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Judicial Clerkships

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

Introduction

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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for gulc, it seems that most of the people admitted off the wl have either a high gpa or high lsat
i haven't seem them admit people w/ "normal" stats
9:22
Did you guys know what area of law you wanted to practice in when you are applying? I am looking to start Law school in 2025 but I am having trouble deciding what area to focus on.
manifestmoreadmissions
9:43
adding to what @menherachan said it looks like most of the people actually reporting it are reverse splitters specifically but who knows if thats representative of the actual body of people let off the waitlist yesterday
[] ararara
9:47
@Silver: good morning! Hope you watched the sun come up! Realistically the most important three things in admissions are our grades/test score/softs so I wouldn’t overthink the rest too much! I personally have a real calling to pursue law but don’t think the adcomms really need a tearjerking story to compel them to admit us! They want to see that we can handle law school imo.
GhoulsandMagnets
12:34
@Silver: You don't have to completely decide what area of law you'd like to practice prior to attending. You can learn what areas you enjoy while attending. It would be a good idea to research certain areas and talk to attorneys that practice to get a rough idea on what it's like.
When law school folks and legal professionals, etc. refer to "public interest" jobs or sometimes to "public interest or service" jobs, I take it the job of being a judge is not included in this category, right? And this even though some government jobs would be included, for instance being a prosecutor or a public defender.
I find that a bit odd, so I feel like I may be misunderstanding.
Can someone help me figure out what soft tier I'd fall under? I am director level in my job, and come from disadvantaged status. does that make me tier 3 or 2?
KnowledgeableRitzyWasp
13:46
disadvantaged might be tier 3 if you’re lucky. but that will be really solid in the work experience category. work experience is one of the strongest factors for law school acceptance
Zenaida-Macroura
14:24
Are weekend admissions decision common or is that just when people choose to update their statuses loool?
Zenaida-Macroura
15:36
@BankruptcyAndRestructuringLawIsCool: SIGH..
manifestmoreadmissions
21:08
is anyone thinking of heavily utilizing an ipad during school? people keep bringing it up when i think about supplies and stuff but im curious about what y'all think too
KnowledgeableRitzyWasp
21:19
i didnt like ipads in undergrad, but a lot of the really competent people would swear by them
manifestmoreadmissions
21:19
i wish i were competent so bad
manifestmoreadmissions
21:20
but that makes sense ty
KnowledgeableRitzyWasp
21:23
lmao me2
KnowledgeableRitzyWasp
21:24
let me know if you figure out how to be competent i would like tips
Hi! I’m a rising 3L at GULC who transferred and is in big law now. Does anyone have any questions lol
22:53
can you put a good word in for me with adcommns?
@georgiapeach88: Where did you transfer from? And why did you transfer?
Oh, I see from your profile: Maryland. Still, why did you transfer?
[] ararara
23:38
Caught the most epic sunset haha I was so high up my ears still haven’t popped
[] ararara
23:38
@georgiapeach88: I actually remember you from some of the first times I was on this site
Just out of curiosity: Do we think it's fair to say that the percentage of users of those site who continue to use it after their 1L starts, for those users who actually went or go to law school, is <1%?
manifestmoreadmissions
11:44
@georgiapeach88: not sure if you're still there but im also curious bout why you transferred, especially since your application says you were eventually admitted to GULC off the waitlist?
BelligerentMagicalWarthog
13:35
do we think GULC is done
KnowledgeableRitzyWasp
17:45
@BelligerentMagicalWarthog: last year they were accepting people off the waitlist from mid june up to a few days before classes start. so just off that and vibes I don't think they're done
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