Demystifying the application process?

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Demystifying the application process?

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Nov 12, 2013 4:02 pm

I was wondering if anyone current clerks would be willing to share how the application process works in their chambers (anonymously of course though level or type might help for context)?How are applications reviewed? Daily? When you hit a critical mass? Is every application read? What stands out as good or bad? How many applications have you received if currently soliciting? Thank you for your candor.

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Re: Demystifying the application process?

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Nov 12, 2013 6:49 pm

To add to OP's topic, what are the sort of hard cut-offs--GPA cutoffs/class rank cutoffs--you use when evaluating a candidate?

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Re: Demystifying the application process?

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Nov 13, 2013 7:58 am

Level/Type: Federal District Court

In our chambers, the clerks read every application that comes in, timing (and, in fact, whether we're even looking at doing interviews soon) doesn't matter. Everything gets read, usually the day or week it comes in. We evaluate them, and we keep a comprehensive file about it, so that if/when the Judge decides to reopen hiring and solicit again, we aren't behind. We aren't soliciting right now, so we've probably gone through thirty or so applications for 2014/2015/2016 - not many.

Unlike some other chambers, the clerks in ours are instructed not to look at transcripts (though applicants do have to send them). For the clerks, if not the Judge, there are no hard cut-offs. So we focus on resume, recommendations, and writing sample. What stands out is fairly common sense stuff: a thoughtful or impressive resume, a well-written writing sample, recommendations that are not a form letter...

Be careful of cover letters, though. If you're going to write one of the longer, "this is why I want to work for you" cover letters, please do not restate your resume or come across as so lacking in humility that working with you would be a chore. It makes an otherwise good application less impressive.

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Re: Demystifying the application process?

Postby A. Nony Mouse » Wed Nov 13, 2013 9:26 am

I think it can vary significantly by judge. The state COA judge I clerked for looked at applications as they came in. He looks at them first and then passes the materials to his career clerk with a yes/no/maybe - if the career clerk didn't have any objections to the person, a "yes" was then interviewed, a "maybe" was kept for if hiring didn't pan out well/quickly, and the "no"s were put in a pile to get a rejection after the hiring process was done. He did have a deadline for applications, but he'd interview/hire really any time before that if the candidate was right.

The federal judge I clerked for used to hire on-plan, so he would wait until OSCAR released the applications and look at them all at once (although by "he" I really mean the career clerk and JA). However, he'd review paper applications as they came in (which is how I got hired), and he hired the two clerks after me outside the plan process (one was a student in a law school class he taught, the other was a clerk in the district looking for a second clerkship). Unhelpfully, I have no idea how he's going to handle hiring now, but I do know he liked how much simpler everything went hiring/early outside of the plan.

I found that the long cover letters I saw were usually not very good - they unnecessarily reproduced the resume and did often sound self-congratulatory. Also, the "here's why I want to clerk" part of a cover letter was entirely useless, since the judge (and the clerks looking at the applications) know why clerking is a good gig and don't need to be convinced. (I know a lot of CSOs push that kind of thing, but I have no idea why.)

Hard cutoffs exist, but often vary by school. My state judge tended not to look at someone outside the top 10 students of the lower-ranked local school (he'd go a bit lower for the other local school - mine - because that was his alma mater), unless you had some kind of amazing and unique soft (he cared very much about what you'd done outside of law school and preferred not to hire K-JDs). However, if you were, say, a Harvard student, grades or experience really didn't matter (not many H people applied to clerk on this court).

I don't actually have any idea what my federal judge's criteria/cutoffs were, because of how he hired while I was there. Having someone vouch for you/having experience/being a known quantity were clearly a big help.

And both judges placed a lot of weight on recommendations from people they knew. (I think this is probably pretty universal.)

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Re: Demystifying the application process?

Postby Danger Zone » Wed Nov 13, 2013 9:30 am

Can we get some pointers on what a clerkship cover letter SHOULD look like?

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Re: Demystifying the application process?

