Judicial clerkships offer recent law school graduates the opportunity to work for a judge for one or two year terms. Clerkships are available in appellate and trial courts at the federal and state levels, as well as in some specialty courts, such as the U.S. Bankruptcy and U.S. Tax Courts. As a clerk, you will learn to evaluate issues from both sides and to thoroughly research and develop the reasoning to support a ruling. Clerkships also offer insight into the judicial decision-making process and exposure to a wide range of types of law. Judges and their clerks often develop close mentoring relationships that last long after the clerk's term is over. Obtaining a clerkship is an honor, and the fact that you have clerked will be an asset to you throughout your career.
The clerkship hiring process is very individualized and can vary greatly from judge to judge. That said, grades and class rank weigh heavily in most clerkship hiring decisions. Judges also look for other indicators of future success, such as law journal participation, dedication to the community, commitment to the local area, and thoughtful future career plans. Meet with Erin Fullner at the Center for Professional Development (CPD) to help you make choices about where to apply.
CPD hosts a clerkship information meeting in February for those interested in applying for clerkships. This meeting is mandatory for clerkship applicants. Most candidates should plan to attend the meeting during second year of law school. Candidates generally start drafting and assembling application materials during second year and into the summer. Traditionally, many state court judges interview and hire students during the summer between second and third year for a clerkship term that starts the fall after graduation. Some federal judges begin looking at candidates as early as first year.
Judges interview and hire on their own timelines. There is no standard or uniform response date or hiring process. Your fifth choice may respond long before your first. You cannot collect multiple offers and choose from among them, nor can you rescind an acceptance except in the most extraordinary of circumstances. If you have a prioritized list of judges for whom you'd like to clerk, you may wish to send out applications in waves.
Each judge will specify the application materials to be submitted, but they usually include a resume, cover letter, self-edited writing sample, references, and law school transcript (an unofficial transcript is usually fine). Federal judges generally require undergraduate transcripts as well. A clerk is an individual hire by an individual judge, and your application materials should reflect not only your qualifications, but also your reasons for seeking a clerkship with that particular judge. Keep in mind that in most chambers, the judge relies on current clerks or a judicial assistant (JA) to make a first cut of the hundreds (or over a thousand in some cases) of applications received. This is especially relevant if you are making reference to a connection that you have to the judge - be explicit.
Like all job application materials, your clerkship materials should be tailored for each judge to whom you apply. And also like all job application materials, your clerkship materials must be flawless - no typos, grammatical errors, or citation errors.
If you're interested in the work of a clerk but don't wish to seek a post-graduate clerkship, you might wish to consider a judicial externship. SU has part-time and full-time judicial externship sponsors in many different courts. The externship program can also be excellent preparation for a post-graduation clerkship, in terms of experience, resume building, and making contacts. Check out the Externship Program's website.
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