applications this year than in the past.
9.24.2009 9:14am
Ali (mail):
Top 2% of graduating class at T4 law school, Managing Editor of Flagship Law Review, two published academic articles, currently clerking for state appellate court... 75 federal clerkship applications, 0 interviews.
9.24.2009 9:26am
Anony (mail):
Current clerk at COA. Our applicant pool was up this year: up a little among 3Ls, up a good deal among alums. But our hiring profile was basically the same.
9.24.2009 9:43am
Are people, on average, sending out more clerkship applications than in past years? Are there really four times the applicants, or is each applicant applying to four times as many jobs in order to improve the odds? Or something in between?

To give a pre-recession comparison of applications to "yield," I did this four years ago. 70 applications, 5 interviews, 1 offer. It was the right one, though, and both the judge and I recognized that immediately.

Top 20 school, top 15%, flagship law review. But a non-traditional (older) student, which sometimes makes a difference.
9.24.2009 9:53am
Prof. S. (mail):
Related issue: Is the problem the fact that (a) there are fewer clerkships (due to budget cuts), (b) more competition, or (c) the fact that clerks aren't leaving for private practice?

I had assume that the biggest factor was (c). Then again, a friend of mine spent a year clerking for a state supreme court justice and 2 years for a federal district court judge and he can't find a job. If he can't find a job with a law firm, I don't know many other clerks can these days - meaning they're sticking on with their judges.
9.24.2009 9:54am
T14, top 15%, journal, a couple years at a V20 biglaw firm; sent out applications to district judges in 4 states and no interviews.
9.24.2009 10:02am
Connecticut Yankee:
Prof. S.: A lot of judges don't let you stay on. Often, a clerk's replacements have already been hired when they arrive; if not, they're usually hired soon after. So I don't think (c) (clerks not leaving their clerkships) is much of a factor in the competitiveness of law clerk hiring, at least not for federal clerkships. (I can't speak to state systems that may well have more career employees.)

I think it's mostly (b). More attorneys without jobs, or who have poor job security or poor working conditions because of the bad economy, are applying for clerkships as a way out. (Some of these attorneys may well be a larger number of outgoing clerks, however!)
9.24.2009 10:18am
Prof S: I would blame factor (b). The weak economy has made clerking a more attractive option, and with the OSCAR system applying to 200 or 300 positions is effortless. Once the resume and writing sample is polished, and the recommendation letters are obtained, it can be done in an afternoon.
9.24.2009 10:22am
Clerkship Flunkee:
U. of Michigan 3L, top 25% or so (we don't rank), ed board of secondary journal, moot court, other nice stuff. I applied to about 100 district courts and a few circuit courts. I've interviewed with two district judges and two magistrate judges. I was rejected from one district judge yesterday. This judge said he had over 800 (!) applicants, and this is a "secondary" / "flyover" district.

It's a jungle out there.
9.24.2009 10:23am

The couple really good ones have been weeded out with phone interviews because they had judicial philosophies drastically at odds with my Justice's

Does it bother the Justice that only lesser candidates seem to share his "judicial philosophy?"
9.24.2009 10:27am
another 3L:
T25, top 10%, law review managing board, published note, graduate degree, summer associate at prestigious firm - absolutely nothing. Maybe I shouldn't be surprised, but still a little disappointed.
9.24.2009 10:38am
Go Horns!:
To those that got dinged, you might want to consider applying to the staff attorney offices for some of the Courts of Appeals. I know that the 11th Circuit hires recent grads for staff attorney positions, and I think the 7th and 6th Circuits do as well.

I was a staff attorney for the 11th Circuit and I would say that it was a positive experience. I did not interact with any of the judges that often, but by my direct supervisor taught me a lot and helped improve my writing immensly. Some of the cases I worked on went to oral argument, but most did not. After working as a staff attorney, I went on to clerk for a federal judge.
9.24.2009 10:43am
clerkapp (mail) (www):
I'm an alumni who secured a circuit court clerkship this year. Top 3 school, good grades, 4th year associate in a big firm. The anecdotal sense I got speaking to judges is that applications were 50% higher than in previous years. One judge told me he normally received 40-50 alumni application, and got 250 this year, and 3L apps went from 800 to 1200. Another judge told me she got 2000 applications in total. My impression is that it was an extremely difficult season.
9.24.2009 10:46am
Related issue: Is the problem the fact that (a) there are fewer clerkships (due to budget cuts), (b) more competition, or (c) the fact that clerks aren't leaving for private practice?

I thought most clerkships were for a fixed term of 1 or 2 years. Was I wrong?

Given how tough the market was on last year's graduates, with so many people having offers pulled or deferred, my assumption was that there are simply a lot more 3Ls hoping to stay out of the "real" job market for a little while until the economy improves.

