Judicial Clerkships

What are they & Why would you want to do one (or two, or three)
Tags: Clerking, Law School
Apr 2, 2023


There are myriad opportunities available to law students once they graduate. But with how hard it is to get into law school, and then how hard 1L is, and then how hard the internship search is, and the pile on the job search, it is often easy to be overwhelmed by ‘choice’ and ‘opportunity.’ 

The point of this article is to hopefully shine a light on one such opportunity, Clerkships. 

Clerkships are one of the most coveted and prestigious experiences a law student can pursue. A clerkship offers invaluable experience in the legal field and can significantly impact a young lawyer’s career trajectory. In this article, we'll delve into the different types of clerkships available, why you should consider clerking, how to become a clerk, the pay involved, and more.

Types of Clerkships

In general there are three types of Clerkships

  1. Federal Clerkships
  2. State Clerkships
  3. International Clerkships

Federal Clerkships

Federal clerkships are among the most prestigious and competitive opportunities for lawyers. These positions involve working directly with a federal judge, typically at the US District Court, US Court of Appeals, or US Supreme Court level. Clerking at the federal level offers unparalleled exposure to the inner workings of the judiciary, as well as the chance to research and draft opinions on significant legal matters.

US District Court Clerkships

A US District Court clerkship involves working with a federal trial judge, where you'll gain firsthand experience in the trial process, manage case files, and draft opinions.

US Court of Appeals Clerkships

These clerkships are with appellate judges and involve researching, writing, and editing opinions on cases that are appealed from the district court level. This position is highly regarded and offers the chance to engage with complex legal issues.

US Supreme Court Clerkships

The most prestigious of all federal clerkships, Supreme Court clerkships are notoriously competitive and involve working directly with a Supreme Court justice. Clerks often participate in the decision-making process, draft opinions, and perform legal research. Lawyers who clerk on the Supreme Court have typically completed at least two other Clerkships before hand.

State Clerkships

State clerkships are similar to their federal counterparts but take place within the state judicial system. State clerkships typically involve working with state trial court judges, appellate court judges, or state supreme court justices. These positions offer valuable experience in the state legal system, allowing you to develop a deep understanding of state-specific laws and procedures.

International Clerkships

International clerkships offer law students the opportunity to work within the judicial systems of other countries or with international organizations like the International Court of Justice or the United Nations. These positions can provide unique insights into comparative law, international legal issues, and global policy matters. International clerkships are often competitive and may require language proficiency or other specialized skills.

Why Clerk?

Clerking offers numerous professional and personal benefits for law students, including:

  1. Networking: As a law clerk, you will have the opportunity to develop close relationships with judges, attorneys, and fellow clerks. These connections can be invaluable when seeking job opportunities or recommendations.
  2. Skill Development: Clerkships provide hands-on experience in legal research, writing, and analysis, honing skills that are essential for any legal career.
  3. Prestige: A clerkship, particularly a federal one, is a prestigious accomplishment that can boost your résumé and set you apart in a competitive job market.
  4. Career Advancement: Many law firms, government agencies, and public interest organizations value the experience and skills acquired during a clerkship, which can lead to increased job prospects and career advancement.

Clerk Pay

Although clerkship salaries can vary depending on the level and location, they are generally competitive with entry-level positions at small law firm. Federal clerkship salaries are set by the Judicial Salary Plan and are based on the years of legal experience. State and international clerkship salaries can vary widely depending on the specific location.

How to become a Clerk

Becoming a law clerk typically involves a competitive application process that requires thorough preparation, strong academic credentials, and a well-rounded set of skills. Here are the general steps to follow in order to secure a clerkship:

  1. Research: Start by researching the various types of clerkships available and identify which one aligns with your interests, goals, and qualifications. Just by reading this article you are setting yourself up for success. It is amazing how many law students (even at great schools) don’t really understand the process and because they don’t understand it, let it pass them by. Consider factors like location, the judge's reputation, and the court's caseload when researching specifics.
  2. Identify the Admin support: Nearly every law school has someone in charge of clerkship support. Typically they fall under the Career Services, and they usually send out emails informing students on how to apply, but it will be easy to miss. I recommend reaching out to them to make sure you are on their radar and to make sure you know when you should start applying if you want to Clerk.  
  3. Academic Performance: Strong academic performance is crucial for securing a clerkship, as judges often prioritize applicants with high grades and class rank. Focus on excelling in your coursework, particularly in courses relevant to your desired clerkship. For example, excelling at a course like Admin can help in applying to a Federal Circuit court.
  4. Legal Writing and Research: Demonstrating excellent legal research and writing skills is essential for a successful clerkship application. Take advantage of opportunities to hone these skills, such as participating in law review, moot court, or writing competitions. Nearly every judge will expect to see a writing sample, so take opportunities in school to get work published when possible. 
  5. Develop Relationships: Cultivate relationships with professors, supervisors, and attorneys who can speak to your capabilities and serve as strong references. Their recommendations will carry significant weight during the application process. Student organizations like Fed Soc, and Law Reviews can also help with Clerkship applications. 
  6. Gain Practical Experience: Seek out internships, externships, and summer associate positions that provide exposure to the practice of law, particularly in areas related to your desired clerkship. This experience will make you a more competitive candidate and demonstrate your commitment to the legal profession.
  7. Prepare Application Materials: Prepare a polished application package that includes a cover letter, résumé, writing sample, law school transcript, and letters of recommendation. Tailor your application materials to highlight your relevant experience, skills, and achievements.
  8. Apply: Most federal clerkships use the Online System for Clerkship Application and Review (OSCAR) for application submission. For state and international clerkships, application processes may vary, so research each specific court or organization's requirements. Pay attention to deadlines and submit your application well in advance.
  9. Prepare for Interviews: If selected for an interview, prepare thoroughly by researching the judge, their opinions, and the court's jurisdiction. Be ready to discuss your legal research, writing, and analysis skills, as well as how your experience and interests align with the clerkship.
  10. Follow-up and Networking: After the interview, send a thank-you note expressing your gratitude for the opportunity and your continued interest in the position. Maintain contact with judges, attorneys, and other clerks you've met during the application process, as these connections may lead to other opportunities if your initial application is unsuccessful.

