Former District Court Clerk - taking questions

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exitoptions
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Re: Former District Court Clerk - taking questions

Postby exitoptions » Mon Jan 28, 2013 9:55 am

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 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.

clerker
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Re: Former District Court Clerk - taking questions

Postby clerker » Mon Jan 28, 2013 12:44 pm

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.

Anonymous User
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Re: Former District Court Clerk - taking questions

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jan 29, 2013 12:30 pm

I'm a current third-year law student. I have a job lined up, but I'm looking to clerk in the future. Is there a time limit for that? For example, can I wait for about 5 years, pay off my loans and then try applying for clerkships? Or is there a window before my attractiveness to judges becomes stale?

Another question: Many of my classes this semester are pass/fail. Will judges look negatively upon that if my cumulative GPA is good? Can the work experience I pick up after graduation make up for it?

What type of work experience should I be looking to get if I want to shoot for that clerkship a few years after graduation?

clerker
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Re: Former District Court Clerk - taking questions

Postby clerker » Tue Jan 29, 2013 3:21 pm

Anonymous User wrote:I'm a current third-year law student. I have a job lined up, but I'm looking to clerk in the future. Is there a time limit for that? For example, can I wait for about 5 years, pay off my loans and then try applying for clerkships? Or is there a window before my attractiveness to judges becomes stale?

Another question: Many of my classes this semester are pass/fail. Will judges look negatively upon that if my cumulative GPA is good? Can the work experience I pick up after graduation make up for it?

What type of work experience should I be looking to get if I want to shoot for that clerkship a few years after graduation?



There's absolutely no time limit. There are middle aged law clerks out there (although they tend to be of the career clerk variety.) I've seen law clerks who were midlevel associates, senior associates, and even one who was a partner at a law firm. The universe of law clerks is broad and wide, so 5 years out is no big deal.

(As an aside, the reason why law students perceive district court clerkships as incredibly difficult to get is because they focus on one very specific entry point: a job immediately following graduation. The truth is, competition for these spots are fierce; and so there's this perception that if you don't have the right credentials for *this* type of clerkship, you'll never be able to do it.)

However, there are certain judges who are very much into the mentorship aspect of the clerkship, and they may like law clerks who are straight out of school. These are often appellate judges though; district court judges with this philosophy are getting rarer and rarer. And in any case, 5 years out is soon enough that I think most judges will still consider you a junior lawyer.

As for your GPA, I would say to use your judgment. A few P/F classes here or there won't really be noticeable, but if it's apparent that you were trying to protect your grades and if there's a ton of P/F classes on there, it may hurt your candidacy. It's not an exact science; judges don't go through everyone's transcript with a fine tooth comb. When they look at your grades, they use gut feel, and determine whether you are (1) not good enough; (2) good enough; or (3) phenomenal. After that, they look at other aspects of your application. If they notice that you have a slew of P/Fs they will wonder why.

As for work experience, do litigation at a reputable firm in your target market. That firm likely has lots of former clerks at the local district court. You want to do this because it's less important that you choose the right type of work, than it is to find the right mentors and rabbis to sheperd your application to the right judge. (see my earlier thoughts on connections and references) And if you're working at one of the well known firms in your city, the judge will use that as a proxy for your capability. For example, if you're looking to clerk in New York City, the judge will have an idea of what he/she is getting if you're a Paul Weiss associate. Not so if you're an associate at a prestigious niche firm in Miami.

clerker
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Re: Former District Court Clerk - taking questions

Postby clerker » Tue Jan 29, 2013 3:50 pm

Sorry, I missed the fact that you have a job lined up and might not be able to choose your next employer. When you get to your firm, do litigation work, with an emphasis on federal court litigation. If your firm does other "litigation" work like white collar internal investigations, try to avoid working on those. You want to bring a wealth of federal litigating experience to your judge, and you don't get that by responding to SEC doc requests.

