To clerk or not: most competitive out of reach

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To clerk or not: most competitive out of reach

Postby Anonymous User » Sat Feb 11, 2012 7:32 pm

I'm going to work in litigation and have a SA position nailed down. I'm considering applying for a clerkship not out of prestige or hope for the "top" jobs, but for experience, to some degree, and also career enhancement and security. My assumption, somewhat devoid of evidence, is that having a clerkship on my resume may enhance my ability to advance within firm or lateral (if for whatever reason that becomes necessary), all things being equal. If, however, a clerkship will do nothing for advancement or lateral prospects, then I probably will not apply.

So, I'm at a T14, secondary journal, and about top 1/3. I have seen from school data that my GPA is not going to cut it for the district courts in the area where I'll practice or the other generally competitive courts. The highest state court also does not hire clerks, so that is out as well.

Is it worth it, given my aims for a clerkship, to attempt to clerk in places with lower requirements? Nearby states have much lower GPA requirements (but I won't be practicing in those states) and it looks like magistrate and bankruptcy clerkships (one of which I believe is in the state where I'll be) are more within the range as well. Will firms, for credit toward advancement as well as down the line in respect to my above-mentioned concerns, regard these positions similarly?

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Re: To clerk or not: most competitive out of reach

Postby TooOld4This » Sat Feb 11, 2012 8:44 pm

If you want to be a litigator, a district court clerkship is worth the effort. It doesn't matter where you clerk. The skills you pick up are more valuable than the "inside baseball" perspective you get about a particular court. Besides, if you work at a big firm, it's likely that at some point they will end up with some case in the district you clerked in.

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Re: To clerk or not: most competitive out of reach

Postby IAFG » Sat Feb 11, 2012 8:46 pm

TooOld4This wrote:If you want to be a litigator, a district court clerkship is worth the effort. It doesn't matter where you clerk. The skills you pick up are more valuable than the "inside baseball" perspective you get about a particular court. Besides, if you work at a big firm, it's likely that at some point they will end up with some case in the district you clerked in.

Couldn't you really get all this through a 1 semester externship without the salary opportunity cost?

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Re: To clerk or not: most competitive out of reach

Postby TooOld4This » Sat Feb 11, 2012 8:58 pm

IAFG wrote:
TooOld4This wrote:If you want to be a litigator, a district court clerkship is worth the effort. It doesn't matter where you clerk. The skills you pick up are more valuable than the "inside baseball" perspective you get about a particular court. Besides, if you work at a big firm, it's likely that at some point they will end up with some case in the district you clerked in.

Couldn't you really get all this through a 1 semester externship without the salary opportunity cost?



Depends on the judge, but probably not. The pace of a trial court often times makes it difficult to farm out meaningful work to an intern. Many judges don't have interns/externs sit in chambers -- they get small research assignments and do them in the court's library.

The value of a clerkship is really being able to see the day-to-day operation of the court, seeing a wide variety of attorney "work product" from the consumer's perspective, and, most importantly, having a mentor in the judge who will (hopefully) not only really work with you on your writing, but also how to think about the law in a more nuanced and holistic manner. An internship isn't a bad thing to do, but it doesn't replace a clerkship. And, if you have the choice, I would do a summer internship of a semester one. Generally, being there every day, all day for a couple of months means you will be more likely to get more substantive work.

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Re: To clerk or not: most competitive out of reach

Postby IAFG » Sat Feb 11, 2012 9:00 pm

Hmm well as an extern I am in chambers and see as much of "the inside" as the clerks do but I only know my experience.

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Re: To clerk or not: most competitive out of reach

Postby TooOld4This » Sat Feb 11, 2012 9:03 pm

IAFG wrote:Hmm well as an extern I am in chambers and see as much of "the inside" as the clerks do but I only know my experience.


Like I said, it depends on the judge. If you are being treated as a part-time clerk, which some judges do, then absorb all you can. You just aren't going to get the same skill set after a semester of part time work as you will of a year to two-years of full time work. But you should have a good sense of whether the opportunity cost will be with it to you. You certainly don't need a clerkship. The OP was asking, however, if a fly-over district court clerkship would still be worth it -- and the answer to that is, yes.

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Re: To clerk or not: most competitive out of reach

Postby IAFG » Sat Feb 11, 2012 9:06 pm

TooOld4This wrote:
IAFG wrote:Hmm well as an extern I am in chambers and see as much of "the inside" as the clerks do but I only know my experience.


Like I said, it depends on the judge. If you are being treated as a part-time clerk, which some judges do, then absorb all you can. You just aren't going to get the same skill set after a semester of part time work as you will of a year to two-years of full time work. But you should have a good sense of whether the opportunity cost will be with it to you. You certainly don't need a clerkship. The OP was asking, however, if a fly-over district court clerkship would still be worth it -- and the answer to that is, yes.

