Path to SCOTUS clerkship?

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willwash
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Path to SCOTUS clerkship?

Postby willwash » Fri Mar 01, 2013 3:36 pm

I post this only because I have searched the other threads and indeed the whole internet and, while I have seen some general discussion of SCOTUS clerkships, along with some pretty vague commentary about the types who eventually land them, I haven't seen a basic description of the process from start to finish. I've learned a good number of things from hashing out bits and pieces from various sources, and so here is what I do know (or what I think I know)...If anyone can correct something known to be inaccurate or fill in what is incomplete, please do so as that is kind of why I am posting this:

I know that earning a clerkship to the Supreme Court of the United States is one of the most desirable conceivable accomplishments for an attorney, and it is basically a "Golden Ticket". After a one or two year clerkship which pays somewhere in the neighborhood of 75k a year, which is certainly enough to scrape by in DC, almost any top BigLaw firm will not only hire you, but they will pay you a $280,000 signing bonus your first year and place you into year two or three on the lockstep ladder (depending on length of clerkship), giving you credit for your time at the Court, for a total first year compensation of almost half a million dollars. If money is not your thing, you won't have a hard time picking up an academic position at a top law school or joining counsel at big federal agencies, which is a major stepping stone into politics. You pretty much can't do any better for yourself.

I also know it is one of the hardest possible things to achieve, as you will be competing with thousands of the highest achievers and most brilliant minds in the country for one of only 35 or 36 positions--total. Admission to YLS is more of a sure thing many times over. Outside of the t14 your chances are almost zero, and even outside of HYS they drop considerably, until by VPBM you only see a trickle of one or two alum every few years who make it. If you don't make the managing board of your school's LR and/or publish your Note, you can pretty much forget about it. Clarence Thomas is something of a wild card and may dip a little "lower" than some of the other justices when selecting clerks, but that's about it, and I'm assuming he consequently gets a lot more hail mary applications you'd be competing with.

This brings me to the stuff I don't know. Mainly, prior clerkships. I've never actually seen it stated, but I am assuming that no one is taken on board as a SCOTUS law clerk straight out of LS? I've seen the term "feeder" judges thrown around--I'm assuming this means clerk with such a judge and your chances of picking up a SCOTUS clerkship go up. Also, is it better to intern for judges in the summers than for law firms while at LS? How about applying to the Court after a few years at a think tank or as a BigLaw associate?

Overall, it seems like the path to a SCOTUS clerkship, while very difficult and never a sure thing, is usually obtained by following a relatively "cookie cutter" course of actions, with the exception of Justice Thomas. Again, however, I'm not sure about everything and I grant I could be completely out to lunch on much of this and am hoping someone much smarter than me on the process can get me pointed in the right direction. If I am completely duplicating a preexisting thread that I just didn't see, I offer my apologies.

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Elston Gunn
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Re: Path to SCOTUS clerkship?

Postby Elston Gunn » Fri Mar 01, 2013 3:46 pm

You're a 0L? Come on, man, don't worry about this.

The "cookie cutter" answer is go to HYS, get near-straight Hs, be on Law Review (probably ed board), make connections with connected faculty, clerk for a feeder, get lucky.

So you know, just do SCOTUS, bro.

exitoptions
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Re: Path to SCOTUS clerkship?

Postby exitoptions » Fri Mar 01, 2013 3:48 pm

You really don't need to even think about this until you score nearly perfectly on every exam you take first year at one of the top law schools.

09042014
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Re: Path to SCOTUS clerkship?

Postby 09042014 » Fri Mar 01, 2013 3:48 pm

It's nbd, and doods at my high school did it all the time.

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Elston Gunn
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Re: Path to SCOTUS clerkship?

Postby Elston Gunn » Fri Mar 01, 2013 3:50 pm

Desert Fox wrote:It's nbd, and doods at my high school did it all the time.


Also this.

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willwash
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Re: Path to SCOTUS clerkship?

