Would I need a miracle to get an Art. III Dist. Clerkship?

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Would I need a miracle to get an Art. III Dist. Clerkship?

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Nov 08, 2013 6:33 pm

My statistics are:

Top ~35%
T20
URM (With a pretty compleing personal story)
1L SA experience at a big law firm
Secondary Journal
3 letters of recommendation from professors I am close with
Fairly good interviewer

I've been getting some mixed responses from people I have asked. The faculty members on the clerkship committee are saying how I should apply very broadly, and there's a chance--albeit not a high chance--that I'll land a federal district court clerkship.

I have spoken with other professors and attorneys, and they say that even though the chances are not zero, they are pretty close to zero.

So what are the board's thoughts? Should I just accept it now that I'll never be a federal clerk for a District Court Judge?

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Re: Would I need a miracle to get an Art. III Dist. Clerkship?

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Nov 08, 2013 11:11 pm

A. Nony Mouse wrote:Statistically speaking, your stats don't look competitive. The thing with clerkship hiring, however, is that it can be really idiosyncratic. If a judge sees something interesting in your resume, or you find some way to make a connection to a judge, that can trump numbers. For instance, someone who posted in the 2014-15 clerkship thread got a federal district court clerkship with these stats:
School range: Top 50 law school (public)
Rank: Top third (but was unranked when I applied to clerkships)

On the face of it, those stats are not at all promising (not knocking this person at all, just stating the odds). However, they also had the following qualifications:
LR?: Yes, but not e-board
Published?: Nope
Recs: Glowing (2 professors, 1 employer)
2L/3L/Alum?: 2L
Where applying?: Focused on US District Courts in flyover states. Sent out 20 applications in April.
Any other factors: Won a national moot court competition last fall. I'm also on a full scholarship to law school (not GI Bill).
1L Summer - USAO
2L Summer - (split) The Hill in DC drafting legislation for the House and then DOJ SLIP
Also, prior to law school, I was a Navy tactical jet aviator (and I'm female, so there are only a handful of us). I'm still in the Reserves as an Intelligence Officer, so I have been drilling with the Navy all through law school.


Looking beyond the stats, being a (female) Navy tactical jet aviator has got to be a SPECTACULAR soft, and she also has other great law school experiences, especially in the view of a judge with a government background. Even more importantly, though, that person also said she interned for a judge who made a call to the judge who hired her, which is probably the best way to get your application to stand out. (My understanding - though this may be wrong - is that if you apply via OSCAR, judges can just weed out applications based on class rank/school, so someone with less competitive stats wouldn't even get looked at to see if they have something interesting to offer - unless they can have someone call to make sure the judge looks at the app.)

The converse of this is that people at/near the top of their class at schools ranked significantly higher can and do strike out, as that thread also attests (I know someone number one in their class who applied to about 50-60 federal judges and didn't get a single interview; they weren't at a very top school, but traditionally the top student from that school has had a good shot with local judges. But this can happen to students at much higher-ranked schools, too.)

So, what does this mean for you? First, it's true, you might never be a clerk for a federal district court judge, and honestly, I wouldn't rely on it happening (but again, because hiring is so individual, very few people can really *rely* on getting a federal clerkship). But you won't know unless you apply, and there's very little opportunity cost to applying (although the applications are kind of a pain, once you've got one down it's not really much harder to apply to 100 judges).

Second, if you really do want to be a federal clerk, apply really broadly, including to magistrate judges and state judges (SSC and COA). If you're willing to do 2 clerkships, getting a non-article III clerkship can be a huge boost to your chances at a federal clerkship for the following year (even though you won't have completed 1 day of the non-article III clerkship when you apply - just having the clerkship helps). For one thing, judges will count a prior clerkship as work experience, so the growing contingent of judges who prefer experienced clerks will consider you after a prior clerkship when they wouldn't consider you straight out of school. Conversely, you could work for a few years and then apply for clerkships, because again, judges who want experienced clerks will value your work experience (perhaps more than your grades/school).

Also, talk to your profs/previous employers/anyone who thinks well of you who might know a judge, and find out if any of them are willing to make calls on your behalf, to try to get your application noticed.