I dunno, if it doesn't really boost your career I'd at least test out merely externing. It's an expensive undertaking.

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Re: To clerk or not: most competitive out of reach

Postby TooOld4This » Sat Feb 11, 2012 9:36 pm

IAFG wrote:
TooOld4This wrote:
IAFG wrote:Hmm well as an extern I am in chambers and see as much of "the inside" as the clerks do but I only know my experience.


Like I said, it depends on the judge. If you are being treated as a part-time clerk, which some judges do, then absorb all you can. You just aren't going to get the same skill set after a semester of part time work as you will of a year to two-years of full time work. But you should have a good sense of whether the opportunity cost will be with it to you. You certainly don't need a clerkship. The OP was asking, however, if a fly-over district court clerkship would still be worth it -- and the answer to that is, yes.

I dunno, if it doesn't really boost your career I'd at least test out merely externing. It's an expensive undertaking.


If you aren't planning on going for a SCOTUS clerkship, a fly-over district court clerkship is as useful as a competitive district court clerkship. There are jobs where having a clerkship is a "check the box" requirement, so it does provide a boost that an externship will not. YMMV.

This isn't to say that I think a clerkship is a prerequisite for succeeding in legal practice, even litigation. But it is incorrect to say that externships and clerkships are viewed equally as far as the impact they will have on job prospects. Make the cost-benefit calculus that works for you, but recognize that there are trade-offs either way.

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Re: To clerk or not: most competitive out of reach

Postby IAFG » Sat Feb 11, 2012 9:43 pm

Well originally you said it was the experience that was the real value and now you're saying it's the box-checking. I am saying if it is only valuable as an "experience" it probably isn't worth the significant expense.

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Re: To clerk or not: most competitive out of reach

Postby Detrox » Sat Feb 11, 2012 9:48 pm

I can't imagine the "expense" of a one year fly-over fed. district clerkship would be as great as it is being made out to be. Presumably getting around 50k in an area with a presumably cheap cost of living (compared to NYC at 160k), in addition to the likely substantial clerkship bonus provided by many firms, makes clerking seem like it could potentially equal the income one would make over the same first two years by going straight into biglaw. Am I missing something major or assuming something ridiculous?

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Re: To clerk or not: most competitive out of reach

Postby TooOld4This » Sat Feb 11, 2012 9:58 pm

IAFG wrote:Well originally you said it was the experience that was the real value and now you're saying it's the box-checking. I am saying if it is only valuable as an "experience" it probably isn't worth the significant expense.


Sorry, I was making that statement still in context of the OP's question. That question was about whether an out-of-area district court clerkship was as valuable as an in-area/competitive one. That answer is "yes" because, other than for SCOTUS, it is not that your clerkship was local or "competitive" that matters, but rather the experience you get.

You asked a different question, which made the comparison between an externship and clerkship. And that is a different analysis. If you have a judge that lets you get good experience, then an externship is a great experience. You are lucky that yours appears to treat you as another clerk -- that is not the norm, and I did not assume it to be when I first answered. However, it will not "check-the-box" for jobs where a clerkship is a near prerequisite. Depending on your career goals, you can decide whether the loss of salary is worth getting more in-depth experience doing a full clerkship and being able to check-the-box for those legal jobs that have such soft requirements.

Since it seems to have not been clear -- the perceived value to employers between district court clerkships will be considered fungible for all but basically SCOTUS clerkship purposes. The same is not true when comparing externships and clerkships. Externships can provide you skills that you can be personally rewarding, but the resume line is neither treated the same as a clerkship, nor is it generally seen as better than any other extern position.
Last edited by TooOld4This on Sat Feb 11, 2012 10:13 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: To clerk or not: most competitive out of reach

Postby TooOld4This » Sat Feb 11, 2012 10:02 pm

Detrox wrote:I can't imagine the "expense" of a one year fly-over fed. district clerkship would be as great as it is being made out to be. Presumably getting around 50k in an area with a presumably cheap cost of living (compared to NYC at 160k), in addition to the likely substantial clerkship bonus provided by many firms, makes clerking seem like it could potentially equal the income one would make over the same first two years by going straight into biglaw. Am I missing something major or assuming something ridiculous?


It is a significant hit. Your bonus will not make up for the lost salary. Cost of living will be lower than if you are in NYC and want your own place in Manhattan, but most fly-over clerkships will require that you get a car, which is a significant expense. However, many people really enjoy clerking and find it well worth the trade-offs. Others don't. No real right or wrong answer, as long as you figure out what the trade-offs are.

