Judicial clerkships are prestigious post-graduate jobs that last for a term (usually one or two years) and provide an excellent launch pad for positions in esteemed law firms, with the Department of Justice, and as a U.S. Attorney, prosecutor, or public defender - just to name a few.
The basic truth about judicial clerkships? Every judge is different. Every clerkship is different. Your experience as a judicial clerk will depend upon the judge for whom and the court in which you work. However, all clerks enjoy similar end results. Clerkships are so highly regarded within the profession that law firms often give former clerks practice year and salary credits. This is especially true of federal clerkships. Clerks bring valuable knowledge and experience to their post-clerkship employers on "behind the curtain" procedures - knowledge and experience which other graduates may never acquire.
Clerkships are available at both the federal and state levels. Federal court clerks serve judges on Article III courts, as well as administrative or speciality courts formed under Article I.
The best way to secure a clerkship? Plan ahead! Whether you submit one application or fifty, they take time to prepare (for everyone involved), and some of the more sought-after qualifications cannot be earned overnight. Here are a few suggestions for improving your chances of landing a clerkship:
- Establish relationships with law professors and lawyers for whom you work. Judges typically require 2 or 3 letters of recommendation as part of a clerkship application.
- Perfect a writing sample (e.g., open memo, moot court brief, journal note, memo/brief for summer employer with permission).
- Most judges require journal experience. Write-on to a journal after your 1L year, and seek a position on the executive board for your 3L year.
- Prior judicial experience is a big plus. Participate in judicial internships by applying for the Judicial Clerk Job Fair in January, or seek a judicial externship through the clinical program.
- Choose appropriate courses (some suggestions: Con Law I, Con Law II, Evidence, Employment Discrimination, Employment Law, Labor Law, Criminal Procedure, Federal Courts, Administrative Law)
- Seek out legal research and writing experience as a teaching or research assistant for a professor.
- Grades are often a determinative factor. Dedicate yourself to achieving the highest GPA possible.
Federal clerkships are the most competitive positions and require exceptional achievement in law school as well as great letters of recommendation. State court clerkships are an excellent opportunity that should not be overlooked. Students will need good grades and excellent recommendations when applying to state court judges, too. Most judges want to see journal experience. Keep in mind that both federal and state court judges can be rather unpredictable in their hiring - each judge will have his or her own particular criteria.
Since 2004, federal judges have had the option of participating in the Federal Law Clerk Hiring Plan ("Hiring Plan"), which mandates when students may submit clerkship applications, as well as when the judges may conduct interviews and extend offers. Under the Hiring Plan, applications are sent to judges no earlier than June following the 2L year. However, clerkship applicants will still need to finalize application materials early in the spring semester of their 2L year. Alumni may apply for clerkships at any time.
Many judges in the Southeast do not adhere to the Hiring Plan. Several begin seeking clerks in February of the candidates' 2L year, and some even earlier. These judges will move early and hire quickly. In contrast, many judges in the Northeast strictly adhere to the Federal Hiring Plan and post and accept applications through the Online System for Clerkship Application and Review ("OSCAR"). As a student applicant, it is important to know whether or not the judges in whom you are interested follow the Hiring Plan.
As the name implies, the Federal Law Clerk Hiring Plan does not apply to state court judges. Judicial internship opportunities arise throughout the year, and students are eligible to participate following their 1L academic year. Post-graduate employment opportunities tend to arise during 3L year. The Judicial Job Clerk Fair, held in January, is an excellent opportunity to secure judicial internships and post-graduate employment with Georgia judges. Throughout the year, students should check Symplicity for posted openings. Courts often post openings on their websites, so students should bookmark the websites of the courts in which they are interested and check them frequently.