Is applying for federal clerkships even worth it anymore?

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Is applying for federal clerkships even worth it anymore?

Postby Anonymous User » Tue May 17, 2011 6:02 pm

Is it even worth it to apply for a federal district court clerkship while you’re still in law school anymore? Not in the sense that I wouldn’t want to do it (since I definitely would), but I heard that the competition has gotten completely unreal. I.e. alums who got laid off from Biglaw firms can apply off of the Oscar track, and federal district court judges will routinely pick them over us because they have actual work experience. I'm not saying that this is necessarily a bad thing since if I were a judge I’d probably want someone with actual experience too. I’ve also heard about 3Ls at CCN who just barely missed the top ~10% and who are on the flagship law review completely striking out.

Anyone think that I have a legitimate shot of landing a federal district court clerkship if I focus on districts other than in NY, DC, and Cali? I’m a rising 3L at CCN. Roughly top ~35% 2L year (actually, I might be slightly higher up since I’m just basing ~35% on having met the threshold for an honors designation). Top 5% 1L year at a top 50 school that I transferred from. On a secondary journal and did moot court. Ivy League undergrad, spent two years before law school working as a legal assistant at a V10 firm, and will be working for a state supreme court justice this summer.

I realize that someone is inevitably going to reply with something along the lines of “in this economy, you do everything that it takes to get a job”! I definitely agree that you do whatever it takes. Basically, I figure that the federal clerkship application process will take up a ton of time/effort though, and if I have less than a 10% chance at landing a federal clerkship, it would probably make more sense to focus my attention on other options that are more likely to lead to a job for after graduation.

So… the Cliff’s notes version: does anyone think that I have at least a 10% chance at landing a federal district court clerkship? Thanks!

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XxSpyKEx
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Re: Is applying for federal clerkships even worth it anymore?

Postby XxSpyKEx » Tue May 17, 2011 6:30 pm

Anonymous User wrote:Is it even worth it to apply for a federal district court clerkship while you’re still in law school anymore? Not in the sense that I wouldn’t want to do it (since I definitely would), but I heard that the competition has gotten completely unreal. I.e. alums who got laid off from Biglaw firms can apply off of the Oscar track, and federal district court judges will routinely pick them over us because they have actual work experience. I'm not saying that this is necessarily a bad thing since if I were a judge I’d probably want someone with actual experience too. I’ve also heard about 3Ls at CCN who just barely missed the top ~10% and who are on the flagship law review completely striking out.

Anyone think that I have a legitimate shot of landing a federal district court clerkship if I focus on districts other than in NY, DC, and Cali? I’m a rising 3L at CCN. Roughly top ~35% 2L year (actually, I might be slightly higher up since I’m just basing ~35% on having met the threshold for an honors designation). Top 5% 1L year at a top 50 school that I transferred from. On a secondary journal and did moot court. Ivy League undergrad, spent two years before law school working as a legal assistant at a V10 firm, and will be working for a state supreme court justice this summer.

I realize that someone is inevitably going to reply with something along the lines of “in this economy, you do everything that it takes to get a job”! I definitely agree that you do whatever it takes. Basically, I figure that the federal clerkship application process will take up a ton of time/effort though, and if I have less than a 10% chance at landing a federal clerkship, it would probably make more sense to focus my attention on other options that are more likely to lead to a job for after graduation.

So… the Cliff’s notes version: does anyone think that I have at least a 10% chance at landing a federal district court clerkship? Thanks!


For you, no, it’s not worth your time applying, and you don’t have at least a 10% change of landing a federal district court clerkship.

Generally speaking, though, for other students with better credentials it would be worth applying. While there are judges that only hire grads with work experience, there are also judges that will only hire fresh alums. The thought is they want to train the fresh grad to do things their way, and the fresh alum isn’t caught up in bad habits yet. Also, applying to on-plan judges through OSCAR is incredibly easy (if you really want, you could probably spam all 700 judges that have an application open in a day or two – OSCAR even does mail merge for you), But it’s still not worth it for the OP to waste his time IMO.

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Re: Is applying for federal clerkships even worth it anymore?

Postby Anonymous User » Tue May 17, 2011 6:38 pm

OP here.

Honestly, thanks man. That was the kind of direct answer that I was looking for. Apparently these positions used to be handed out like candy to 3Ls at my school, but from what I understand, things have completely changed. Such is life.

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Re: Is applying for federal clerkships even worth it anymore?