Postby A. Nony Mouse » Wed Nov 13, 2013 9:50 am

Here's a breakdown of what I did, and what I think works based on reading them. However, I'm not claiming to be the absolute authority on this, so feel free to ignore/revise/criticize.

1st paragraph: "I am a student/recent graduate of X Law School, and I am writing to apply for a clerkship in your chambers beginning in [date]." [add anything that connects you to the judge/location, like: "Last summer, I worked at Firm X with your former clerk John Doe/interned with Judge X of your district, who recommended that I apply" or "I am particularly interested in clerking in [location] because [whatever - family, plan to settle there to practice]" or the like] (2 sentences)

2nd paragraph: [brief highlight of your really cool abilities, usually to do with research/writing - maybe something like: "I have extensive experience in writing and research both in law school and in my work before law school, including writing [cool writing project of some kind, ideally something specific that doesn't show up on your resume]. (This can seriously be 2 sentences or less. Or skipped altogether, really - here is where you run the risk of reproducing your resume, and if that's all your going to do, I would err on the side of leaving this out. But I think this is the most debated part of a letter.)

3rd paragraph: "Enclosed please find my resume, transcripts through [date], and writing sample. Letters of recommendation from Profs. X, Y, and Z of [school] will be sent under separate cover, and I will provide an updated transcript as soon as grades and ranks for spring semester [date] have been compiled."

4th para: "I am available for an interview at your convenience, and may be reached at [phone numbers]. Thank you for your consideration. Respectfully, [name]"

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Re: Demystifying the application process?

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Nov 13, 2013 10:46 am

Anonymous User wrote:Level/Type: Federal District Court

In our chambers, the clerks read every application that comes in, timing (and, in fact, whether we're even looking at doing interviews soon) doesn't matter. Everything gets read, usually the day or week it comes in. We evaluate them, and we keep a comprehensive file about it, so that if/when the Judge decides to reopen hiring and solicit again, we aren't behind. We aren't soliciting right now, so we've probably gone through thirty or so applications for 2014/2015/2016 - not many.

Unlike some other chambers, the clerks in ours are instructed not to look at transcripts (though applicants do have to send them). For the clerks, if not the Judge, there are no hard cut-offs. So we focus on resume, recommendations, and writing sample. What stands out is fairly common sense stuff: a thoughtful or impressive resume, a well-written writing sample, recommendations that are not a form letter...

Be careful of cover letters, though. If you're going to write one of the longer, "this is why I want to work for you" cover letters, please do not restate your resume or come across as so lacking in humility that working with you would be a chore. It makes an otherwise good application less impressive.


This at least gives me some hope. I have good, but I do not have stellar grades. But I do have great recommendations, detailed work experience, and a writing sample that has gotten a lot of praise.

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Re: Demystifying the application process?

Postby Danger Zone » Wed Nov 13, 2013 12:44 pm

A. Nony Mouse wrote:Here's a breakdown of what I did, and what I think works based on reading them. However, I'm not claiming to be the absolute authority on this, so feel free to ignore/revise/criticize.

1st paragraph: "I am a student/recent graduate of X Law School, and I am writing to apply for a clerkship in your chambers beginning in [date]." [add anything that connects you to the judge/location, like: "Last summer, I worked at Firm X with your former clerk John Doe/interned with Judge X of your district, who recommended that I apply" or "I am particularly interested in clerking in [location] because [whatever - family, plan to settle there to practice]" or the like] (2 sentences)

2nd paragraph: [brief highlight of your really cool abilities, usually to do with research/writing - maybe something like: "I have extensive experience in writing and research both in law school and in my work before law school, including writing [cool writing project of some kind, ideally something specific that doesn't show up on your resume]. (This can seriously be 2 sentences or less. Or skipped altogether, really - here is where you run the risk of reproducing your resume, and if that's all your going to do, I would err on the side of leaving this out. But I think this is the most debated part of a letter.)

