Former District Court Clerk - taking questions

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clerker
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Former District Court Clerk - taking questions

Postby clerker » Wed Jan 23, 2013 2:24 pm

My stats: T14, top 1/3, LR

Didn't land my clerkship during school; applied after I was a biglaw associate.

Clerked for about two years, so I got to see a lot of how hiring worked from the other side (for both clerks and externs hiring). Also interacted with other chambers quite a bit and saw how other judges did their hiring.

My district was not SDNY, but was competitive. (It's mentioned in the thread on competitive districts: viewtopic.php?f=34&t=202669)

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Re: Former District Court Clerk - taking questions

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Jan 23, 2013 3:11 pm

Did you go back to your pre-clerkship firm? If not, where did you go?

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Re: Former District Court Clerk - taking questions

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Jan 23, 2013 3:29 pm

Does it make any sense to send out apps for judicial internships before you have your 1L 1Sem grades? What if they are coming out in a few days...better to just wait?

clerker
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Re: Former District Court Clerk - taking questions

Postby clerker » Wed Jan 23, 2013 4:04 pm

Anonymous User wrote:Did you go back to your pre-clerkship firm? If not, where did you go?


I did return to my pre-clerkship firm. When I left, they told me that although they could not give me an offer to return right then and there, everyone who had left the firm for a clerkship was able to return without a problem. At the time, I figured I'd do something else after the clerkship, but due to financial reasons I ended up deciding to return. I received full class credit and a clerkship bonus, so that was nice.

clerker
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Re: Former District Court Clerk - taking questions

Postby clerker » Wed Jan 23, 2013 4:07 pm

Anonymous User wrote:Does it make any sense to send out apps for judicial internships before you have your 1L 1Sem grades? What if they are coming out in a few days...better to just wait?


As a general matter, it can't hurt to send out your applications as soon as possible, before you receive your grades. Many judges hire externs based on many non-academic factors, such as having an interesting background, similar demographic traits as the judge, etc.

However, my judge wanted to see the grades of the applicants before hiring them. Had you applied to our chambers without your grades, we would have disregarded it unless you followed up later with an unofficial transcript.

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Re: Former District Court Clerk - taking questions

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Jan 23, 2013 4:12 pm

Do you feel that a district court clerkship would better prepare you for work at a lit boutique, as compared to a COA clerkship?

clerker
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Re: Former District Court Clerk - taking questions

Postby clerker » Wed Jan 23, 2013 5:24 pm

Anonymous User wrote:Do you feel that a district court clerkship would better prepare you for work at a lit boutique, as compared to a COA clerkship?


It depends on what type of work the lit boutique does. If you're at a boutique that specializes in appellate or SCOTUS litigation, then you're going to want to do a COA clerkship. If you're at a lit boutique, a district court clerkship is probably better. That's not to say that you're at a big disadvantage if you're a COA clerk at Susman Godfrey; after all, you do learn *something* about district court litigation as an appellate clerk. But you learn more practical, useful knowledge from a district court clerkship.

For example, let's say that at your lit boutique job, you've got to brief a summary judgment motion. As an appellate clerk, you probably have dealt with cases where you're reviewing the summary judgment opinion of the district court judge. But you're also dealing with lots of other cases that deal with novel legal issues, or involve reviews of administrative agency decisions. And even if you're dealing with an appellate summary judgment review, a lot of the work that comes to you has been distilled. For example, you've got a district court opinion that summarizes the facts and the law for you.

As a district court clerk, you see everything for the first time. You read tons of briefs, deposition transcripts, and other documents. You've got to learn how to synthesize all of that information and tell it to your judge, and recommend a decision. That process teaches you what's important to emphasize and what's not important to emphasize in your briefs. You also learn other seemingly trivial things, like how far you can push extensions on briefing deadlines. One of my biggest lessons was that bluebook formatting or typographical errors have no bearing on how my judge decided cases. Nor did mangled briefs (missing pages, poor grammar) shift the decision one way or another. Better to spend more time synthesizing binding authority than figuring out how to properly cite the case. At least that's how it was for my judge.

