Columbia JReubs

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Clerkship advice

Cliff asked me to put up a little advice for those applying to clerkships (5 or so of you). Hopefully Heather, Nate, Bim, and whoever else I'm forgetting will also weigh in because everyone seems to have a different experience. But here is my $.02:

1. Somehow you have to get pulled out of the stack. Judges get unbelievable numbers of applications for 3 or 4 spots. The most selective judges will sort you by grades, and will not look at you unless you make a certain grade cut-off OR there is something extraordinary on your resume (really extraordinary; grades are really 80% of the application) OR a professor calls them. The not-most-selective judges want to strike some sort of balance between getting the best candidates ("best" not necessarily best grades, but best all-around) and offering interviews to those they think will take the job.

For these judges you need to figure out some way to communicate to them that you are serious about them and/or the city or state in which they sit. If you know a former clerk, or have some sort of mutual aquaintance, their notifying the judge of this fact (and including a personal endorsement of you) will go a long way. Also, if you get any interview in the city or state, call the other chambers and tell them that you are most serious about them, and that you are scheduling interviews in the area and would like to meet with the judge while you're there. But I can't stress enough that you need to figure out some way to get this information to the judge.

2. Once you get interviews, you need to schedule them in your order of preference while keeping in mind that by over-committing to the interviews for which you are "on the bubble," you can get really hosed. I knew lots of kids who wanted a certain circuit, and got one interview there and 5 or 6 elsewhere. They went to the circuit they wanted the most first, and scheduled the rest of their interviews on the second and third days of interviews. They didn't get their first choice, and by the time they got to their other interviews, they were competing for 1 or 2 spots, not 4.

I hope you applied to enough judges that you will get multiple interviews. If you didn't, I would consider trying to put together some last minute ones, or at least be ready to send out more if you don't get any interviews on the first day. There was an Articles Editor on the Law Review the year before me who got 1 interview because he sent out too few applications, so he scrambled the couple days thereafter, and then ended up with a great district court clerkship in a great district.

3. Don't be picky at first. Don't pass up interviews because you think you can do better. Schedule interviews with the chambers that call, and if your top choice judge calls, then call the chambers back and change your interview time. BUT, but, but, don't answer your phone on the day of. In fact, since many judges go early, don't answer a call from an unknown number all week. Let every call go to voicemail, then you can get it and think about it clearly, decide what you're going to tell them, and then call them back.

4. All of the above presupposes information. Information is key in this race, and you've got to figure out if and/or when your top choice judges have made calls so you can write them off. You've got to know if one of your top choice judges is going to call before you schedule your 10th choice judge first on the first day of interviews. If you were to know someone on the L. Rev., that person may be able to help you with information that they will surely track and not make available to the rest of the school (such punks). Last year there were random blogs set up to follow judges as well. I imagine it changes every year, but you've got to figure out how you're going to get information.

Lastly, don't get discouraged. I know many, many people who after the first and second days thought it was all over and they were out of luck. Then Bushie nominates a judge to the 9th Circuit and they get hooked up there with a better clerkship than they would have gotten in the first place (true story). If nothing comes the first day, talk to your professors and get their advice, see if they are willing to call any judge to try and get you pulled from the stack. But more importantly, keep up on the nominations and new judgeships and don't give up hope.

That's all that comes to mind. Ask questions, and I (along with hopefully others) will do my best. Good luck everyone!


  • Ditto to everything Blaine said. Also, just wanted to add that it's not too late to send in your applications. Here's why: Our chambers (Holwell, SDNY) got about 600 applications. Our secretary opened all 600 up and separated them into piles by school, since our judge pretty much prefers NYU, Columbia, and Yale. Then she gives them to us clerks, and we decide which ones to show the judge. But, if you sent in your application today, or next week, you'd be on the top of the stack, and the secretary would just hand us your application directly. Now you're on the top of the stack, and better yet, maybe a clerk will look at it for more than two seconds since you're the only one in her hands. Good deal, eh? I suspect a lot of other chambers work the same way.

    It's also a good idea to apply widely . . . 80 judges is standard, especially if you're applying heavily in NYC, D.C., and 9th Circuit. Harvard's clerkship office recommends 120 to 200, although Ilene thinks that's too many.

    Also, if you don't get something this round, consider applying next year and taking a year off of work. My judge likes to hire one alum and one 3L . . .

    By Blogger Heather T, at 5:11 AM  

  • Here's a great site for information on which judges are calling:

    By Blogger blaine, at 8:39 PM  

  • Way to be thorough!

    By Blogger Nancy, at 5:18 PM  

  • Okay actually, I now have a real question instead of just a cheery-but-inane comment.

    What if I wanted to apply for a clerkship in a year or so, does the work experience help since I didn't think I wanted to clerk during school and therefore did not expend the time and energy sucking up to the professors at Columbia the way I should have?

    By Blogger Nancy, at 5:22 PM  

  • I think the current trend is to apply for a clerkship after a year or two of work. A lot of judges seem to be reserving at least one spot for people who have been out of law school for at least a year. So I don't think you're at a disadvantage. In fact, you're probably at an advantage because you don't need to follow all of the deadlines as a graduate.

    By Blogger Phil, at 4:22 PM  

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