3rd paragraph: "Enclosed please find my resume, transcripts through [date], and writing sample. Letters of recommendation from Profs. X, Y, and Z of [school] will be sent under separate cover, and I will provide an updated transcript as soon as grades and ranks for spring semester [date] have been compiled."

4th para: "I am available for an interview at your convenience, and may be reached at [phone numbers]. Thank you for your consideration. Respectfully, [name]"

Thanks Nony, your posting on this topic is always invaluable.

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Re: Demystifying the application process?

Postby Scotusnerd » Wed Nov 13, 2013 12:51 pm

A. Nony Mouse wrote:Here's a breakdown of what I did, and what I think works based on reading them. However, I'm not claiming to be the absolute authority on this, so feel free to ignore/revise/criticize.

1st paragraph: "I am a student/recent graduate of X Law School, and I am writing to apply for a clerkship in your chambers beginning in [date]." [add anything that connects you to the judge/location, like: "Last summer, I worked at Firm X with your former clerk John Doe/interned with Judge X of your district, who recommended that I apply" or "I am particularly interested in clerking in [location] because [whatever - family, plan to settle there to practice]" or the like] (2 sentences)

2nd paragraph: [brief highlight of your really cool abilities, usually to do with research/writing - maybe something like: "I have extensive experience in writing and research both in law school and in my work before law school, including writing [cool writing project of some kind, ideally something specific that doesn't show up on your resume]. (This can seriously be 2 sentences or less. Or skipped altogether, really - here is where you run the risk of reproducing your resume, and if that's all your going to do, I would err on the side of leaving this out. But I think this is the most debated part of a letter.)

3rd paragraph: "Enclosed please find my resume, transcripts through [date], and writing sample. Letters of recommendation from Profs. X, Y, and Z of [school] will be sent under separate cover, and I will provide an updated transcript as soon as grades and ranks for spring semester [date] have been compiled."

4th para: "I am available for an interview at your convenience, and may be reached at [phone numbers]. Thank you for your consideration. Respectfully, [name]"


Most concise and useful instruction I have ever seen on a cover letter. You just said in four paragraphs what took my career services 80 pages (and they still didn't say it well.) Thanks for posting that.

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Re: Demystifying the application process?

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Nov 13, 2013 2:02 pm

A. Nony Mouse wrote:Here's a breakdown of what I did, and what I think works based on reading them. However, I'm not claiming to be the absolute authority on this, so feel free to ignore/revise/criticize.

1st paragraph: "I am a student/recent graduate of X Law School, and I am writing to apply for a clerkship in your chambers beginning in [date]." [add anything that connects you to the judge/location, like: "Last summer, I worked at Firm X with your former clerk John Doe/interned with Judge X of your district, who recommended that I apply" or "I am particularly interested in clerking in [location] because [whatever - family, plan to settle there to practice]" or the like] (2 sentences)

2nd paragraph: [brief highlight of your really cool abilities, usually to do with research/writing - maybe something like: "I have extensive experience in writing and research both in law school and in my work before law school, including writing [cool writing project of some kind, ideally something specific that doesn't show up on your resume]. (This can seriously be 2 sentences or less. Or skipped altogether, really - here is where you run the risk of reproducing your resume, and if that's all your going to do, I would err on the side of leaving this out. But I think this is the most debated part of a letter.)

3rd paragraph: "Enclosed please find my resume, transcripts through [date], and writing sample. Letters of recommendation from Profs. X, Y, and Z of [school] will be sent under separate cover, and I will provide an updated transcript as soon as grades and ranks for spring semester [date] have been compiled."

4th para: "I am available for an interview at your convenience, and may be reached at [phone numbers]. Thank you for your consideration. Respectfully, [name]"


Great advice.

My career counselor would have spent 10 minutes going on a rant about how cover letters are key to success in any job application. And if I had asked her directly how I should write my cover letter for judicial clerkships, she would have just said, "Oh, that's a personal choice."

K ... thanks?

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Re: Demystifying the application process?