So really what it comes down to is what type of boutique you're at, what type of work you're interested in doing, and what city you want to practice in. If you know you want to work before a very specific court (e.g., SCOTUS) or in a specific city (e.g., San Diego / S.D. Cal.) then those courts would be the best to clerk for.

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Re: Former District Court Clerk - taking questions

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Jan 23, 2013 5:36 pm

What about just getting the job at the lit boutique in the first place? Does it make a difference whether you clerked at District of Idaho vs. a COA clerkship? How much of a difference if it did make one?

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Re: Former District Court Clerk - taking questions

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Jan 23, 2013 6:49 pm

What are the best questions you asked or have been asked during clerkship interviews (either to the judge or his/her clerks)?

clerker
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Re: Former District Court Clerk - taking questions

Postby clerker » Wed Jan 23, 2013 7:04 pm

Anonymous User wrote:What about just getting the job at the lit boutique in the first place? Does it make a difference whether you clerked at District of Idaho vs. a COA clerkship? How much of a difference if it did make one?


I'm not sure, you'd have to ask someone who works for the type of lit boutique you're interested in.

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Re: Former District Court Clerk - taking questions

Postby clerker » Wed Jan 23, 2013 7:09 pm

Anonymous User wrote:What are the best questions you asked or have been asked during clerkship interviews (either to the judge or his/her clerks)?


Ask about how the chambers you're interviewing with specifically operates. What time does the judge get to work, how does he or she handle the drafting process, etc. That's the kind of information you can't really find out unless you ask someone who's clerked for that judge before.

Asking great questions won't impress anyone. Asking terrible questions, on the other hand, can really torpedo your candidacy. Don't ask questions that have answers you can look up on the Internet or by asking around.

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Re: Former District Court Clerk - taking questions

Postby ClerkAdvisor » Wed Jan 23, 2013 9:59 pm

clerker wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:What are the best questions you asked or have been asked during clerkship interviews (either to the judge or his/her clerks)?


Ask about how the chambers you're interviewing with specifically operates. What time does the judge get to work, how does he or she handle the drafting process, etc. That's the kind of information you can't really find out unless you ask someone who's clerked for that judge before.

Asking great questions won't impress anyone. Asking terrible questions, on the other hand, can really torpedo your candidacy. Don't ask questions that have answers you can look up on the Internet or by asking around.


This. I would add that the most important thing you can do in an interview is to show enthusiasm. You already have the credentials to get the clerkship by the time you are interviewing, you need to show them that you want to be there.

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Re: Former District Court Clerk - taking questions

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Jan 24, 2013 12:47 pm

I have a multi-year (more than 2) commitment to a certain federal government employer (not DOJ). I'm starting that right after I graduate. However, I would still like to clerk because I loved my judicial internship experience and I want to clerk sometime in my legal career. How would you suggest going about doing this?

My stats: Top 20ish, ~Top 25% class rank. No LR, Secondary J.

How did you get your clerkship? Did you work certain connections?

clerker
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Re: Former District Court Clerk - taking questions

Postby clerker » Thu Jan 24, 2013 1:40 pm

Anonymous User wrote:I have a multi-year (more than 2) commitment to a certain federal government employer (not DOJ). I'm starting that right after I graduate. However, I would still like to clerk because I loved my judicial internship experience and I want to clerk sometime in my legal career. How would you suggest going about doing this?

My stats: Top 20ish, ~Top 25% class rank. No LR, Secondary J.

How did you get your clerkship? Did you work certain connections?


Looking at your situation, I would consider thinking about applying for clerkship openings on a rolling basis. Let's say your 2 year term is up in September 2014. First, get your materials together and start applying to clerkship openings that begin after September 2014. Second, set your OSCAR symplicity settings to notify you every time openings come up, so you can see which positions are suitable for you.