Finally, think about why you want a clerkship. If you want to clerk for the experience of it - working closely with a judge, intensive writing and research, honing skills etc. - a clerkship doesn't have to be federal to provide that experience. If you want to practice in a field where you'll be in federal court, of course, a federal clerkship will be more helpful than state. And if you want specifically a federal clerkship because you think it will help you get a better job - well, it can do that, but there are no guarantees (most of the people who get federal clerkships already have the qualifications to get a good job - it's unclear how much it always helps if you have borderline qualifications for the work you want. Clerking definitely helped me get a good job, but clerks can struggle, too). I mean, I completely understand how in this profession someone might want a federal clerkship simply because it's more prestigious, but it's worth thinking beyond that.

But unfortunately, no one can precisely quantify your chances at a clerkship, and even if they could, if you really want a clerkship, what odds make applying not worthwhile? You lose all the shots you don't take yadda yadda yadda.

(Full disclosure: I ended up with an improbable clerkship myself - not at the top of my class or from a fancy school - so it's possible. But you can't rely on it.)


Thank you so much! A lot of great wisdom.

I know that I do not have the best statistics. And even though a federal dist. court clerkship is my number one goal, I'm still applying for SSC and my state's appellate courts. I'm going to cast as large of a net as possible.

I understand that a federal court clerkship isn't an end-all-be-all for clerking. But my long term career goals do include a practice where I'll be practicing in federal courts.

I was just hoping to get another perspective. The advice I have received so far has just been so far apart.

My current mentality is to continue to grind out high grades, and continue to hustle to achieve my goal of securing a federal court clerkship.

Not to add on to the corny quotes, but, it really is always the journey and not the destination that builds character. If I hustle and get a federal dist. clerkship then I'll be jubilant. But if I hustle, and get nothing, then this is just another learning experience in my young legal career.

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A. Nony Mouse
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Re: Would I need a miracle to get an Art. III Dist. Clerkship?

Postby A. Nony Mouse » Fri Nov 08, 2013 11:16 pm

Anonymous User wrote:I was just hoping to get another perspective. The advice I have received so far has just been so far apart.

I know. I think sometimes clerkship committee profs can be a little over optimistic, in that they view getting a clerkship through their own lens of having excellent grades from a great school (at least, almost all profs fit that description). And I think clerkship hiring has changed quite a bit in the last few years (since the economic downturn), in ways that people removed from law school/clerk hiring don't always realize. So it's hard to get good advice, but mostly because it's so hard to predict.

(Also, sorry my previous post was soooo long!)

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Re: Would I need a miracle to get an Art. III Dist. Clerkship?

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Nov 08, 2013 11:41 pm

A. Nony Mouse wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:I was just hoping to get another perspective. The advice I have received so far has just been so far apart.

I know. I think sometimes clerkship committee profs can be a little over optimistic, in that they view getting a clerkship through their own lens of having excellent grades from a great school (at least, almost all profs fit that description). And I think clerkship hiring has changed quite a bit in the last few years (since the economic downturn), in ways that people removed from law school/clerk hiring don't always realize. So it's hard to get good advice, but mostly because it's so hard to predict.

(Also, sorry my previous post was soooo long!)


I feel the same way about career services as well.

I just can't help but feel that both career services and the clerkship committee are completely out of touch with reality. Career services says that 20% of us will receive 2L OCI offers (in reality it was more like 10%). And the clerkship committee says that with my credentials, I have a chance at fed. dist. clerkship.

And although I'm sure if I looked high and low throughout the history of fed. dist. clerkship hiring, I can find a small handful of people with my credentials that received a fed. dist. clerkship, those people likely were the exception.

For once I just want the school to give me realistic advice, and give me a realistic strategy to maximize my chances.

And no worries about the long post, I actually quite enjoyed reading it.

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ph14
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Re: Would I need a miracle to get an Art. III Dist. Clerkship?

Postby ph14 » Sat Nov 09, 2013 12:56 am

Anonymous User wrote:My statistics are:

Top ~35%
T20
URM (With a pretty compleing personal story)
1L SA experience at a big law firm
Secondary Journal
3 letters of recommendation from professors I am close with
Fairly good interviewer

I've been getting some mixed responses from people I have asked. The faculty members on the clerkship committee are saying how I should apply very broadly, and there's a chance--albeit not a high chance--that I'll land a federal district court clerkship.