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Nov 13, 2013 3:38 pm

Former clerk in SDNY/EDNY here. We accepted applications both via OSCAR and in hard copy. After having collected a few hundred applications, we dedicated about a week to going through them. Our protocol was to read through every application but to only flag applications that received unanimous approval from all of the clerks.

My approach was to always start with grades and the school. For better or for worse, applicants from outside the T14 rarely made the cut unless their grades were truly stellar or there was something else extraordinary about the resume. For 2Ls from the very top schools (HYS), I wanted to see at least 2/3 Hs and 1/3 Ps. I was a bit more flexible on that ratio if the applicant had some experience at a top firm or won moot court or something. For schools outside that top tier, I usually looked for a GPA of at least a 3.6 or better. And yes, I'm aware the curve was different at every school, but we weren't really in a position to figure out what the median GPA at each school was.

If the applicant had the right school and grades, he or she usually still had to have something else that would make him or her stand out from the pack--e.g. interesting pre-law-school work experience, military service, EIC of a journal, etc. This part of the process was pretty idiosyncratic, but then again, the entire process of clerkship applications is.

Personally, I usually only read the writing sample if the applicant was borderline. And cover letters were usually irrelevant. In my opinion, cover letters were more of an opportunity for an applicant to hurt himself than anything else. As long as it was succinct, clear, and error-free, that was enough.

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Re: Demystifying the application process?

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Nov 14, 2013 7:42 am

Anonymous User wrote:Level/Type: Federal District Court

In our chambers, the clerks read every application that comes in, timing (and, in fact, whether we're even looking at doing interviews soon) doesn't matter. Everything gets read, usually the day or week it comes in. We evaluate them, and we keep a comprehensive file about it, so that if/when the Judge decides to reopen hiring and solicit again, we aren't behind. We aren't soliciting right now, so we've probably gone through thirty or so applications for 2014/2015/2016 - not many.

Unlike some other chambers, the clerks in ours are instructed not to look at transcripts (though applicants do have to send them). For the clerks, if not the Judge, there are no hard cut-offs. So we focus on resume, recommendations, and writing sample. What stands out is fairly common sense stuff: a thoughtful or impressive resume, a well-written writing sample, recommendations that are not a form letter...

Be careful of cover letters, though. If you're going to write one of the longer, "this is why I want to work for you" cover letters, please do not restate your resume or come across as so lacking in humility that working with you would be a chore. It makes an otherwise good application less impressive.


Same anon from the quoted post. A couple things I thought to add after some more reflection:

It's not that your school and grades don't matter. We can see your school from your resume, and your GPA/honor are typically on there, too. We just aren't going to know that you got a B once during your 1L. School/GPA do come into play. We don't have a hard cut-off, though.

The Judge, of course, can look at whatever s/he wants. That said, s/he doesn't look at any application that the clerks have chosen not to pass on.

Danger Zone wrote:Can we get some pointers on what a clerkship cover letter SHOULD look like?


A. Nony Mouse's sample was certain good. I would go even shorter with it, though, personally (and, what I'm about to show you is essentially what I used during my process):

[Greeting],

I am writing to apply to clerk for your chambers during the [years] term. [Insert a sentence explaining if you have some connection to the location or judge. Only if you have a connection worth mentioning, though.] Attached please find my resume, transcript, [letters of rec.] and writing sample. [If your letters are sent separately, say that in this optional sentence].

Thank you for your time and consideration.

[Sincerely/whatever you put here],
I-Want-To-Clerk

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Re: Demystifying the application process?

Postby A. Nony Mouse » Thu Nov 14, 2013 10:07 am

Yeah, agree that you can definitely go shorter than what I did.

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Re: Demystifying the application process?

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Nov 14, 2013 11:44 am

Anonymous User wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:Level/Type: Federal District Court

In our chambers, the clerks read every application that comes in, timing (and, in fact, whether we're even looking at doing interviews soon) doesn't matter. Everything gets read, usually the day or week it comes in. We evaluate them, and we keep a comprehensive file about it, so that if/when the Judge decides to reopen hiring and solicit again, we aren't behind. We aren't soliciting right now, so we've probably gone through thirty or so applications for 2014/2015/2016 - not many.