If you land a clerkship that way, great. If not, you should consider a highly underrated way of landing a clerkship: applying to not-yet-confirmed judges. After your 2 years, are you able to leave your federal job at any time? Take a look at this website (http://www.judiciary.senate.gov/nominat ... ngress.cfm) to see who's been nominated, or who's made it out of committee. You can look and see who's been reported by committee; those nominees are ripe for confirmation. Once they're confirmed, they're going to need to hire clerks immediately. (Note: some hire clerks before they're confirmed, so it can't hurt to send in your materials super early)

To tell you the truth, top 25% without LR at a top 20ish school (unless you mean you're at one of the top 5 schools) is going to be tough to land any federal clerkship. But if you're flexible, you can really jump on opportunities that others don't see.

My credentials were also a bit lower (my grades, specifically) than what was typical for the court I ended up clerking for. Connections did play a pretty big role in me landing my spot, although I didn't make those connections specifically for the purpose of landing a clerkship. Nor did I have any special family/friend connections; I knew no lawyers before I went to law school.

The truth is, personal references go a long way in this game, and you really never know who you're going to impress. One of my professors went above and beyond to recommend me to my judge, and it was that recommendation that put me over the top. I didn't befriend this professor because I knew he'd be useful down the line; there were many other all star professors who were known to have plenty of strong connections. I just did good work, the professor noticed, and serendipity took care of the rest.

So make sure that if there is a connection who you think might be helpful down the line, bust your ass for him/her and it will pay dividends down the road.

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Re: Former District Court Clerk - taking questions

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Jan 24, 2013 1:55 pm

clerker wrote:My stats: T14, top 1/3, LR

Didn't land my clerkship during school; applied after I was a biglaw associate.

Clerked for about two years, so I got to see a lot of how hiring worked from the other side (for both clerks and externs hiring). Also interacted with other chambers quite a bit and saw how other judges did their hiring.

My district was not SDNY, but was competitive. (It's mentioned in the thread on competitive districts: http://www.top-law-schools.com/forums/v ... 4&t=202669)


I'm a first year biglaw associate. I'll be leaving this summer to do two back-to-back clerkships (district court then COA), then probably returning to my firm.

My question for you is did you find it tough to adjust to your new role after being away for two years? In particular, I'm thinking that leaving as a first year (where you do mostly low-level work), then jumping to being a midlevel (i.e., where you're probably managing first and second years) might be tough. I know you pick up a lot of skills during a clerkship, but I'm thinking it might be harder to immediately pick up "work environment" type skills like effectively delegating work, or interfacing directly with partners without having a associate above you to filter your work, compared to if you just stayed at the firm and gradually eased into that sort of role.

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Re: Former District Court Clerk - taking questions

Postby clerker » Thu Jan 24, 2013 2:18 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
clerker wrote:My stats: T14, top 1/3, LR

Didn't land my clerkship during school; applied after I was a biglaw associate.

Clerked for about two years, so I got to see a lot of how hiring worked from the other side (for both clerks and externs hiring). Also interacted with other chambers quite a bit and saw how other judges did their hiring.

My district was not SDNY, but was competitive. (It's mentioned in the thread on competitive districts: viewtopic.php?f=34&t=202669)


I'm a first year biglaw associate. I'll be leaving this summer to do two back-to-back clerkships (district court then COA), then probably returning to my firm.

My question for you is did you find it tough to adjust to your new role after being away for two years? In particular, I'm thinking that leaving as a first year (where you do mostly low-level work), then jumping to being a midlevel (i.e., where you're probably managing first and second years) might be tough. I know you pick up a lot of skills during a clerkship, but I'm thinking it might be harder to immediately pick up "work environment" type skills like effectively delegating work, or interfacing directly with partners without having a associate above you to filter your work, compared to if you just stayed at the firm and gradually eased into that sort of role.


Yes, I did find it tough. It's not so much the management aspect (law clerks managed externs in my chambers) or the interfacing directly with partners (law clerks deal with the judge directly).