Postby Anonymous User » Wed May 18, 2011 10:56 am

Not OP here. Modifying OP's question.

When you're graduating from a T30 school, is there any cutoff in the class rankings above which it is reasonable to apply to a federal district judge that isn't in a flyover district? Or is it a foregone conclusion that all T20+ grads' applications are DOA in this economy?

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Re: Is applying for federal clerkships even worth it anymore?

Postby Anonymous User » Wed May 18, 2011 11:47 am

OP Again.

Thanks G.T. To be honest, the advice that I've gotten from students at my school has been more along the lines of what XxSpyKEx said (only people in the top 10% and on LR are realistically landing these positions right now, at least with respect to people applying from CCN). However, if the time commitment for applying isn't that bad, then maybe it is worth it. I went to a clerkship lunch earlier this semester that basically made it sound like the application process takes up most of your summer. However, I guess that the people putting on the lunch could have been exaggerating in order to weed people out/cut down on the number of people applying.

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Re: Is applying for federal clerkships even worth it anymore?

Postby Anonymous User » Wed May 18, 2011 12:01 pm

Anonymous User wrote:OP Again.

Thanks G.T. To be honest, the advice that I've gotten from students at my school has been more along the lines of what XxSpyKEx said (only people in the top 10% and on LR are realistically landing these positions right now, at least with respect to people applying from CCN). However, if the time commitment for applying isn't that bad, then maybe it is worth it. I went to a clerkship lunch earlier this semester that basically made it sound like the application process takes up most of your summer. However, I guess that the people putting on the lunch could have been exaggerating in order to weed people out/cut down on the number of people applying.


I agree that you should apply. Your grades are probably on par to have a solid shot at clerkships outside of major cities. The process is annoying, but it's really not that time consuming. All you really need to do is work hard on your writing sample and spend some time personalizing the cover letters a little.

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Re: Is applying for federal clerkships even worth it anymore?

Postby underachiever » Wed May 18, 2011 12:07 pm

G. T. L. Rev. wrote:I disagree that applying would not be worth it. You have to commit to doing a good job with applications (i.e., half-assing it will get you nowhere), but the time commitment isn't actually that bad. If you apply very broadly, you do have a chance of landing a few interviews -- not a huge chance, but maybe higher than 10%.

Also, I think it is an unfair exaggeration to say that district court clerkships were handed out like candy a few years ago at T6 schools. Sure, they were considerably easier to get, but it wasn't like you could just waltz into one from median.


There were a lot easier, at least in fly over states. I have meet a significant number of T6 law school grads who clerked with median grades 6-7 yrs ago in these "less desirable" districts. Recently (last 2-3yrs) I have meet none who weren't law review somewhere (T-14 or local law school).

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Re: Is applying for federal clerkships even worth it anymore?

Postby XxSpyKEx » Wed May 18, 2011 5:21 pm

Anonymous User wrote:Your grades are probably on par to have a solid shot at clerkships outside of major cities.


Top 35% at a t6 and secondary journal gives him a SOLID SHOT at federal clerkships outside of major cities ITE?!? GTFO. There is no way you went through the clerkship application process in the past couple years..

Anonymous User wrote: However, if the time commitment for applying isn't that bad, then maybe it is worth it. I went to a clerkship lunch earlier this semester that basically made it sound like the application process takes up most of your summer.


The time commitment isn't that bad, where it takes up most of your summer, especially if you are only applying through OSCAR. Nonetheless IMHO, unless you have professors willing to make calls for you and/or other connections with judges, your time would be better spent applying to other jobs. But that's just my 2 cents

underachiever wrote:
G. T. L. Rev. wrote:I disagree that applying would not be worth it. You have to commit to doing a good job with applications (i.e., half-assing it will get you nowhere), but the time commitment isn't actually that bad. If you apply very broadly, you do have a chance of landing a few interviews -- not a huge chance, but maybe higher than 10%.

Also, I think it is an unfair exaggeration to say that district court clerkships were handed out like candy a few years ago at T6 schools. Sure, they were considerably easier to get, but it wasn't like you could just waltz into one from median.


There were a lot easier, at least in fly over states. I have meet a significant number of T6 law school grads who clerked with median grades 6-7 yrs ago in these "less desirable" districts. Recently (last 2-3yrs) I have meet none who weren't law review somewhere (T-14 or local law school).


