Judicial Clerkships: What Actually Happens at a Clerkship Interview?

Exploding BombAfter the chaos of setting up your interview schedule, going to the actual interviews should be rather relaxing!

Or not. Judges can be intimidating people.

Time to Put on Your Interview Suit

Interviewing for a clerkship is basically like interviewing for any other job.

You will:

  • wear a suit
  • arrive on time, but not too early
  • be nice to everyone you meet
  • bring copies of your résumé, transcript, and writing sample
  • generally aim to make a good impression
The Single Most Important Piece of Advice I Have

Prior to the interview, try to track down the judge’s former clerks.

The benefit of this is two-fold:

  • you learn more about the clerkship
  • you may be able to extract information about the judge’s interviewing style

I cannot emphasize enough the value of talking to a former clerk. Do not underestimate the benefit of getting an insider’s perspective!

How to Find Former Clerks

If your school keeps records of former clerks, start here to get the names of former clerks. Once you have the name, you can use online databases, such as Martindale-Hubbell, to get a current email address or phone number, or your school alumni office might be able to provide you with this information.

If not, try the Judicial Yellow Book, which should be in your school library, or do a web search by the judge’s name. Many law firms include clerkship information in their attorney bios, so you can often get lucky and find a former clerk, complete with full contact information.

What Happens in the Interview?

When you arrive for your interview, you will either start by talking with the current clerks, or by talking to the judge.

In some cases, the current clerks will have just started and in some cases they’ll be just finishing their year. The length of their tenure might impact the reliability of the information you get from them, but the conversation will be similar regardless of how long they’ve been there. In most cases, you will interview with all of the clerks at once, and the conversation will be fairly informal.

Although this is an opportunity to get their feedback about the job, it is not advisable to drop all pretense of professionalism.

Your goal is to be:

  • interested, without being overeager
  • friendly, without being smarmy
  • intelligent, without being a smarty pants

And don’t forget to make eye contact – people notice if you don’t.

Topics Judges Like to Ask About in Clerkship Interviews

In most cases, your interview with the judge will be more “get to know you” than substantive, although there are exceptions.

It’s not a bad idea to have some familiarity with opinions issued by the judge, but you don’t need to go overboard here. Just do a quick web search to see if any important cases have made the newspapers, and search on Lexis or Westlaw by judge name to pull a few representative opinions.

You should be prepared to talk in detail about anything on your résumé, of course, and should be well versed on the details of your writing sample.

Common topics of discussion include:

  • which areas of law you find most interesting
  • how you like law school (“I hate it” is not a good answer)
  • which classes you’ve found most appealing

Some judges are interested in exploring your background, so you might prepare for questions on formative life experiences or your personal goals for the future and how they relate to the choices you’ve made in the past.

Never Let Them See You Sweat

It’s difficult to predict what you’ll be asked (unless you’ve gotten the inside scoop from a former clerk), so just try to relax and answer the questions thoughtfully. If the interview seems particularly tough, the judge might be testing how you respond to pressure, so keep your cool and do the best you can.

Be Prepared With Questions

Both the clerks and the judge will probably ask if you have questions, so you’ll want to have some prepared. Even very basic questions, such as “How is work assigned?” can lead to an interesting discussion about the day-to-day life of the chambers.

After you’ve asked a question or two, feel free to wrap up the interview by asking about the judge’s schedule for decision making, if you haven’t already discussed it.

What If I Get an Exploding Offer?

The possibility exists that the judge will make you an exploding offer. If this happens, and you’re not ready to say “yes” on the spot, you’re in a tough spot.

One option is to play the personal card:

I’m certainly flattered, but I promised my husband/fiancé/child/significant other that I’d discuss any offer with him/her before I accepted it. May I get back to you by this afternoon/tomorrow/next week?

Another option is to simply say you don’t want to make such an important decision on the spot and would appreciate some time to think it over.

The judge may say no, that you either have to accept the offer or lose it. If that happens, think very carefully about saying “yes.” Is this really someone you want to work for?

If the judge does agree to give you time, have whatever discussions you need to, with your significant other or with other more favored judges, but be sure you provide an answer within the agreed upon time.

Other candidates are waiting for your response, so it’s polite to decide as quickly as possible.

Withdraw as Soon as You’ve Accepted an Offer

Of course, once you’ve accepted an offer, call any judges you still have interviews scheduled with as soon as possible, to let them know you need to cancel – no point in wasting everyone’s time.

Read On:

Learn more about judicial clerkship interviews:

Return to Judicial Clerkships 101.

Have questions on judicial clerkship interviewing? Leave them in the comments!

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