I wonder if military recruiting is up.
9.24.2009 10:51am
Titus Andronicus:
I got an e-mail rejection from a D.C. judge in Chattanooga saying he got 500 applications. Most judges haven't even bothered to respond.
9.24.2009 10:56am
Bumpjon (mail):
I got an e-mail rejection from a D.C. judge in Chattanooga saying he got 500 applications. Most judges haven't even bothered to respond.

Do you mind sharing which judge? I applied to a few D.C. judges in Chattanooga (in fact, Chattanooga is where I would prefer to end up) but I have not received any rejections yet. Thanks in advance.
9.24.2009 11:09am
I applied to 200 District, Magistrate, and Bankruptcy judges, and 3 of the judges said that they ended up extending the clerkship of their current clerk for another year.
9.24.2009 11:15am
Current COA Clerk:
Current COA clerk in a "flyover" but nonetheless desirable circuit. The credentials of the people who interviewed this year (and those who we ultimately hired) were nothing short of absurd. Other than applicants from HYS, we didnt interview anyone who wasn't top 3-4% at a T14. Several had secondary degrees as well (MAs, PHDs, etc). I was top 10% or so at a lower-end T10 with journal managing board, moot court, strong summer work experience, and a previous D.Ct. clerkship, and I am certain I wouldn't have even been interviewed this year. What a difference a year makes.
9.24.2009 11:17am
"Welcome ATL readers!:Repeatedly assured by faculty and CSO that I was a lock for COA in virtually any circuit."

That was an unfortunate and inappropriate thing for them to tell you even in a good economic climate.
9.24.2009 11:19am
Jeff M (mail):
Top 3 at T4 law school. 70 apps no interviews so far. I read a rejection letter from a judge who received over 450 apps and decided to hire a person with 4 years clerking and 3 years private practice experience. Hard to compete against former clerks re-entering the field because of the bad job market. I am sure the honors programs are the same way this year as well.
9.24.2009 11:28am
2009 HLS grad, cum laude (no rank but grades put me top 25-30%), semifinalist in a national moot court, secondary journal, currently in a fellowship, about 60 apps in New York/New England, 2 interviews (one magistrate SDNY, one senior DConn in New Haven), 1 offer, haven't heard from the other. Only slightly better results than my apps last year, and I've become a much stronger candidate (better 3L grades and achievements, able to apply off-plan).

I've heard some inklings that other district judges might have been interested but are still slogging through the pile of apps. The magistrate judge said apps had doubled this year. Another DConn judge expressed interest, then said his current clerk still hadn't found a job so he wasn't sure he'd have a position opening up.
9.24.2009 11:50am
A Law Clerk:
For those seeking a federal clerkship, don't just apply to District Courts. Magistrate Judges and Bankruptcy Judges receive far fewer applications. Contrary to popular law student belief, Magistrates and Bankruptcy Judges do real substantive work, and the experience gained from these clerkships will be invaluable. Also, bankruptcy is not just for those who want to specialize in that field. A bankruptcy clerkship will teach you anything you ever wanted to know about secured transactions, mortgages, financing of business, etc. All of which would be useful for a transactional lawyer.
9.24.2009 11:55am
applicant fail:
kennelly (ndil) reports over 1200 apps for 2 pos
9.24.2009 12:20pm
I'm a current clerk for an SDNY judge. Last year we got about 800 applications; this year we got nearly 1400. Lots of highly qualified applicants did not get called in for interviews.
9.24.2009 12:35pm
Some federal agencies also have law clerks to work for the ALJs. Most of these don't go through the usual clerkship application process. Check with your school's career office for assistance in finding them.

These jobs don't have the snob appeal of other federal clerkships, but they can pay better. And people in Washington (if you want to work there) know what the credential means.
9.24.2009 12:52pm
Tom B (www):
I'm a 2009 grad. I started applying for clerkships last year, and I recently secured a position with a federal magistrate judge.

T25 school, top 25%, no journal but 2 publications, an externship, and a summer associate.

I had 5 interviews throughout the year with federal magistrate judges and state highest court judges. I must have applied to 400+ judges. I did not start applying to magistrate and bankruptcy judges until January, which was a mistake. I strongly suggest applying to those asap. You should consider take a bankruptcy course to boost your credibility with bankruptcy judges though. Or join some kind of finance related student group.

You may want to consider all levels of state courts too. It may not be the most prestigious job, but it will give you a good experience for applying to 2011 federal positions.

