I Didn’t Get a Clerkship! Now What?

Fairuz AbdullahToday, we’re thrilled to welcome back Fairuz Abdullah, Associate Director for Public Interest and Clerkship Programs at UC-Hastings School of Law. In Fairuz’s first post, she talked about what the future holds for 2L applicants. Now she’s back to address a question on many minds — what should you do if you didn’t immediately get a clerkship offer when the window opened for 2L applicants?

Without further ado, here’s Fairuz.

What happens if you don’t secure a clerkship shortly after July 1?


Don’t throw in the towel. Most judges want to see at least three semesters of grades.

Once you have your application together continue applying.

Don’t just rely on OSCAR; one third of judges do not use OSCAR. Identify those judges and send them paper applications. Develop relationships with alumni and your recommenders to help identify judges who would be a good fit for you.

Also, at the end of every presidential term new judges get nominated. Make sure you keep an eye on those who are getting confirmed and send your application directly to them (See judicialnominations.org).

Hang in there: for some of you slow and steady will win the race.

Rise of the alumni

A large percentage of law graduates who are two or more years out of law school are getting hired for term clerkships. What does that mean? If at first you don’t succeed, keep applying. In 2008 when the economy tanked there were a large number of experienced lawyers applying for term clerkships. Judges started snapping them up because they did not need to be trained and were available immediately. This hasn’t changed.

According to uscourts.gov, in 2013 over 60% of applicants on OSCAR were law school graduates.

Big firms are starting to get used to the idea that new hires will not join the firm after a clerkship, but will be leaving after a few years to pursue one. Recruiters aren’t happy about that, as they have to find others to pick up the slack while the associate is away and there is no guarantee the associate will come back to the firm.

However, large firms appreciate the prestige that comes with a clerkship and are open to letting you go for a short time to raise the profile of the firm. However, smaller firms, government agencies and non-profits aren’t too keen on a seeing a new attorney leaving for a clerkship. If you are working in one of those settings, it is good to get a sense of where they stand before you begin applying.

Will the hiring plan be resurrected?

There have been a lot of changes in the past year. The OSCAR Working Group (federal judges who made decisions about the hiring plan) moved the date that law students could apply for clerkships from August 19, 2013 to June 28, 2013 then to November 4, 2013 and finally to August 1, 2014. Today, students can begin applying as early as July 1, following their 1L year. However, there is a pilot programming returning for the Federal Clerkship Hiring Plan, so, if you’re looking at a Federal Clerkship, the guidelines may change, and you should keep an eye on it.

It was a rough clerkship year for the class of 2014 because in the course of one year the Working Group granted students two class years below them the ability to apply.

It is important to note that the hiring plan never applied to law school graduates who could apply anytime when the plan was in effect.

It may be wise to give some historical context on what hiring looked like in the past. In the 1970s students applied in the fall of their 3L year. In 1992 that changed to the fall of their 2L year. Moving back the application date a year was an unwelcome change because students were perceived to have an unproven academic record, so in 1993 the date was changed to the spring of the 3L year.

However, this application date was non-binding on judges and they continued to accept applications from 2Ls and the timeline eventually fell apart. In 1998 the hiring timeline moved back to the summer before 2L year, right where we are today. In 2002 an ad hoc committee of federal judges created the hiring plan which prevented students from applying until the day after Labor Day of their 3L year. The Federal Hiring Plan was never binding on judges but stayed in effect for ten years until it started to fall apart in 2012.

So if history repeats itself, will we see a hiring plan be re-instituted in the future?

Possibly. We will have to see how this clerkship cycle turns out. Will judges regret hiring students with only two semesters of grades and no proven record? Will students panic about accepting a clerkships two years down the road and withdraw because of a change of heart or life circumstances? It is hard to predict but time will tell.

In the meantime, if you are not applying today and you are interested in pursuing a clerkship, it is the right time to meet with faculty and your Career Office to get your application in motion. Good luck!

— – —

Thanks, Fariuz! If you missed part one, check out What Does the Future Look Like for Rising 2L Judicial Clerkship Applicants?. And take a look at some of our older content on judicial clerkships (with the caveat that the hiring plan details are now totally irrelevant).

Fairuz Abdullah practiced law for a number of years before deciding to focus on coaching and counseling law students and lawyers. She joined the UC Hastings Office of Career and Professional Development in 2010. Fairuz counsels and advises students and alums committed to public interest and judicial clerkships. She develops programming and provides tools for applicants to carve out successful career paths for themselves.

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  1. Great article! I have a few questions to ask:

    1) I made the worst decision to attend my law school because they promised you would graduate in 2 and half years and they provided a good scholarship in order to make you choose their school over other better schools. Turns out it was all a scam, and they are about to get shut down by the U.S. department of education for accepting many students in order to pocket their money from loans. They are also involved in a class action law suit because they created a downward grading curve which caused almost 95% of students to lose their scholarships in the first semester which made it impossible for anyone to keep their scholarships, they also did so to prevent students from transferring to other schools, and to make students retake courses. I remember trying as hard as I possibly could showing other professors from other law schools my exam and them telling me it should not be a C, the school has never given any student any A’s and now my gpa is below a 3.0 because of the downward grading curve, I also have been taking courses from fall to summer for 2 years straight. They also lied about the 2 and half year program and added more courses for the graduation requirements so they could make more money. I drove myself to exhaustion and it is the most depressing thing ever I do not know what to do. I took courses with Vanderbilt law school which is top 20 when I studied abroad and got all A’s and B’s. I feel cheated because looking at my transcript it looks like I never tried. I am now about to graduate and I want to get a clerkship and I don’t know if It will even be possible due to my grades from that school and only having two internships of legal experience. Do you have any advice for obtaining one for someone in my situation?

    2) Also, what would be the best job to have when you applying to clerkships?

    3) What are the benefits of having a state judicial clerkship? And if you obtain one will that experience to be helpful to obtain a federal judicial clerkship?

    • Elyssa –

      Thanks for the questions, and sorry your situation hasn’t turned out as expected. State court clerkships can be a great way to get hands-on experience in an area where you plan to practice, and can be less competitive, so I’d probably start looking there. If there’s an area of law you’re specifically interested in, see if that type of court has clerkships (probate, family law, housing, etc.).

      With any clerkship, think about whether you have any connections that might help with certain judges – professors, people at your summer jobs, etc. Having someone put in a good word for you can go a long way, because it ends up being a very personal and close working relationship.

      As for the type of job, probably best to do something related to the type of clerkship you’re interested in, so you can show that you’d be useful. As for whether a state court clerkship could help you get a federal one, it’s hard to say. If your grades are really poor, it’s unlikely to make much difference. But, if the judge you work for first knows someone at the federal level and can vouch for you, it could happen!

      Best of luck.

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