The greatest difficulty I found in transitioning back was understanding the clients and their problems, figuring out ways to solve their problems. For example, after returning to my firm, I had tons of knowledge about dispositive motion practice. But that knowledge was useless, since my clients were not so much engaging in litigation as much as they were attempting to fend off regulatory investigations. That required tremendous knowledge about how the government agency worked, the nature of the business of the client, and all the other little things, like industry abbreviations, terms of art, and so on. I found that to be the most difficult part of the transition.

But then again, maybe my situation is different because I worked before law school and had some experience with delegation/interfacing at work.

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Re: Former District Court Clerk - taking questions

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Jan 24, 2013 2:32 pm

clerker wrote:Yes, I did find it tough. It's not so much the management aspect (law clerks managed externs in my chambers) or the interfacing directly with partners (law clerks deal with the judge directly).

The greatest difficulty I found in transitioning back was understanding the clients and their problems, figuring out ways to solve their problems. For example, after returning to my firm, I had tons of knowledge about dispositive motion practice. But that knowledge was useless, since my clients were not so much engaging in litigation as much as they were attempting to fend off regulatory investigations. That required tremendous knowledge about how the government agency worked, the nature of the business of the client, and all the other little things, like industry abbreviations, terms of art, and so on. I found that to be the most difficult part of the transition.

But then again, maybe my situation is different because I worked before law school and had some experience with delegation/interfacing at work.


That makes sense - thanks for the perspective!

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Re: Former District Court Clerk - taking questions

Postby clerker » Fri Jan 25, 2013 5:09 pm

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Last edited by clerker on Tue Feb 12, 2013 2:59 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Former District Court Clerk - taking questions

Postby Blindmelon » Sat Jan 26, 2013 11:17 am

clerker wrote:Bump. Slow afternoon.


Current big firm associate here - what did you use as a writing sample? Most of the stuff I've done has been too sensitive to give out and at this point I think some random law school writing assignment would not be great. Would using a published note work? Most of the clerkship postings I've seen don't say anything about not being substantially edited.

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Re: Former District Court Clerk - taking questions

Postby forza » Sat Jan 26, 2013 3:23 pm

Thanks for taking Qs.

- What were you least ready for/what surprised you most about the clerkship?

- Anything I can do over the summer to prepare me better for my '13 D. Ct. clerkship?

clerker
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Re: Former District Court Clerk - taking questions

Postby clerker » Sun Jan 27, 2013 12:36 pm

Blindmelon wrote:
clerker wrote:Bump. Slow afternoon.


Current big firm associate here - what did you use as a writing sample? Most of the stuff I've done has been too sensitive to give out and at this point I think some random law school writing assignment would not be great. Would using a published note work? Most of the clerkship postings I've seen don't say anything about not being substantially edited.


I've seen published note writing samples, but they're less than ideal because they're not particularly heavy on analysis. They're also a lot longer. Ideally you want a shorter, 8-10 page applying law to some set of facts. I will say that for my judge, having an impressive analytical writing sample did wonders for a candidate's chances. Using a note kind would lose you that opportunity.

If you can't use your law firm work, you should consider trying to find something from law school. Depending on how many years out you are, and depending on how good of a writer you were during law school, you might be able to use a legal writing assignment. Even if it's crappy, you can spend a few hours fixing what you have.

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Re: Former District Court Clerk - taking questions

Postby Anonymous User » Sun Jan 27, 2013 12:50 pm

I know quite a few people who have clerked for district judges (because I'm an associate at a V15 firm) but I can never figure out how to ask them for help with getting a clerkship with their judges. It's such an awkward conversation that I've never had the balls to directly bring it up. Any advice on how to get your friends to help you without looking like a moocher or making it some kind of quid pro quo thing (if I do them a favor and then ask for their help)?

clerker
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Re: Former District Court Clerk - taking questions

Postby clerker » Sun Jan 27, 2013 12:55 pm

forza wrote:Thanks for taking Qs.