Unlike some other chambers, the clerks in ours are instructed not to look at transcripts (though applicants do have to send them). For the clerks, if not the Judge, there are no hard cut-offs. So we focus on resume, recommendations, and writing sample. What stands out is fairly common sense stuff: a thoughtful or impressive resume, a well-written writing sample, recommendations that are not a form letter...

Be careful of cover letters, though. If you're going to write one of the longer, "this is why I want to work for you" cover letters, please do not restate your resume or come across as so lacking in humility that working with you would be a chore. It makes an otherwise good application less impressive.


Same anon from the quoted post. A couple things I thought to add after some more reflection:

It's not that your school and grades don't matter. We can see your school from your resume, and your GPA/honor are typically on there, too. We just aren't going to know that you got a B once during your 1L. School/GPA do come into play. We don't have a hard cut-off, though.

The Judge, of course, can look at whatever s/he wants. That said, s/he doesn't look at any application that the clerks have chosen not to pass on.

Danger Zone wrote:Can we get some pointers on what a clerkship cover letter SHOULD look like?


A. Nony Mouse's sample was certain good. I would go even shorter with it, though, personally (and, what I'm about to show you is essentially what I used during my process):

[Greeting],

I am writing to apply to clerk for your chambers during the [years] term. [Insert a sentence explaining if you have some connection to the location or judge. Only if you have a connection worth mentioning, though.] Attached please find my resume, transcript, [letters of rec.] and writing sample. [If your letters are sent separately, say that in this optional sentence].

Thank you for your time and consideration.

[Sincerely/whatever you put here],
I-Want-To-Clerk



Aside from grades/class-rank/school, is there anything else on a resume that typically pops out to you? For example, if a candidate had a 1L SA at a well-regarded and reputable firm, etc.

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Re: Demystifying the application process?

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Nov 14, 2013 8:54 pm

Anonymous User wrote:Aside from grades/class-rank/school, is there anything else on a resume that typically pops out to you? For example, if a candidate had a 1L SA at a well-regarded and reputable firm, etc.


Same anon clerk that was quoted in the post I'm answering.

Random things stick out, and it's really idiosyncratic and depends on what kinds of things are interesting to me, my co-clerk, and what we think will be interesting to the Judge. An interesting job description, places someone in chambers has worked/SA'd/interned, publication, even the interest section is read. My co-clerk worked between undergrad and law school, and people that also did that stand out to him/her. Community service always sticks out to me. Which firm you were an SA at isn't usually super important, unless it's the Judge's old firm or a local firm or something, but the experience you got there might be interesting if you convey it well.

I can say there are certain things that we always note if we see them: journal (law review, but also secondaries), editorial/leadership gigs, and publication.

I can also say there are certain things that pretty much always result in a negative reaction: resumes over one page (if you have less than five years work experience outside of school, you should not have a multi-pager), overblowing something that we know wasn't that huge (research assistant for a law prof, for example), anything that makes it look like you'll hate it in our district.

As to that last point, it's usually not something negative about the applicant, but something that indicates they'll be a terrible fit. The best one I can think of is someone who applied and was clearly an IP person - patent bar, undergrad degree, 1L and 2L IP SAs, IP journal, IP extracurriculars, etc. I cannot think of a single IP case our court has seen. Ever. It's just not an IP heavy docket, not even for "soft IP". I don't think that person would get as much out of a clerkship in our chambers, so that's kind of a negative.

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Re: Demystifying the application process?

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Nov 14, 2013 10:38 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:Aside from grades/class-rank/school, is there anything else on a resume that typically pops out to you? For example, if a candidate had a 1L SA at a well-regarded and reputable firm, etc.


Same anon clerk that was quoted in the post I'm answering.

