What Does the Future Look Like for Rising 2L Judicial Clerkship Applicants?

Fairuz AbdullahAs long-time readers of The Girl’s Guide know, we’re huge proponents of judicial clerkships. But the world has gotten a lot more complex since most of our original clerkship content was published. The hiring plan is a mess, and no one’s quite sure what’s going on.

That’s why we’re so thrilled to have Fairuz Abdullah, Associate Director for Public Interest and Clerkship Programs at UC-Hastings School of Law, here to talk about 2L clerkship hiring!

Without further ado, here’s Fairuz.

Since the Federal Law Clerk Hiring Plan crashed and burned earlier this year, there is uncertainty about what judges will do starting today when rising 2Ls can begin submitting applications to judges through the Online System of Application and Review, better known as OSCAR.

Word on the street is that judges will most likely be sipping Mai Tais on a beach during the August vacation season rather than reviewing clerkship applications from 2Ls.

However, judges have posted quite a few openings with 2016 start dates which means that regardless of whether they are expecting it or not, they will receive applications from 2Ls.

The collapse of the hiring plan means that 2Ls don’t have to apply through OSCAR and can opt to apply directly to judges by mailing paper applications. Those applicants that have a fighting chance for a coveted term clerk positon are those with strong credentials, ties to judges and excellent recommendations.

Should you give up if you don’t have your application together today? No. Most judges want to see three to four semesters of grades, but may be willing to wait for an applicant to published a law review note or become a moot court champion by interview time.

How Do You Get Ahead of the Game?
  • Develop relationships with your faculty. I can’t stress this enough. A faculty member who gets to know you and is invested in your success will write you the strongest letter of recommendation, which is a crucial component of your application. Most applications require two to three letters of recommendation. At least two should come from your professors. Start going to faculty office hours, and take your resume with you when you meet with your professors. Give them a sense of who you are and what makes you unique. A personalized letter that shows what it’s like to work with you on a regular basis, what you would bring to the clerkship, and some unique aspects of your personality or background will make your letter stand out. Help them help you by letting them get to know you before asking for letters of rec!
  • An externship or two. Judges like recommendations from other judges. If you have interned/externed for a judge it shows that you understand what is required of you as a law clerk; you have objective writing skills and can sit at a desk for long hours and crank out memos. Two externships show some dedication and commitment to the clerkship process. Didn’t extern during your 1L summer? Don’t despair. There is something to be said for externing later in your law school career. You tend to get more complex projects and responsibility the further along you are in law school.
  • Build up your credentials. It is no secret that judicial clerkships are hard to get. Aside from your grades, getting on journal, participating on moot court or having your name associated with a publication will improve your chances of securing one. Approach your professors to see if they have research assistant positions open where you get a chance to help with a publication or develop your writing skills. Judges want to see you have experience with editing and that you’re developing your writing.
  • Develop that writing sample. The strongest writing samples are those that show legal analysis. Judges are not only looking at the quality but also assessing your style of writing. You should avoid submitting your 1L memo. Since the 1L memo is your first stab at legal writing it does not reflect the skills you have developed since. You may consider asking your summer employer if you can use something you drafted over the summer. You will have to get your employer’s permission, redact identifying information, and place a cover sheet explaining your submission in a short paragraph. You can also submit a portion of your journal writing competition piece. If you don’t have anything other than your 1L memo, consider re-writing it to make it stronger. Make sure you submit your own work and not a co-authored piece.
  • Connect with alumni law clerks. Your school closely tracks students who have secured clerkships and probably has a list that you can access. Take time to reach out to alums who have clerked and get the inside scoop from them on what the judge wants in an applicant. Find out if working for that judge would be a good fit for you. Chances are the alum still is in contact with the judge. Ask them to put in a good word for you.
  • Make an appointment with your career office counselor. Most career offices have a counselor who is familiar with the judicial clerkship process and can help you with strategy on who to apply to, which professor to ask for letters of recommendations and to work with you to strengthen your application materials. They are also up on all the current trends and news on what is happening in the clerkship world.

What should you do if you don’t immediately secure a clerkship? Stay tuned for the next post from Fairuz next week! In the meantime, check out some of our older content on judicial clerkships (with the caveat that the hiring plan details are now totally irrelevant).

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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.

Got a clerkship question? Leave it in the comments!


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