- What were you least ready for/what surprised you most about the clerkship?

- Anything I can do over the summer to prepare me better for my '13 D. Ct. clerkship?


What surprised me most was how much your clerkship experience is impacted by your particular judge. I always read books/articles about clerking and I always got the sense that clerkships are fairly uniform. The thing with district court clerkships (as opposed to appellate clerkships) is that there is virtually no collaboration with other chambers. That causes many judges to run things in their own, idiosyncratic way. My clerkship was with a new judge, so we experimented a lot, and changed things up when they weren't working. But for other clerks, I heard some crazy stories. Like how some judges let pending motions just sit there, and how the clerkship experience was a 9-5, 2 hour lunch, hanging out sort of experience. Or how some judges have clerks handle the opinion/decision process from beginning to end, and would just sign orders without any edits. Or how some judges were just plain crazy and demanding. In the beginning I assumed that my clerkship was like everyone else's (it was awesome and amazing) but after a while I would hear things.

I was probably least ready for the volume of writing. My judge was a new appointee and we had a stack, just a huge stack of pending motions waiting for us. Throughout the clerkship, my co-clerks and I would just crank through them, and at times, I felt like I was clerking for an appellate judge. Based on my previous research, I had assumed that there would be lots of trials and pre-trial conferences where I'd be dealing with attorneys. We ended up doing far fewer trials than I expected. This goes back to my point above about how each clerkship is an individualized experience, and may not be what you expected going in.

I've heard the "how to prepare" question fairly often, and usually the advice clerks give to prospective clerks is to learn the substantive laws that serve as the basis for most federal lawsuits. That means boning up on Section 1983, employment law, and habeas petitions. I think that's generally good advice. However, I also think that because each clerkship is different depending on the judge and the district (and the caseload), I think you've got to accept that you're going to be learning the substantive law on the fly.

My advice is this: learn how district court memorandum opinions are structured, with an eye towards how your specific judge writes. Go on Westlaw and look at how opinions look. They're pretty uniform; facts. standard of review, law, discussion, conclusion, or something like that. And depending on the judge, there are other variations: some judges collapse standard of review with law, others write in a more non-structured way, and so on. Find out what your judge likes to do. You don't *have* to do this because in the end, you'll probably write your first few opinions based on precedents, and you'll learn all this organically. But those first few months in the clerkship will feel like drinking water from a fire hose and having one less thing to worry about might be helpful.
Last edited by clerker on Sun Jan 27, 2013 1:34 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: Former District Court Clerk - taking questions

Postby clerker » Sun Jan 27, 2013 1:21 pm

Anonymous User wrote:I know quite a few people who have clerked for district judges (because I'm an associate at a V15 firm) but I can never figure out how to ask them for help with getting a clerkship with their judges. It's such an awkward conversation that I've never had the balls to directly bring it up. Any advice on how to get your friends to help you without looking like a moocher or making it some kind of quid pro quo thing (if I do them a favor and then ask for their help)?


I dealt with this very conundrum when I was in law school. There was one particular judge I was very interested in clerking for, and I had heard that using "connections" is the best way to get your name to the top of the pile. At the time, I was volunteering for a political campaign (it was during my 2L summer) in my hometown, and the candidate had clerked for this very judge. I wasn't sure how to ask her to recommend me to the judge not only because that's an awkward conversation, but also because at the time it was a heated campaign and the candidate was just so busy and stressed.

So I ended up doing two things. First, when the candidate asked me about my life, I made sure to mention that I wanted to clerk. Second, I worked incredibly hard and did a very good job at whatever menial tasks the campaign assigned me. Throughout the campaign I would worry because I wasn't sure if the candidate would know about my great work. And even if she did, I wasn't sure that would lead to her volunteering to recommend me to the judge. But I was okay with that; I love politics and even if it didn't lead to a recommendation, I would have a blast on the campaign. So I put my head down and busted my ass without worrying too much.