+1. It wasn't unheard of for students around the median at my school (t14) to get a fed district court clerkship in less desirable locations (e.g. Montana). It's pretty unheard of now though.

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Re: Is applying for federal clerkships even worth it anymore?

Postby Anonymous User » Wed May 18, 2011 6:50 pm

XxSpyKEx wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:Your grades are probably on par to have a solid shot at clerkships outside of major cities.


Top 35% at a t6 and secondary journal gives him a SOLID SHOT at federal clerkships outside of major cities ITE?!? GTFO. There is no way you went through the clerkship application process in the past couple years..

Umm...actually, I did. And will be clerking next year (and received 10 interviews...with grades similar to the original poster's). Admittedly, I'm at a slightly better school (HYS as opposed to CCN), and I don't know how transferring plays into the mix. But assuming those two factors change the equation only somewhat as opposed to dramatically, the original poster should have a solid shot. That doesn't mean he/she will definitely get a clerkship, but I think his chances are much better than 10% if he/she targets less competitive clerkships.

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Re: Is applying for federal clerkships even worth it anymore?

Postby XxSpyKEx » Wed May 18, 2011 7:47 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
XxSpyKEx wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:Your grades are probably on par to have a solid shot at clerkships outside of major cities.


Top 35% at a t6 and secondary journal gives him a SOLID SHOT at federal clerkships outside of major cities ITE?!? GTFO. There is no way you went through the clerkship application process in the past couple years..

Umm...actually, I did. And will be clerking next year (and received 10 interviews...with grades similar to the original poster's). Admittedly, I'm at a slightly better school (HYS as opposed to CCN), and I don't know how transferring plays into the mix. But assuming those two factors change the equation only somewhat as opposed to dramatically, the original poster should have a solid shot. That doesn't mean he/she will definitely get a clerkship, but I think his chances are much better than 10% if he/she targets less competitive clerkships.


Which one of HYS are you at (you're posting anonymously anyways and haven't revealed much of anything)?... If you're at YALE, then it's not just a slightly better school than CCN in terms of clerkships. Also, how do you even know where your class rank is, if you're at Y or S? (Grades at both of those schools are so unmeaningful, I'm not sure how you would know, with any degree of precision, that you're were at top 35% of your class.) 10 clerkship interviews is really good for even top 10% with LR at CCN; 10 clerkship interviews at top 35% is just outright impressive...

Congrats on getting your clerkship.

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Re: Is applying for federal clerkships even worth it anymore?

Postby Anonymous User » Wed May 18, 2011 8:12 pm

XxSpyKEx wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:
XxSpyKEx wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:Your grades are probably on par to have a solid shot at clerkships outside of major cities.


Top 35% at a t6 and secondary journal gives him a SOLID SHOT at federal clerkships outside of major cities ITE?!? GTFO. There is no way you went through the clerkship application process in the past couple years..

Umm...actually, I did. And will be clerking next year (and received 10 interviews...with grades similar to the original poster's). Admittedly, I'm at a slightly better school (HYS as opposed to CCN), and I don't know how transferring plays into the mix. But assuming those two factors change the equation only somewhat as opposed to dramatically, the original poster should have a solid shot. That doesn't mean he/she will definitely get a clerkship, but I think his chances are much better than 10% if he/she targets less competitive clerkships.


Which one of HYS are you at (you're posting anonymously anyways and haven't revealed much of anything)?... If you're at YALE, then it's not just a slightly better school than CCN in terms of clerkships. Also, how do you even know where your class rank is, if you're at Y or S? (Grades at both of those schools are so unmeaningful, I'm not sure how you would know, with any degree of precision, that you're were at top 35% of your class.) 10 clerkship interviews is really good for even top 10% with LR at CCN; 10 clerkship interviews at top 35% is just outright impressive...

Congrats on getting your clerkship.



I'm not at Yale. You are correct that I do not know my exact rank, but the distribution per class is public, so you can get a rough idea (and when you meet with the clerkship counselors, they also give you a rough idea). I got a lot of interviews because I applied broadly, not just to the popular districts for T6 students. Again, I'm not saying this person has a guaranteed (or even good) chance, but if he/she applies broadly, I think his/her chances are solid enough to be a good use of time.

I'll also add one more thing. I know you aren't looking for the "apply to everything in this economy" response but...if you are entering 3L year without a job, there won't be very many other things to apply for at the beginning of the year, so I don't think your clerkship applications are going to conflict much with other job opportunities.