Make sure you do an incredible job on all your assignments, and try to work with former clerks. They'll then be able to give you strong recommendations, but more importantly, good advice on how to deal with the entire process.

clerker
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Re: Former District Court Clerk - taking questions

Postby clerker » Wed Jan 30, 2013 4:00 pm

Great article about experienced attorneys and clerkships on ATL:

http://abovethelaw.com/2013/01/house-ru ... rk-or-not/

I was fortunate enough to clerk twice. My judges, and hence my clerking experiences, could not have been more different. I am unable to give factual details, but I can certainly pass on some observations. I am also going to attempt to give you jobseekers some tips.

More than any other type of correspondence to my Gmail are queries about jobs. How to get one where I work, how to go in-house, how to leave a firm, when to go back to a firm, how to obtain a clerkship, etc. I want to focus this week on clerkships because I believe they are overlooked by the vast majority of jobseekers. I am not preaching here to 3Ls. Future grads have their own system set up by the career center in which blast applications are sent out, only to be thrown in the trash (sorry, I meant filed for safekeeping) by existing clerks. No, I am speaking to the experienced attorney who has found themselves in the midst of a hellish job search. Do not underestimate the clerkship….

Judges more and more are moving to a model of hiring experienced attorneys to be clerks. It is helpful to chambers, and to recordkeeping, when dockets continue to move. Yes, there are records kept on speed of decisionmaking, and on rare occasions, judges can be called on the carpet for not pulling their weight. In fact, I know of one judge who is infamous for taking forever to decide motions, but he is an anomaly. He is also a lifetime appointee. Unfortunately for the litigants who draw him in the wheel of doom, their issues may well become moot by the time he gets around to deciding summary judgment, but I digress.

If you have experience, especially in litigation, don’t hesitate to apply for a clerkship. Pick several locales where you could live for a year or two and apply. Protip: don’t bother with the Second Circuit or lower courts in that area if you are not from a top school. Do your research. If a particular judge has only hired from Yale or Harvard, you are not getting a golden ticket as a Brooklyn Law grad. However, there are judges to locate in the very selective circuits who understand that the best lawyers do not always come pedigreed and will hire outside the ivory Ivies. All of this information is out there. You will need to seek it. But, knowledge is power, and once you have several districts, or even circuits, that may have hired from your school, it is time to get cracking.

Don’t hesitate to contact a judge who is advertising for a clerk or two. You must have an elevator story ready, and understand that it will take a miracle to get through to the judge. But you can always speak to a secretary, or clerk, or someone, and give it your best shot. I know of judges who tell their secretaries to “pull out the Columbia applicants” from the three-foot long drawer of files. This is what you are up against. So, what harm is there in contacting chambers directly if you’re not one of the “Columbia applicants”? The energy you put in can correlate to the response you get. You should fully expect some snotty whippersnapper to give you the brush off, but there is no harm in trying. Certainly do not write a letter to the judge giving advice on an ongoing matter, or you may get a visit from the Secret Service. But, by all means, once you have targeted some judges, circuits, and districts, give it your all to get into those courthouses for an interview.

I cannot express the relief judges feel when they know they have hired someone who knows the difference between a motion to dismiss and summary judgment, and better yet, which standards apply. There are even career clerk positions, which can over time result in you making money in the low six figures. I often think back to young actors who would not deign to “do commercials.” Well, a single national commercial can carry your budget for several years. So, instead of looking down your nose at clerking, or even disregarding it as a gig for the young guns, give it some serious consideration. You can do far worse in this economy than clerk for a good judge.


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Re: Former District Court Clerk - taking questions

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Jan 31, 2013 12:11 pm

Do you think there are judges who view the school you went to as more important than your grades? I've always wonder about the difference between firms and judges: firms care more about law schools; judges care more about grades (relative to firms).

clerker
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Re: Former District Court Clerk - taking questions

Postby clerker » Thu Jan 31, 2013 1:15 pm

Anonymous User wrote:Do you think there are judges who view the school you went to as more important than your grades? I've always wonder about the difference between firms and judges: firms care more about law schools; judges care more about grades (relative to firms).


It depends on what your grades are. If you're from Harvard and you're at median, some judges will "care more about the school" in the sense that you might pass the minimum academic bar to get an interview. However, this holds true only for HYS; there's less of a "wow" factor for school, so grades become very important. And it really depends on the city where the judge sits; it might work for S.D. Tex but it won't work for N.D. Cal.