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Re: To clerk or not: most competitive out of reach

Postby lessthanjake » Sun Feb 12, 2012 3:31 am

TooOld4This wrote:
Detrox wrote:I can't imagine the "expense" of a one year fly-over fed. district clerkship would be as great as it is being made out to be. Presumably getting around 50k in an area with a presumably cheap cost of living (compared to NYC at 160k), in addition to the likely substantial clerkship bonus provided by many firms, makes clerking seem like it could potentially equal the income one would make over the same first two years by going straight into biglaw. Am I missing something major or assuming something ridiculous?


It is a significant hit. Your bonus will not make up for the lost salary. Cost of living will be lower than if you are in NYC and want your own place in Manhattan, but most fly-over clerkships will require that you get a car, which is a significant expense. However, many people really enjoy clerking and find it well worth the trade-offs. Others don't. No real right or wrong answer, as long as you figure out what the trade-offs are.


I don't know much about this, but I have read that many big firms give you a 50,000 dollar bonus for clerking in an A3 clerkship. Are most A3 clerkships 1 or 2 years? I have read that it varies. If the clerkship is 1 year though, you get a 50-60k salary plus a 50k bonus at the end. Taking into account cost of living differences as well as lower taxes during that year, I'm not sure you end up THAT far beyond financially. If it's a 2 year clerkship, though, that same 50k bonus doesn't make up for all the lost income anymore, I suppose.

As for a car, I suppose that IS a major expense for a lot of people, so it is definitely worth mentioning. I personally have a car, so that isn't a factor, but for someone without a car who is intending to live in Manhattan after the clerkship, having to get a car does suck.

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Re: To clerk or not: most competitive out of reach

Postby kalvano » Sun Feb 12, 2012 3:36 am

Most firms also count clerking as legal work expericence, and when you finish it up, you don't come in as a first-year associate, but somewhere between second and fourth year.

Also, anecdotally from several past clerks, the work you receive is much different from the work other beginning associates receive.

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Re: To clerk or not: most competitive out of reach

Postby Anonymous User » Sun Feb 12, 2012 12:07 pm

So, I'm at a T14, secondary journal, and about top 1/3.


I assume from this description that you are not at a T6 school, and that you are not in the top 20% of the class. If that is true, this is an academic exercise -- you aren't going to be competitive for an AIII clerkship applying as a student. Applying as an alum, and especially as a biglaw associate alum, is a different story.

You'll probably look at career services stats showing that some people with your numbers got USDC clerkships in the past. If those numbers include anything pre-2009, they're worthless. It's a different ballgame now.

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Re: To clerk or not: most competitive out of reach

Postby cjw55 » Sun Feb 12, 2012 7:20 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
So, I'm at a T14, secondary journal, and about top 1/3.


I assume from this description that you are not at a T6 school, and that you are not in the top 20% of the class. If that is true, this is an academic exercise -- you aren't going to be competitive for an AIII clerkship applying as a student. Applying as an alum, and especially as a biglaw associate alum, is a different story.

You'll probably look at career services stats showing that some people with your numbers got USDC clerkships in the past. If those numbers include anything pre-2009, they're worthless. It's a different ballgame now.


Can someone elaborate on this a little more. Before all of you lose it, I have checked out the "Clerk, taking questions for a bit" Thread on this site, but I'm in basically the same position as OP and have similar thoughts. What are the principal benefits of applying as a 2nd or 3rd year BigLaw associate? Timing of applications seems to be one, but are there other benefits?

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Re: To clerk or not: most competitive out of reach

Postby Anonymous User » Sun Feb 12, 2012 7:30 pm

cjw55 wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:
So, I'm at a T14, secondary journal, and about top 1/3.


I assume from this description that you are not at a T6 school, and that you are not in the top 20% of the class. If that is true, this is an academic exercise -- you aren't going to be competitive for an AIII clerkship applying as a student. Applying as an alum, and especially as a biglaw associate alum, is a different story.

You'll probably look at career services stats showing that some people with your numbers got USDC clerkships in the past. If those numbers include anything pre-2009, they're worthless. It's a different ballgame now.


Can someone elaborate on this a little more. Before all of you lose it, I have checked out the "Clerk, taking questions for a bit" Thread on this site, but I'm in basically the same position as OP and have similar thoughts. What are the principal benefits of applying as a 2nd or 3rd year BigLaw associate? Timing of applications seems to be one, but are there other benefits?


As you mentioning, timing is a big factor. Another is that practicing has given you significant time to develop writing/editing experience. I'm top-5% at a T6 and I've been told by my school's clerkship advisor that because I'm not on a journal, I should expect to wait until I've had a few years of practice to snag a COA gig.