I have spoken with other professors and attorneys, and they say that even though the chances are not zero, they are pretty close to zero.

So what are the board's thoughts? Should I just accept it now that I'll never be a federal clerk for a District Court Judge?


I say this with your best interests at heart: proof read your application.

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Re: Would I need a miracle to get an Art. III Dist. Clerkship?

Postby Anonymous User » Sat Nov 09, 2013 9:13 am

+1 to A. Nony Mouse's advice

I am currently clerking for a federal district judge and I graduated median at a T-50 school, was on a secondary journal, and I am a non-URM. I clerked for a federal magistrate judge first, and applied for the district clerkship right after.

The only things I would add to the above is:

(1) If it is possible, next semester or during the summer, intern for a judge. While federal is preferable, a state clerkship will help too. The reason why I even got my magistrate clerkship was because I previously interned with the district judge. Being on the other end of the hiring process, my judge preferred applicants who interned for judges as it demonstrated some interest and awareness of what a law clerk actually does.

(2) Keep applying! If you really want to clerk for a judge, keep your eyes open for clerkship openings throughout the year. Clerkships not listed on Oscar have much fewer applicants. Check the career tab on uscourts.gov and search for "all positions." They list clerkships under different labels, so it is better to see all positions and just scan the list for openings. However, the majority of the positions on there are for immediate positions. Also, most of the judges that post jobs on there want experience (clerkship or attorney). So you can always work for one year after law school and reapply to clerkships if you really want to clerk.

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Re: Would I need a miracle to get an Art. III Dist. Clerkship?

Postby Anonymous User » Sat Nov 09, 2013 10:56 am

Anonymous User wrote:+1 to A. Nony Mouse's advice

I am currently clerking for a federal district judge and I graduated median at a T-50 school, was on a secondary journal, and I am a non-URM. I clerked for a federal magistrate judge first, and applied for the district clerkship right after.

The only things I would add to the above is:

(1) If it is possible, next semester or during the summer, intern for a judge. While federal is preferable, a state clerkship will help too. The reason why I even got my magistrate clerkship was because I previously interned with the district judge. Being on the other end of the hiring process, my judge preferred applicants who interned for judges as it demonstrated some interest and awareness of what a law clerk actually does.

(2) Keep applying! If you really want to clerk for a judge, keep your eyes open for clerkship openings throughout the year. Clerkships not listed on Oscar have much fewer applicants. Check the career tab on uscourts.gov and search for "all positions." They list clerkships under different labels, so it is better to see all positions and just scan the list for openings. However, the majority of the positions on there are for immediate positions. Also, most of the judges that post jobs on there want experience (clerkship or attorney). So you can always work for one year after law school and reapply to clerkships if you really want to clerk.



Thank you for your advice.

I'm not naive, I think if I were to land a fed. dist. clerkship, I would be the luckiest clerkship applicant in history.

Unlike my classmates, I do not think I'm "too good" for any particular clerkship. Some of my classmates are only applying to federal clerkships and are not even looking at state clerkships. From what I understand from talking to practicing attorneys, a state appellate clerkship/SSC is still a great credential that law firms value.

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Re: Would I need a miracle to get an Art. III Dist. Clerkship?

Postby Anonymous User » Sat Nov 09, 2013 11:39 am

D. ct. law clerk here. I also just got a job offer for a career staff attorney position at a SSC. I graduated around top 40 from a T30 in 2012 (i.e., statistically speaking, I had no chance in hell).

If there's any advice I could give it's to get great recommendations. (This goes across the boards, but is especially applicable for clerkships because of the volume of applicants.) Recommendations work wonders, especially if they are truly outstanding. Mediocre ones that say "This person worked for me at X, did a great job, and was great to work with. (S)he'd be a good asset to your Y" are a dime a dozen.

But if you can find out profs or other people who will really go to bat for you, it can make an enormous difference. For clerkships, this is especially true for recommenders who will praise your writing ability. I got my clerkship and upcoming job almost exclusively due to one of my recommenders (a judge). And my incoming replacement got picked because she had the strongest LOR the judge had ever seen (she has good credentials, but so did the other 200+ applicants).




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