exitoptions wrote:I'm going to be in a similar situation as you were (Big law --> 2 year competitive district clerkship). What type of firm were you at and what led to you returning to that firm as opposed trying to get another (better) firm? Is the bonus larger than a 1 year clerkship when returning after a 2 year clerkship? Do you feel that you had the option to go to prestigious federal jobs afterward? When during the two years does it make sense to start seriously thinking about and working toward employment? Thanks in advance.
Trading Up: I considered "trading up" to another firm, although it would have been a marginal benefit. My firm is one of the top few firms in my market, so trading up would not be for more prestige or exit options or anything like that, but better training or gaining entry to a specific practice area. I did briefly consider heading to a plaintiff's side firm or some government job to get trial experience but there were a few reasons why I chose not to.
First, the "other" options would always be there. I would not lose any of my marketability by returning to my old firm for a year or two. Second, the firm has a history of strong profitability and stability, so I knew that I could count on (as well as you could in biglaw, at least) having a safe and secure job. Third, the firm has always been very flexible with its associates. Perhaps because it's a large firm with many fungible associates, it's able to let associates do lots of different, interesting things. They let me leave for a clerkship and come back whenever I wanted to. I saw other associates leave for policy jobs, legal writing teaching jobs, and then return to the firm without any hassle or stigma. I ended up delaying my start date to work on a political campaign, and kept rescheduling my start date without any complaint from the firm. And finally, I think a small part of me liked the idea of being loyal to the firm that took a chance on me at OCI when I wasn't all that impressive of a candidate.
Bonus: Yes, my firm pays $50k for 1 year clerkships and $70k for 2 years. My clerkship actually fell shy of 2 years, so they gave me a prorated amount somewhere between $50k and $70k. This was also a big reason why I decided to return to my firm; choosing some place outside of this type of biglaw means you forgo the big lump sum bonus. (Also: There is no vesting period; I could have taken off a few months after I started without any clawback. But of course I didn't because I didn't want to burn any bridges.)
Prestigious Federal Jobs: I'm not so sure I had the option to head off to other prestigious federal jobs. I didn't look into any jobs at Main Justice, and although I wanted to be an AUSA, there's a major hiring freeze right now. I think the sweet spot for AUSA jobs in the markets I was interested in is about 4 or 5+ years out. (I think you can get by with less experience but those folks tend to be the HYS/COA clerk typess). For prestigious appellate jobs, I think having a district court clerkship doesn't put you at a huge advantage; it might be different with a COA clerkship.
Job Search: I think 6 months before your desired start date is a good time to start (assuming we're talking generic biglaw). It also depends on your firm; if they let you come back, find out how early they want to know. If the answer is 3 months or so, you can avoid telling them anything until then, and search for other jobs between 3 months and 6 months out. The problem with going earlier than 6 months out is that firms aren't sure about their hiring needs and may just ignore you for a long time. It's not an exact science though, so ask around in your desired market or ask other clerks for how timing should work.