In the end it all comes down to competition. In competitive markets like the one I clerked in, you had tons of top 10% T14 students applying, who would always beat out a median Harvard kid. So in that sense, the judge cares more about grades, although you still would benefit from attending a top school.

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Re: Former District Court Clerk - taking questions

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Jan 31, 2013 1:35 pm

I'm top 25% at a T14. What districts could I possibly clerk for?

theaccidentalclerk
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Re: Former District Court Clerk - taking questions

Postby theaccidentalclerk » Thu Jan 31, 2013 1:40 pm

I'm top 25% at a T14. What districts could I possibly clerk for?


Not enough info to give you a meaningful answer. Assuming you are not at a T6 and not on law review, your chances as a student probably range from virtually zero (in the big competitive districts) to small but not nonexistent if you can get people to make calls in the "flyover" districts. If you applied as an alum out of a well-respected firm you'd have a MUCH better chance.

clerker
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Re: Former District Court Clerk - taking questions

Postby clerker » Thu Jan 31, 2013 1:51 pm

Anonymous User wrote:I'm top 25% at a T14. What districts could I possibly clerk for?


Are you on Law Review? Are you a 2L, 3L, or alum? Will professors go to bat for you? Did you win moot court? Does your T14 place well in your local district? What's your demographic background? What outstanding or unique attributes/accomplishments do you have? What city are you from? Do you have S.O. and does he/she have a connection to a particular city? What do you mean by possible? A 50-50 chance, or a 1% chance?

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Re: Former District Court Clerk - taking questions

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Jan 31, 2013 2:15 pm

theaccidentalclerk wrote:
I'm top 25% at a T14. What districts could I possibly clerk for?


Not enough info to give you a meaningful answer. Assuming you are not at a T6 and not on law review, your chances as a student probably range from virtually zero (in the big competitive districts) to small but not nonexistent if you can get people to make calls in the "flyover" districts. If you applied as an alum out of a well-respected firm you'd have a MUCH better chance.


What about those who are on LR at a T6?

theaccidentalclerk
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Re: Former District Court Clerk - taking questions

Postby theaccidentalclerk » Thu Jan 31, 2013 3:30 pm

What about those who are on LR at a T6?


Still assuming top 25% but not much higher than that (so you wrote on)? As a student, I'd expect you'd be very competive for USDC interviews if you could get chambers to read your application. Certainly in the flyovers, maybe in the big markets -- the key limiting factor here would be that so many SDNY and ND Ill and ND Cal and CD Cal judges are going alum-only, so it becomes a numbers game to some extent. I think you'd probably not have much luck with the COA, at least as a first clerkship (you'd probably be competitive applying out of a USDC clerkship with the relatively few COA judges who only hire people with clerking experience, but there's relatively few of those).

You'd do really well applying as an alum to alum-only judges -- it's a much smaller group of applicants, so it would be MUCH more likely to get your resume on the judge's desk. You probably could pick between NYC, Chicago, SF and LA.

Bottom line: Applying as a student, I'd expect you to get, oh, maybe 3-4 USDC interviews, though probably most will be in the boonies. Applying as an alum to alum-only judges, you could be selective about who you apply to, and I'd expect that you'd land an interview at maybe a third of the judges you apply to.

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Re: Former District Court Clerk - taking questions

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Jan 31, 2013 3:59 pm

theaccidentalclerk wrote:
What about those who are on LR at a T6?


Still assuming top 25% but not much higher than that (so you wrote on)? As a student, I'd expect you'd be very competive for USDC interviews if you could get chambers to read your application. Certainly in the flyovers, maybe in the big markets -- the key limiting factor here would be that so many SDNY and ND Ill and ND Cal and CD Cal judges are going alum-only, so it becomes a numbers game to some extent. I think you'd probably not have much luck with the COA, at least as a first clerkship (you'd probably be competitive applying out of a USDC clerkship with the relatively few COA judges who only hire people with clerking experience, but there's relatively few of those).

You'd do really well applying as an alum to alum-only judges -- it's a much smaller group of applicants, so it would be MUCH more likely to get your resume on the judge's desk. You probably could pick between NYC, Chicago, SF and LA.