One day, when I was about to head back to school, the candidate sat me down and asked if I could help on the campaign by coming back before election day. But before she did, she told me that she was going to recommend me to the judge. Remember, up until this point I had never expressed any interest in clerking for her judge; I just said I wanted to clerk and would be applying soon.

The moral of the story? Let the people around you know you want to clerk and then do phenomenal work. All clerks became clerks through a combination of hard work, luck, and most importantly, someone who went to bat for them. We all know it's not enough to just be smart. Surely the political candidate knew that, so I didn't have to explain to her that I would love to have her recommendation. (She did have to know that I was interested in clerking in the first place, so make sure to talk about that) And when you do tell a former clerk at your firm that you're interested in clerking, DO NOT ask them for anything. They know how it works. Instead, focus on making an impression on them, whether it's through doing great work for them, or letting them know about your other positive attributes. I kicked ass on the campaign, developed a reputation for getting things done, and so I was a memorable to her. And I appealed to her self-interest because she wanted me to come back to help, even when I was in school. She also felt like she was doing me a favor out of her own initiative, instead of going along with a request I made.

(Epilogue: Despite the recommendation, I did not even land an interview with this highly sought-after judge. Which just goes to show you that even if you do the right things, and the right people go to bat for you, it's still an uphill climb.)

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Re: Former District Court Clerk - taking questions

Postby forza » Sun Jan 27, 2013 2:54 pm

clerker wrote:
forza wrote:Thanks for taking Qs.

- What were you least ready for/what surprised you most about the clerkship?

- Anything I can do over the summer to prepare me better for my '13 D. Ct. clerkship?


What surprised me most was how much your clerkship experience is impacted by your particular judge. I always read books/articles about clerking and I always got the sense that clerkships are fairly uniform. The thing with district court clerkships (as opposed to appellate clerkships) is that there is virtually no collaboration with other chambers. That causes many judges to run things in their own, idiosyncratic way. My clerkship was with a new judge, so we experimented a lot, and changed things up when they weren't working. But for other clerks, I heard some crazy stories. Like how some judges let pending motions just sit there, and how the clerkship experience was a 9-5, 2 hour lunch, hanging out sort of experience. Or how some judges have clerks handle the opinion/decision process from beginning to end, and would just sign orders without any edits. Or how some judges were just plain crazy and demanding. In the beginning I assumed that my clerkship was like everyone else's (it was awesome and amazing) but after a while I would hear things.

I was probably least ready for the volume of writing. My judge was a new appointee and we had a stack, just a huge stack of pending motions waiting for us. Throughout the clerkship, my co-clerks and I would just crank through them, and at times, I felt like I was clerking for an appellate judge. Based on my previous research, I had assumed that there would be lots of trials and pre-trial conferences where I'd be dealing with attorneys. We ended up doing far fewer trials than I expected. This goes back to my point above about how each clerkship is an individualized experience, and may not be what you expected going in.

I've heard the "how to prepare" question fairly often, and usually the advice clerks give to prospective clerks is to learn the substantive laws that serve as the basis for most federal lawsuits. That means boning up on Section 1983, employment law, and habeas petitions. I think that's generally good advice. However, I also think that because each clerkship is different depending on the judge and the district (and the caseload), I think you've got to accept that you're going to be learning the substantive law on the fly.

My advice is this: learn how district court memorandum opinions are structured, with an eye towards how your specific judge writes. Go on Westlaw and look at how opinions look. They're pretty uniform; facts. standard of review, law, discussion, conclusion, or something like that. And depending on the judge, there are other variations: some judges collapse standard of review with law, others write in a more non-structured way, and so on. Find out what your judge likes to do. You don't *have* to do this because in the end, you'll probably write your first few opinions based on precedents, and you'll learn all this organically. But those first few months in the clerkship will feel like drinking water from a fire hose and having one less thing to worry about might be helpful.


Thanks for the detailed response -- much appreciated.




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