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Re: Is applying for federal clerkships even worth it anymore?

Postby D-ROCCA » Wed May 18, 2011 8:22 pm

Maybe look at bankruptcy and vagistrate judges?

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Re: Is applying for federal clerkships even worth it anymore?

Postby thecynic69 » Wed May 18, 2011 8:38 pm

G. T. L. Rev. wrote:I disagree that applying would not be worth it. You have to commit to doing a good job with applications (i.e., half-assing it will get you nowhere), but the time commitment isn't actually that bad. If you apply very broadly, you do have a chance of landing a few interviews -- not a huge chance, but maybe higher than 10%.

Also, I think it is an unfair exaggeration to say that district court clerkships were handed out like candy a few years ago at T6 schools. Sure, they were considerably easier to get, but it wasn't like you could just waltz into one from median.


What are the odds for someone once they land an interview? Is it really high, or is it just so hit or miss that class rank/school rank no longer matters?

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Re: Is applying for federal clerkships even worth it anymore?

Postby XxSpyKEx » Wed May 18, 2011 9:55 pm

thecynic69 wrote:
G. T. L. Rev. wrote:I disagree that applying would not be worth it. You have to commit to doing a good job with applications (i.e., half-assing it will get you nowhere), but the time commitment isn't actually that bad. If you apply very broadly, you do have a chance of landing a few interviews -- not a huge chance, but maybe higher than 10%.

Also, I think it is an unfair exaggeration to say that district court clerkships were handed out like candy a few years ago at T6 schools. Sure, they were considerably easier to get, but it wasn't like you could just waltz into one from median.


What are the odds for someone once they land an interview? Is it really high, or is it just so hit or miss that class rank/school rank no longer matters?


Getting an interview is usually one of the hardest things. Even in the middle of nowhere district courts, like in Montana, those judges still get around 350-400 applications (which is why I’m pretty impressed that the anon poster got 10 interviews with just top 35% at H or S, especially if it is H). If you get an interview, then class rank/school rank don't matter much anymore. A judge won't interview if he doesn't think you are more capable of doing the work (it's not like law firms where they screening interview 100s of students through OCIs for 10 SA spots). It all just comes down to other stuff after you get the interview, such as whether the judge thinks he can work with you. As for how much interview judges conduct per clerkship opening- it all depends on the judge. I know some will only interview 3 or 4 candidates per opening. Some will just do a day of interviewing for each position they have open. Others will schedule interviews for a full two days, so maybe 10-20 interviews for their one opening. It’s all really up to whatever the judge wants to do.

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Re: Is applying for federal clerkships even worth it anymore?

Postby thecynic69 » Thu May 19, 2011 1:39 pm

G. T. L. Rev. wrote:
thecynic69 wrote:What are the odds for someone once they land an interview? Is it really high, or is it just so hit or miss that class rank/school rank no longer matters?

The latter in most cases. Depends entirely on how many candidates the judge interviews per position. Some judges try to keep that ratio at or near 1:1; others go as high as 10:1.


What I figured from your post, but I don't know anything about this process so wanted to have someone spell it out for me. Thanks GTL/ XxSpyKEx.

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Re: Is applying for federal clerkships even worth it anymore?

Postby Anonymous User » Thu May 19, 2011 3:56 pm

Anonymous User wrote:Not OP here. Modifying OP's question.

When you're graduating from a T30 school, is there any cutoff in the class rankings above which it is reasonable to apply to a federal district judge that isn't in a flyover district? Or is it a foregone conclusion that all T20+ grads' applications are DOA in this economy?

What? No. Obviously the range of grades from a T30 that can get you a clerkship is lower today than 4 years ago, but if you are at the top of the class at such a school you should be able to get a clerkship. In fact, a lot of regional superstars (top few kids in class) are getting local D.Ct. and COA clerkships over T6 top 1/3 without local ties who may have got it in the past.

In my court, for instance, the judges tend to prefer students from the local T30 school who have done extremely well more than the T6 35%'ers. This may not hold as well for the best circuits where the T6 applicants are going to be at the top of the class. That is, the top kids at Minnesota have a better shot at that court (district and COA) than the Columbia kid applying for the same spot. This probably doesn't hold true for Fordham or GW, just because of their location in a highly desirable circuit.

In sum: fewer T30 kids can get clerkships now, but there's an argument that for the most-qualified among them the odds are actually better.




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