I went to a variety of networking events and the sense that I got was that many younger associates were applying or considering applying for clerkships and government jobs. It also seemed that judges were tapping into the pool of laid off associates.
9.24.2009 12:59pm
It might be tougher this year, but that certainly wasn't reflected in my experience. We don't rank, but I'm likely top 1 or 2% at Duke/Northwestern/Cornell/Georgetown. Might very well be #1 in the class. Had all kinds of COA interview offers over the summer (>6), and surely could've had more if I went the hiring plan route.

Looking at classmates well outside of the top 20% of the class at my school, they are still getting clerkship interviews with district courts and magistrates. Granted, these aren't in S.D.N.Y., D.D.C., or C.D. Cal, but they're not in North Dakota either. This leads me to believe that people from top 10 schools with law review and great grades, and who struck out entirely, were either too picky as far as geography or too selective as far as types of courts to be successful this year.
9.24.2009 1:06pm
LawClerk1 (mail):
I clerked in 2006 on the COA in an out of the way location. We got more than 400 applications for three jobs. Clerks weeded out the applications basically for people who just couldn't cut it or who were advertising the wrong judicial philosophy. Even after eliminating the wrong philosophy types, bottom 2/3 from the top schools and the bottom 80-85%% from other schools, we still had 20+ who made the cut. After that it was personality--we just recommended who we liked.

So I guess I am saying it was always tough.
9.24.2009 1:17pm
T14, top 10%, senior position on LR, local ties. Applied only to one coastal metropolitan area. One federal dist ct interview, one rejection. Judge I met with received twice as many applications this year. I am now considering a state appellate clerkship that I probably would not have in a normal year.
9.24.2009 2:38pm
It's always been this way:
I'm really not sure how much rougher this clerkship cycle is than in years past. It's always been hard. I applied two years ago as top 15% at CNBCMVP (secondary journal) and got 1 interview (no offer) out of 100 applications (mostly competitive district, some COA). I have friends with better grades who similarly struck out.
9.24.2009 4:09pm
I'm a 3L at UCLA/Texas/Vanderbilt clerking on 2/DC/9 in 2010. I was hired early, but from chatting with my judge and his clerks, they had received around 600 applications prior to August (i.e., pre-Plan). They said around 4/5 of these were alums while the other 1/5 were students who had seen on the blogs that the judge was hiring early. They said in a normal year they only receive maybe 200-300 applications before August.

Oh, and to the person above named "3L," you should figure out a way to make your point without sounding like a completely arrogant jerk.
9.24.2009 4:58pm
clerkapp (mail) (www):
There's absolutely no doubt that volume is up this year, I think. The open question is whether there are actually more plausible candidates - i.e., is the real competition among top people really harder. I say yes, because of a lot of very good candidates from the private sector.
9.24.2009 6:30pm
Bama 1L:
I am trying to figure out how I would have advertised a judicial philosophy in my applications.
9.24.2009 7:01pm
EIC of the flagship law review at my T20 law school, top 5%, published student note, V10 summer associate position. Sent 150 applications to the "prestigious district courts" and most circuit courts, and received only 5 interviews. Luckily, I got an offer from my first interview with a circuit judge in a flyover circuit. Other members of our law review's Executive Board got only 1 or 2 interviews, despite being ranked higher than I am. My judge told me that he got 3x the number of applications received in previous years.
9.24.2009 7:07pm

I am trying to figure out how I would have advertised a judicial philosophy in my applications.

You can get a sense from an applicant's writing sample. Or if someone's a memeber of certain groups (Fed. Soc.; ACS) or journals (e.g., La Raza). Even undergrad major can give a hint (e.g., math vs. political science).

The open question is whether there are actually more plausible candidates[?]

There may be more "plausible" candidates (for federal clerkships), but I'm guessing not many. For most judges, even the snobbiest ones (i.e., Judge Alex "I mean top 10, as in people" Kozinski), there generally are a limited number of candidates that appear likely to mesh well with the judge and chambers. I'd guess that for every 100 applications we receive, only 4 or 5 seem to be good fits (even though the quality of our applicant pool is way, way up), and most of those were specifically recommended to the judge.
9.24.2009 7:51pm
Alondunkedo (mail) (www): ass fuckig ass fuck anal sex
9.25.2009 12:14am
3L top 30% &journal at GW - over 400 Federal and State applications sent out. 0 interviews.
9.25.2009 2:16pm
Interested party:
3.5 GPA at T14 school, one of the chief editors of Law Review, executive position on secondary journal, published article, summer associate at Biglaw...150 applications, one circuit interview, rejection
9.25.2009 2:54pm
Top 10% at a T10 law school, top 20% at an HYP undergraduate, articles editor for Law Review, summered and got an offer from a V20 firm: 3 district court interviews. 0 offers.
9.25.2009 8:50pm

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