Bottom line: Applying as a student, I'd expect you to get, oh, maybe 3-4 USDC interviews, though probably most will be in the boonies. Applying as an alum to alum-only judges, you could be selective about who you apply to, and I'd expect that you'd land an interview at maybe a third of the judges you apply to.


This is helpful; I appreciate it. I have some ties to the "boonies," so right now I'm targeting a DC-COA combination in a flyover region for 2014-2016.

On that score, do COA judges care when they see 3L applicants who are clerking on a district court in their circuit? Relatedly, is it possible to network with COA judges while you clerk on the district level?

theaccidentalclerk
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Re: Former District Court Clerk - taking questions

Postby theaccidentalclerk » Thu Jan 31, 2013 4:21 pm

On that score, do COA judges care when they see 3L applicants who are clerking on a district court in their circuit? Relatedly, is it possible to network with COA judges while you clerk on the district level?


With respect to the latter question, probably not, at least if my experience is indicative. Clerks in my courthouse don't have a ton of interaction with the other judges. Really, just enough to say "hi" to the ones that you walk past frequently. In fact, one of the bankruptcy judges came by to look for my judge earlier today and I didn't even know who he was.

On the first, I think it's case-by-case. For those that do, it probably mostly has to do with two things. First, is there a relationship between the judges (e.g., they served together on an appellate panel or a committee, or they are in the same courthouse, or the COA judge used to be in the district, that sort of thing)? If so, that's a huge plus, because the COA judge can pick up the phone and call your judge pretty easily. Second, how respected is your judge in the circuit? If you're clerking for a judge that's known for writing really solid (and rarely overturned) opinions, that might get some COA judges to look more closely at your resume.

Younger Abstention
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Re: Former District Court Clerk - taking questions

Postby Younger Abstention » Thu Jan 31, 2013 10:40 pm

So using a publication isn't good for the writing sample? Can anyone else weigh in on this? Is it consensus that it's a poor idea?

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A. Nony Mouse
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Re: Former District Court Clerk - taking questions

Postby A. Nony Mouse » Thu Jan 31, 2013 11:05 pm

I have seen a lot of judges specify that they want an unedited writing sample, so if you want to use a publication, in those cases you'd need to go back to a pre-edited version. I also think that a lot of district court judges would rather see a more practice-focused (and shorter) writing sample, but I don't know that that's universal. (I think COA judges are more interested in publication length/style samples; district court writing is generally very pragmatic and functional, which LR-style publications generally aren't.)

ClerkAdvisor
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Re: Former District Court Clerk - taking questions

Postby ClerkAdvisor » Fri Feb 01, 2013 1:13 am

Younger Abstention wrote:So using a publication isn't good for the writing sample? Can anyone else weigh in on this? Is it consensus that it's a poor idea?


Its fine to use something that has been published, but you should use a version that has been edited only by you (e.g. - the version that you submitted for selection).

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Re: Former District Court Clerk - taking questions

Postby ClerkAdvisor » Fri Feb 01, 2013 1:15 am

Anonymous User wrote:
theaccidentalclerk wrote:
What about those who are on LR at a T6?


Still assuming top 25% but not much higher than that (so you wrote on)? As a student, I'd expect you'd be very competive for USDC interviews if you could get chambers to read your application. Certainly in the flyovers, maybe in the big markets -- the key limiting factor here would be that so many SDNY and ND Ill and ND Cal and CD Cal judges are going alum-only, so it becomes a numbers game to some extent. I think you'd probably not have much luck with the COA, at least as a first clerkship (you'd probably be competitive applying out of a USDC clerkship with the relatively few COA judges who only hire people with clerking experience, but there's relatively few of those).

You'd do really well applying as an alum to alum-only judges -- it's a much smaller group of applicants, so it would be MUCH more likely to get your resume on the judge's desk. You probably could pick between NYC, Chicago, SF and LA.

Bottom line: Applying as a student, I'd expect you to get, oh, maybe 3-4 USDC interviews, though probably most will be in the boonies. Applying as an alum to alum-only judges, you could be selective about who you apply to, and I'd expect that you'd land an interview at maybe a third of the judges you apply to.