Random things stick out, and it's really idiosyncratic and depends on what kinds of things are interesting to me, my co-clerk, and what we think will be interesting to the Judge. An interesting job description, places someone in chambers has worked/SA'd/interned, publication, even the interest section is read. My co-clerk worked between undergrad and law school, and people that also did that stand out to him/her. Community service always sticks out to me. Which firm you were an SA at isn't usually super important, unless it's the Judge's old firm or a local firm or something, but the experience you got there might be interesting if you convey it well.

I can say there are certain things that we always note if we see them: journal (law review, but also secondaries), editorial/leadership gigs, and publication.

I can also say there are certain things that pretty much always result in a negative reaction: resumes over one page (if you have less than five years work experience outside of school, you should not have a multi-pager), overblowing something that we know wasn't that huge (research assistant for a law prof, for example), anything that makes it look like you'll hate it in our district.

As to that last point, it's usually not something negative about the applicant, but something that indicates they'll be a terrible fit. The best one I can think of is someone who applied and was clearly an IP person - patent bar, undergrad degree, 1L and 2L IP SAs, IP journal, IP extracurriculars, etc. I cannot think of a single IP case our court has seen. Ever. It's just not an IP heavy docket, not even for "soft IP". I don't think that person would get as much out of a clerkship in our chambers, so that's kind of a negative.


Sorry about continuing to hammer you with questions, but do you have a sense as to whether judges--at the federal level & state appellate level--favor hiring URMs?

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Re: Demystifying the application process?

Postby texas man » Thu Nov 14, 2013 11:35 pm

I graduated in May and am currently clerking for a federal judge in Texas (district court); next year I'll be clerking for another federal judge in (another district of) Texas.

Two quick comments/suggestions, which should be common knowledge for applicants:

1. Outside of T14 applicants, and sometimes irrespective of the T14, federal judges are often preferential to applicants from their law school. So, also target judges who are graduates from your law school.

2. I applied through OSCAR for my current clerkship; my judge, with his previous clerks' help, had to sift through many hundreds of applications to make choices for interviews. The judge I'll be clerking for next year doesn't follow the OSCAR hiring plan because of the time expense; he received many fewer applications to review (under 50)--this gave me a much better shot at getting the job. So, within the locations you are applying, in addition to your OSCAR applications, find and apply with judges who are not accepting applications through OSCAR--this should increase your chances of getting an interview. And, incidentally, the judge I currently work for has decided not to use OSCAR to hire future clerks, due to the "inconvenience."

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Re: Demystifying the application process?

Postby Anonymous User » Sat Nov 16, 2013 10:19 am

Anonymous User wrote:Sorry about continuing to hammer you with questions, but do you have a sense as to whether judges--at the federal level & state appellate level--favor hiring URMs?


Same anon clerk that was quoted in the post I'm answering (I'll just call myself AnonDCt from now on, because this might get ridiculous otherwise).

In our chambers, the last three classes of clerks each had at least one person that was URM or, if not "U", was at least non-white. The few classes before us didn't have anyone of color. This go around, the URM is me. I have no idea if it's something the Judge looks for, or if it just happened that way. I usually note if they were a participant in a relevant student group in my evaluation/summary for the Judge, but whether the Judge cares I have no idea.

I have even less idea how it impacts other chambers. Sorry not to be of more help. It was always a black box to me, too.

Oh, and don't apologize for asking questions. I'm more than happy to answer them, to the extent I'm able to.

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Re: Demystifying the application process?

Postby Anonymous User » Sat Nov 16, 2013 12:05 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:Sorry about continuing to hammer you with questions, but do you have a sense as to whether judges--at the federal level & state appellate level--favor hiring URMs?


Same anon clerk that was quoted in the post I'm answering (I'll just call myself AnonDCt from now on, because this might get ridiculous otherwise).

In our chambers, the last three classes of clerks each had at least one person that was URM or, if not "U", was at least non-white. The few classes before us didn't have anyone of color. This go around, the URM is me. I have no idea if it's something the Judge looks for, or if it just happened that way. I usually note if they were a participant in a relevant student group in my evaluation/summary for the Judge, but whether the Judge cares I have no idea.

