If you just finished your 2L year, this summer is the time to start getting your clerkship applications together. While it’s true that it is difficult to land a federal clerkship, your actions now can give you a leg up come September.
Target your applications
In law school, I heard rumors of folks who applied to every federal judge in the country. This seemed silly (and unlikely to produce results). Better to spend the summer researching judges and figuring out where and for whom you would like to work. You can narrow the pool by searching for judges who share your undergraduate college, your interests, or work history (did you both serve in the Peace Corps?). If you are near a federal courthouse this summer, stop by to watch the judges in action (you can always find their daily calendars on the courthouse website).
All of these actions will give you something to say in a cover letter. And, being able to say that you are applying based on a specific opinion or because of a trial you watched over the summer is much more interesting than a mail merge to every judge in the country. All judges will shortly be overrun with applications and having a cover letter that makes it clear you want to work for THEM is the first step to securing an interview.
Network like Crazy
If you’re working at a law firm this summer, you will have the chance to meet lots of former clerks. Take advantage of the opportunity to ask for their advice. If you develop a real relationship, there is a chance they might telephone their judge for you. Law firms also get phone calls from judges looking for clerks—if you’ve made it clear that you’re interested in clerking, you might benefit from such a phone call.
And don’t forget your professors. Most of them clerked and they will have insight into the process (as well as contacts with, at least, their own judges). Leave no stone unturned if it could result in a phone call to a judge’s chambers.
Prepare for your Interview
Unlike law firm interviews (where I always thought a good tour of the firm website provided enough background), interviews with a judge require more preparation. My law school clerkship advisor recommended reading five of the judge’s opinions (at a level where you would be prepared to dig in and discuss the case.) I used Google (the most creative of research methods) to make sure I knew about a judge’s newsworthy cases.
Be prepared to discuss: judicial philosophies, recent Supreme Court decisions, and why you are interested in clerking for this particular judge. If it’s a district court judge, be prepared to discuss why you’re interested in a district court clerkship (same thing with an appellate clerkship). If it’s a two year clerkship, get ready to discuss your commitment and your preference for a two-year gig.
Finally, be prepared to respond to a job offer on the spot. On the advice of our law school’s clerkship advisor, I did not apply to any clerkship that I wouldn’t have been delighted to accept immediately (and I got my husband on board with this plan in advance). This is another problem with the “apply to every clerkship” plan. You might find yourself having to decide whether you want to live in Branson, Missouri, in an interview, instead of in a well-thought out planning session with your significant other this summer.
(image: Angry Male Judge in a Courtroom from Shutterstock)