Can non-US Citizens apply to clerkships?

Yes, and no. 

Non-US citizens can become law clerks, but the opportunities and eligibility requirements may vary depending on the type of clerkship and the specific jurisdiction. These requirements may change over time, so I recommend reaching out to your school’s office of career services or the international student support services at your school for more specific information. 

Clerks typically don’t fall under special restrictive rules for employment. Instead, Federal, State, and other judiciaries have their own citizenship requirements which Clerks are subject to. For example, Federal Clerks fall under the employment rules of the Federal Judiciary which restricts employment based on citizenship. 

Federal Clerkship Citizenship Restrictions: Generally, only US citizens are eligible for Federal clerkships in the United States, but some exceptions do apply. For example, lawful permanent residents seeking citizenship, individuals admitted as refugees or granted asylum, and some others with specific legal status, may be eligible to be federal clerks. 

Another major exception is courts that fall outside the continental US, namely federal courts in Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, or the Northern Mariana Islands. These courts typically accept non-US citizens. 

State Clerkships Citizenship Restrictions: Eligibility requirements for non-citizens seeking state clerkships vary by state. Some states have more lenient policies and allow non-citizens, including those with work visas or green cards, to work as clerks. Be sure to research the specific requirements for the state in which you are interested in clerking.

International Clerkships Citizenship Restrictions: Non-US citizens have more opportunities to secure clerkships in international courts or organizations, such as the International Court of Justice, the United Nations, or the World Trade Organization. Eligibility requirements will vary by organization, but these opportunities offer more flexibility for non-US citizens. Keep in mind that international clerkships may require language proficiency or other specialized skills.

Final Thoughts on Clerking

A clerkship can be a transformative experience for any law student, providing a unique opportunity to develop skills, network with legal professionals, and set the stage for a successful legal career. Whether you're interested in federal, state, or international clerkships, they are a great step after law school to take the next step in your career.

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Windsor MIT '22, Harvard College Advisor

I am the half of LSD that didn't take the LSAT, or go to law school (Sorry about that). But I did go to MIT business school while surrounded by law students and lawyers, so I am somewhat qualified to talk about the intricacies of law school apps and finances.

Windsor (the dog) didn't write this but he WAS a Resident Tutor and career advisor at Harvard College with me, so deserves some credit.


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@WhisperingWillingBoar: Penn won’t be 4 this year
Yea who knows tbh with the new rankings methodology
Also I know several OOS reverse splitters that go to uva fwiw
Bro Keygan Church is peak and y'all ain't ready for that
if you want some HYPE music that's where it's at
Asgretalos and Tenebre Rosso Sangue are bangers
[] WhisperingWillingBoar
@hilltern: Your guess is as good as mine, but I've always been shocked that they weren't t6. I don't see them falling lower than 6 for the foreseeable future. Penn, to me, does better than Columbia and NYU in placements. So I think it stays within the t6 and Columbia and NYU join penn back into the t6. All of them are great schools, obviously, we are nitpicking very minor details when you get to schools ranked that high and that highly regarded.
Penn Columbia and nyu are the same but nyu does pi better Columbia does biglaw better and Penn is cheaper
U need higher grades at Penn for the v10
Not much of a difference until you hit Chicago at which point HYSC are a league of their own
[] WhisperingWillingBoar
@ConservativeFlagBearer: I agree with your sentiment that HYSC are in a league of their own, but using v10 to distinguish Columbia from penn is odd. While we are pre-law/law school applicants and may care about those, no one in the legal industry cares at all about the v5/10/15/20/30/50 distinctions. They all pay the same (most of them at least) and many of the ones that actually pay more are ranked lower because they are smaller. NYU is the best school for public interest, maybe outside of yale.
What does v5/10 etc mean?
I said they’re basically the same, but this is something that differentiates them. V10 is desirable to some due to exit ops. And i think HLS has much better PI ops than NYU.
Vault rankings, basically rankings for BL firms
Anyone willing to give opinion on a 166 3.56 Puerto Rican, currently working as a biglaw paralegal? :)
For GW and Georgetown
@FurtiveBonobo: youre below both 25ths for georgetown and both medians for GW so in either case i think it'll be tough...i think even with URM status georgetown will be a reach but GW could be a lock with strong statements/applying earlier
do you plan on retaking the lsat?
Yeah, in October
do your best and you'll kill it!
Does anyone know much about the University of Minnesota? I have a 165 LSAT score but a 3.09 CAS GPA. I have a valid reason for the GPA and I will obviously explain that. I was planning on applying Early Decision, but I’m not sure if I should wait until after the October LSAT to try for a better score or if it would be better to get it in earlier.
Any thoughts on a 168 3.7? Thinking of applying to Georgetown early decision. Korean American dual citizen who is currently a senior at Georgetown
Retake lsat and break 171 and yeah you got a sho
Unless you take a bunch of classes and get A+’s and somehow break median
I took the lsat and got 168 back to back, so I don't know if that's my ceiling but I'm not sure if I can improve much more :'(
+ applying early decision means I don't get my grades back for this semester as well
That sucks, I was hoping being a gtown undergrad and applying ED might help me a bit
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