Applying for Clerkships
1. Who are my recommenders?
You need two to three recommenders to apply for a clerkship (some judges only want two, in reality, you need three for the judges who want the third). Some will want a recommendation from your summer employment to gague your work product (e.g., Matz, C.D.Cal.), but the default is that these are faculty recommenders.
So what makes a good recommender? The ideal recommender will write you a glowing letter. More importantly, the ideal recommender will go to bat for you and call judges they know (or have the courage to cold call some judges to put in a good word). The hardest part of the clerkship process is getting your resume from the pile of 800 applicants into the pile of 10-15 people being interviewed. Think about it: the first cut has an almost 1% selectivity rate, the second round's rate is about 25-50%. Hopefully, your faculty recommenders know some judges (class mates, friends, spoke on a panel together, clerked together, anything).
Putting aside this important consideration, you want faculty recommenders that know you and like you (so that they're willing to put their credibility on the line, see above). It's getting a little late in the game for the 2Ls, but things you can do: work as a research assistant, go to office hours and ask questions, or find some other way to work closely with faculty. Doing well in a professor's class is good, but every faculty member hands out a handful of HHs and a bunch of Hs every year. You want to stand out more than that.
Deadline for answering this question: you need to discuss recommendations by the end of the semester. That is, you should have picked, approached, and agreed with 3 faculty members by May.
2. What classes should I be taking?
A federal judge needs clerks who can help manage their docket. Ideally, your course work should at least partially reflect the federal docket. Musts: Evidence, Civil Procedure II, Federal Courts (3L year). These are courses judges asked me about.
Other courts will have additional specialized requirements. Obviously, bankruptcy is helpful to work as a clerk in a bankruptcy court. Some districts will require (or practically require) familiarity with complex federal laws. For example, you'll need at least Intro to IP, and likely Patent Law, to clerk in Delaware (federal court; Corporations, etc. for state court). IP is also valuable for all the major cities (C.D.Cal., S.D.N.Y., N.D.Cal., etc.). Securities dominates the docket in a number of big cities too, especially S.D.N.Y. I don't know, but I imagine Immigration is a must for clerking in S.D.Cal. If you want to clerk for the D.C. Circuit, or D.D.C., you should take Administrative Law.
These are off the top of my head, but there are more. Of course, these tie into the next question -
Deadline for answering this decision: ongoing.
3. Where should I apply for clerkships?
This is a life choice. But it helps to know upfront where you want to clerk in case you want to tailor your work appropriately. It also affects your odds. Clerkships in Hawaii, LA, SF, NY, etc. are much more popular than clerkships in Fargo, Reno, Wheeling, and Fairbanks, and the chances of successfully getting a clerkship obviously increase as demand goes down.
Deadline for answering this question: applications are due in August, but you should be thinking about this throughout.
Ok, "The Berlin Airlift" is on. I will post again at some later point on the next question,
4. What type of clerkship should I do?
2Ls (and 1Ls), best of luck, and please let me know if this is helpful. If you have questions on the process, the 3Ls at N&B are happy to help.
Labels: Kevin Smith