It's actually not grades. You're right, in the sense, that people with great grades apply. They don't get interviewed, however, if they don't have the right sort of experience. The bulk of these folks: (1) clerk on the appellate level; (2) spend the bulk of their time attempting to publish law review articles/research for professors when they should be in clinic or externing at a US Attorney's Office or D. Court; (3) work at firms that are known for not having strong trial departments; (4) have no basic litigation experience (i.e. depositions and/or principal brief writing duties); and (5) attempt to portray appellate work as applicable when it's not. Even if you are the law review editor at Stanford, you're not getting interviewed if you make these mistakes. During the last cull of resumes, we chose to not interview former Supreme Court clerks for this reason. During the last round, we found ~25 people with the skills/credentials we needed. It's actually not a big pool since we look for skills that are not exactly valued in law school. We don't need legal academics. We need sharp litigators who can handle running things on their own.
So how would you rank the importance of all the criteria to be competitive? And also, what kind of clinic is the best? I know very few schools have criminal law clinics, so how could you work around that?