This is helpful; I appreciate it. I have some ties to the "boonies," so right now I'm targeting a DC-COA combination in a flyover region for 2014-2016.

On that score, do COA judges care when they see 3L applicants who are clerking on a district court in their circuit? Relatedly, is it possible to network with COA judges while you clerk on the district level?


If you're doing back to back clerkships, more likely than not you will have lined up the second clerkship (e.g. COA) before you start your first clerkship (especially if you start your first clerkship after the bar).

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Re: Former District Court Clerk - taking questions

Postby clerker » Fri Feb 01, 2013 11:41 am

Younger Abstention wrote:So using a publication isn't good for the writing sample? Can anyone else weigh in on this? Is it consensus that it's a poor idea?


Using a publication wouldn't hurt you, but you'd lose out on an opportunity to impress the judge. I'm assuming that the pub is a law review note type article. When we'd see those in chambers, we'd skim them and move on to the other materials in the application. However, if the sample was a draft analytical memo, we'd go through those very carefully. Impressive memos would result in the candidate shooting to the top of the list.

The reason why we cared so much was because the bulk of the work we did (draft opinions on motions) required analyzing the facts and the law. Publications are nice, but they're farther away from what we do at the district court. I admit, though, that COA clerkships may be different.

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Re: Former District Court Clerk - taking questions

Postby clerker » Tue Feb 12, 2013 2:58 pm

slow day, taking more questions.

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Re: Former District Court Clerk - taking questions

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Feb 12, 2013 3:48 pm

(1) How did your chambers look at applicants from schools without real grading systems (e.g. HYS)? What proportion of H's and P's were you looking for? How did you make sense of very similar-looking or opaque grade distributions?

(2) How competitive do you think someone with top 1/4-1/3 grades at HYS, a secondary journal board position, and a district court clerkship for 2013-2014 would be for COA clerkships in 2014-2015? How about later on down the road?

clerker
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Re: Former District Court Clerk - taking questions

Postby clerker » Tue Feb 12, 2013 4:30 pm

Anonymous User wrote:(1) How did your chambers look at applicants from schools without real grading systems (e.g. HYS)? What proportion of H's and P's were you looking for? How did you make sense of very similar-looking or opaque grade distributions?

(2) How competitive do you think someone with top 1/4-1/3 grades at HYS, a secondary journal board position, and a district court clerkship for 2013-2014 would be for COA clerkships in 2014-2015? How about later on down the road?



(1) For HYS folks, and for schools that had similar looking grade distributions, we looked to see if they generally received above-average grades. There was no specific ratio, or percentage, perhaps because most of us were confused about what they meant. So I guess I would say we went by feel. For HYS , we generally felt that if they had a good number of Hs and had strong recs and a strong writing sample, they'd have sufficient qualifications to earn an interview.

However, I do want to note that for HYS grads, the grades were not as much of an obstacle as much as their perceived reason for applying. If the judge could not figure out why this applicant was interested in the city, why they chose this judge, and so on, he would presume that the applicant was just applying for general "prestige" reasons. This situation typically arose with YLS applicants, by the way.

(2) I can't comment on COA clerkships specifically, but based on my observations of other clerks, those credentials are good enough for a COA clerkship in competitive cities. However, your greatest strength would be to have your district judge recommend you to your next judge. So if you want a full year to build a record (assuming you do excellent work) that might help your chances down the road.

Citizen Genet
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Re: Former District Court Clerk - taking questions

Postby Citizen Genet » Tue Feb 12, 2013 4:53 pm

clerker wrote: we looked to see if they generally received above-average grades. There was no specific ratio, or percentage, perhaps because most of us were confused about what they meant.


Mission accomplished HYS, mission accomplished.

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Re: Former District Court Clerk - taking questions

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Feb 22, 2013 2:54 pm

From what you've seen, how quickly is the turnaround from interview to offer for judges (on average)? I interviewed with a judge about a week and a half ago and haven't heard anything back yet. I'm assuming the worst, because I know he interviewed at least three other people.




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