I have even less idea how it impacts other chambers. Sorry not to be of more help. It was always a black box to me, too.

Oh, and don't apologize for asking questions. I'm more than happy to answer them, to the extent I'm able to.


Thank you for taking the time to answer questions.

I'm not sure how I should tackle my cover letter. Some samples I have seen were pretty bare bones. But my professors consistently tell me that I have a pretty compelling personal story, and including a paragraph about it could help me.

I do not have top 10% grades, and since I go to a T20, I just don't know if my grades/journal experience alone will cut it.

I know that my personal story in my personal statement greatly aided my law school applications, and has helped in my cover letters for 2L SA/law clerk positions.

What do you think?

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Re: Demystifying the application process?

Postby andythefir » Sat Nov 16, 2013 12:35 pm

texas man wrote:I graduated in May and am currently clerking for a federal judge in Texas (district court); next year I'll be clerking for another federal judge in (another district of) Texas.
2. I applied through OSCAR for my current clerkship; my judge, with his previous clerks' help, had to sift through many hundreds of applications to make choices for interviews. The judge I'll be clerking for next year doesn't follow the OSCAR hiring plan because of the time expense; he received many fewer applications to review (under 50)--this gave me a much better shot at getting the job. So, within the locations you are applying, in addition to your OSCAR applications, find and apply with judges who are not accepting applications through OSCAR--this should increase your chances of getting an interview. And, incidentally, the judge I currently work for has decided not to use OSCAR to hire future clerks, due to the "inconvenience."


How can we find judges who are not hiring through OSCAR? Should we mail packages to every judge that says they won't hire through OSCAR? That seems like it could get really expensive really quickly.

Also, I understand that a judge would be pleased to not have to go through so many applications, but it's very frustrating to an applicant because it seems like the judge is rewarding people who know how to play the game and punishing potentially great prospects who are out of the loop.

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A. Nony Mouse
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Re: Demystifying the application process?

Postby A. Nony Mouse » Sat Nov 16, 2013 12:45 pm

About cover letters: My impression - and this is just an impression - is that CSOs at lower-ranked schools are the ones who are enamored of, and advise writing, long cover letters for clerkship apps. (The ultra barebones, like the example above, is often described as the "Harvard" model of clerkship cover letter.) I think the idea is that if your school is not above a certain rank (what exactly that is, I don't know), you have to work a bit harder to sell yourself and thus need to provide more detail than "I'm applying, here's my stuff." I have no idea if this strategy really helps, but it's roughly what I've heard/observed.

I mention this because I have also seen people suggest that if you're a semi-borderline candidate anyway (in terms of school/GPA), it can't hurt to include more detail/do something sort of unconventional to help you stand out, because you face an uphill battle and your best shot is just to get noticed and get interviewed based on what makes you unique/interesting (since you're not in as strong a position in terms of school/GPA).

So, short answer: if your compelling story is something that isn't evident in your resume, and makes you stand out/look interesting, I don't think including a brief paragraph about it is a bad idea. (Of course, I had a brief "about me" paragraph in my cover letter.) It's true that the more that's in the cover letter, the more chance you have to make a mistake/hurt yourself, so it probably makes sense if it's really something that doesn't fit in a resume at all.

(Also, when I say "lower-ranked" and "semi-borderline," I don't mean anything insulting by that - I was way more borderline. I just mean that in the context of the very competitive field of clerking. And as for URM hiring - I've come across a few URM judges in particular who seem to prefer to hire URM clerks where possible, but I think it's tough to generalize.)

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Re: Demystifying the application process?

Postby A. Nony Mouse » Sat Nov 16, 2013 12:53 pm

andythefir wrote:How can we find judges who are not hiring through OSCAR? Should we mail packages to every judge that says they won't hire through OSCAR? That seems like it could get really expensive really quickly.

Also, I understand that a judge would be pleased to not have to go through so many applications, but it's very frustrating to an applicant because it seems like the judge is rewarding people who know how to play the game and punishing potentially great prospects who are out of the loop.