Postby willwash » Fri Mar 01, 2013 3:55 pm

Haha, yes, I know. I remind myself of this guy I once saw who was a fat, doughy civilian asking a bunch of very junior student Navy pilots during IFS (basically a crash course on flying little bug smashers that, if you made it through, you were allowed to start real military flight training) what it took to get selected as an astronaut, what he needed to do. I remember sitting there...I felt like by the very act of asking he proved himself to be of the type who would never make it.

I by no means have my heart set on a SCOTUS clerkship--I'm just trying to learn what's involved.

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Tangerine Gleam
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Re: Path to SCOTUS clerkship?

Postby Tangerine Gleam » Fri Mar 01, 2013 3:56 pm

willwash wrote:Mainly, prior clerkships. I've never actually seen it stated, but I am assuming that no one is taken on board as a SCOTUS law clerk straight out of LS?


This is correct. Perhaps this happened generations ago, but the standard practice for several decades has been for SCOTUS justices to hire applicants who have appellate clerkship experience. Really, there is no conceivable reason why a SCOTUS justice would not require an appellate clerkship first.

Also, appellate clerkship overwhelmingly means a federal circuit court clerkship. From time to time, though, justices will hire someone from a state supreme court. For example, Justice Thomas hires from Justice Eid (Colorado Supreme) sometimes, but even then, I think the applicant would still usually spend a year at a federal appellate court first.

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Wholigan
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Re: Path to SCOTUS clerkship?

Postby Wholigan » Fri Mar 01, 2013 4:16 pm

willwash wrote: almost any top BigLaw firm will not only hire you, but they will pay you a $280,000 signing bonus your first year and place you into year two or three on the lockstep ladder (depending on length of clerkship), giving you credit for your time at the Court, for a total first year compensation of almost half a million dollars.


All this does is make up for the earnings you lost while on the GS scale. In fact if you clerk for a total of 3 years culminating with SCOTUS and then join a firm you lose money even with a $280k bonus. But still, you should do it.

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A. Nony Mouse
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Re: Path to SCOTUS clerkship?

Postby A. Nony Mouse » Fri Mar 01, 2013 4:17 pm

Tangerine Gleam wrote:
willwash wrote:Mainly, prior clerkships. I've never actually seen it stated, but I am assuming that no one is taken on board as a SCOTUS law clerk straight out of LS?


This is correct. Perhaps this happened generations ago, but the standard practice for several decades has been for SCOTUS justices to hire applicants who have appellate clerkship experience. Really, there is no conceivable reason why a SCOTUS justice would not require an appellate clerkship first.

Also, appellate clerkship overwhelmingly means a federal circuit court clerkship. From time to time, though, justices will hire someone from a state supreme court. For example, Justice Thomas hires from Justice Eid (Colorado Supreme) sometimes, but even then, I think the applicant would still usually spend a year at a federal appellate court first.

Yes, the only Eid --> Thomas clerks I know of have done COA (specifically, Gorsuch).

Also, addressing the OP, I don't think there's any advantage to interning for judges all through law school - maybe during 1L summer or the school year, but you'd still work for a firm or whatever 2L summer (basically, if you're someone who has a shot at SCOTUS, that's probably biglaw because you'd have the numbers for biglaw, but I'm presuming there might be some PI-focused clerks who do something else). I mean, it's not like I know this from any kind of personal experience (closest I'll ever come to SCOTUS is citing them), but only interning for judges during law school just seems weird - working for a judge 2L summer is usually seen as a bit of a backup in case you can't get anything else, so it doesn't seem the way to go to join the Elite.

My impression is also that connections with the right professors are hugely important, but again, I don't have any personal knowledge of how it plays out in practice.

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bk1
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Re: Path to SCOTUS clerkship?

Postby bk1 » Fri Mar 01, 2013 9:59 pm

Read the rules at the top of the forum before posting. This forum is not for 0Ls.




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