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Re: To clerk or not: most competitive out of reach

Postby Anonymous User » Sun Feb 12, 2012 9:13 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
So, I'm at a T14, secondary journal, and about top 1/3.


I assume from this description that you are not at a T6 school, and that you are not in the top 20% of the class. If that is true, this is an academic exercise -- you aren't going to be competitive for an AIII clerkship applying as a student. Applying as an alum, and especially as a biglaw associate alum, is a different story.

You'll probably look at career services stats showing that some people with your numbers got USDC clerkships in the past. If those numbers include anything pre-2009, they're worthless. It's a different ballgame now.


OP:

I'm closer to both of those numbers than you assume. So, can we continue the conversation then?

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Re: To clerk or not: most competitive out of reach

Postby Anonymous User » Sun Feb 12, 2012 9:15 pm

Anonymous User wrote: As you mentioning, timing is a big factor. Another is that practicing has given you significant time to develop writing/editing experience. I'm top-5% at a T6 and I've been told by my school's clerkship advisor that because I'm not on a journal, I should expect to wait until I've had a few years of practice to snag a COA gig.


If you're at a T6 and top 5% apply for a district court and then to a COA from there.

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Re: To clerk or not: most competitive out of reach

Postby Anonymous User » Sun Feb 12, 2012 11:36 pm

What are the principal benefits of applying as a 2nd or 3rd year BigLaw associate? Timing of applications seems to be one, but are there other benefits?


Timing is one advantage, as is the credential in and of itself. But even more important than both of those -- much more important -- is that you are just applying to a different universe of judges, with a hugely smaller applicant pool. There are a relative handful of judges who require 2+ years of experience. The applicant pool of alums for this group is really small in comparison to the thousands and thousands of law students who are applying at large.

To put some numbers on it (and these are real numbers, as relayed to me by various chambers), on plan secondary market district court judges who hire law students are getting in the range of 500-1000 applications every year. Similar judges who hire only experienced clerks are getting in the 100-200 range.

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Re: To clerk or not: most competitive out of reach

Postby Anonymous User » Sun Feb 12, 2012 11:43 pm

I think this is a little overstated. I know people who had stats quite like those quoted above who did get district court gigs. They got very lucky, and had to apply very broadly, but it did happen. Sure, lots of similarly situated people struck out, but OP's chances are not 0% if outside the top 20%.


I guess. Based on the original description, I was thinking of someone outside of cum laude designation at somewhere like Duke or Cornell or Georgetown. I suppose some of those people are having success on the AIII clerkship market as law students these days, but I don't know any of them. Though, again, the game changes once you are applying to the off plan alum-preferred judges. And of course, to anyone reading this, trust GTL Rev and not me. :wink:

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Re: To clerk or not: most competitive out of reach

Postby Anonymous User » Sun Feb 12, 2012 11:48 pm

OP:

Is it at all appropriate to mention a motivation for the particular court as being that a significant other is in the area finishing a degree? Or is this something I should keep hush-hush?

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Re: To clerk or not: most competitive out of reach

Postby Anonymous User » Mon Feb 13, 2012 2:41 pm

Clerking is basically a 4th year of legal education, only this time they pay you instead of the other way around. Not only that, but it's a feather in your resume cap for the rest of your career. I say go for it.

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Re: To clerk or not: most competitive out of reach

Postby Anonymous User » Mon Feb 13, 2012 3:13 pm

Is it at all appropriate to mention a motivation for the particular court as being that a significant other is in the area finishing a degree? Or is this something I should keep hush-hush?


You don't need to keep it hush-hush. It almost certainly won't help you get an interview, but it definitely might give you something to talk about if you do get one.

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Re: To clerk or not: most competitive out of reach

Postby Anonymous User » Mon Feb 13, 2012 3:13 pm

Clerking for one year ends up costing you about $50k, after taxes and bonuses are considered. (Assuming a clerkship in your eventual market. If you clerk in flyover land, your salary will be lower than it would be in a major market, but the salary difference doesn't account for the COL difference. However, I'm also not factoring in greater interest accumulating on your loans.)

If that's worth checking boxes and getting experience to you, then go for it. As a current clerk, I don't believe my one year here will make up for the skill development I've missed from skipping a year at my firm. People rigorously debate the experience angle, and perhaps the fact that I'm not going into a general litigation practice plays a role, but it's no sure thing that you learn more in a clerkship year than you learn in a year at the firm. It's true that the skills you acquire as a first-year are fairly mundane - but they are skills you need to learn, and you don't get all of it during your year on the other side of the bench.




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