Sorry to double post, but: a lot of judges don't really care about who they're rewarding and who's out of the loop. They have to hire every year (or every other), there are tons of qualified applicants, it's a pain in the ass for them, they're going to deal with whatever applications are in front of them, and whatever makes their life easier - not what makes it easier/fairer for applicants.

Basically, I'd suggest identifying where you're willing to clerk, figuring out who all the judges in those regions are (so go to the district/circuit websites and create a list - or if you have access to the Yellow Book or whatever it is, that's much more convenient), looking up on OSCAR to see who takes apps through OSCAR, and then calling up all the others' chambers to find out if they're hiring for [whatever term you're applying for]. Many judges who aren't listed on OSCAR just aren't hiring clerks. The remainder are who you send paper apps to. Yes, it can get expensive, depending how many judges that is.

Personally, I think any time you can apply in paper you're better off than applying through OSCAR, because paper has an immediacy to it that the electronic apps don't have - you can't just click a button and delete it. But that's because it's how I got my federal clerkship. There are also judges who only take apps through OSCAR and won't consider paper.

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Re: Demystifying the application process?

Postby Anonymous User » Sat Nov 16, 2013 1:30 pm

A. Nony Mouse wrote:About cover letters: My impression - and this is just an impression - is that CSOs at lower-ranked schools are the ones who are enamored of, and advise writing, long cover letters for clerkship apps. (The ultra barebones, like the example above, is often described as the "Harvard" model of clerkship cover letter.) I think the idea is that if your school is not above a certain rank (what exactly that is, I don't know), you have to work a bit harder to sell yourself and thus need to provide more detail than "I'm applying, here's my stuff." I have no idea if this strategy really helps, but it's roughly what I've heard/observed.

I mention this because I have also seen people suggest that if you're a semi-borderline candidate anyway (in terms of school/GPA), it can't hurt to include more detail/do something sort of unconventional to help you stand out, because you face an uphill battle and your best shot is just to get noticed and get interviewed based on what makes you unique/interesting (since you're not in as strong a position in terms of school/GPA).

So, short answer: if your compelling story is something that isn't evident in your resume, and makes you stand out/look interesting, I don't think including a brief paragraph about it is a bad idea. (Of course, I had a brief "about me" paragraph in my cover letter.) It's true that the more that's in the cover letter, the more chance you have to make a mistake/hurt yourself, so it probably makes sense if it's really something that doesn't fit in a resume at all.

(Also, when I say "lower-ranked" and "semi-borderline," I don't mean anything insulting by that - I was way more borderline. I just mean that in the context of the very competitive field of clerking. And as for URM hiring - I've come across a few URM judges in particular who seem to prefer to hire URM clerks where possible, but I think it's tough to generalize.)


Got it, thank you.

I attend a T20, with top 35%~ grades. So, I know it's going to be an uphill battle for me anyways.

On the personal story note, I think adding it to my cover letter would add a human-side to my application. There's no way a clerk/judge could infer from my resume my personal story.

I do plan on keeping it very short, i.e. just one paragraph.

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Re: Demystifying the application process?

Postby ClerkAdvisor » Sat Nov 16, 2013 4:15 pm

andythefir wrote:
texas man wrote:I graduated in May and am currently clerking for a federal judge in Texas (district court); next year I'll be clerking for another federal judge in (another district of) Texas.
2. I applied through OSCAR for my current clerkship; my judge, with his previous clerks' help, had to sift through many hundreds of applications to make choices for interviews. The judge I'll be clerking for next year doesn't follow the OSCAR hiring plan because of the time expense; he received many fewer applications to review (under 50)--this gave me a much better shot at getting the job. So, within the locations you are applying, in addition to your OSCAR applications, find and apply with judges who are not accepting applications through OSCAR--this should increase your chances of getting an interview. And, incidentally, the judge I currently work for has decided not to use OSCAR to hire future clerks, due to the "inconvenience."


How can we find judges who are not hiring through OSCAR? Should we mail packages to every judge that says they won't hire through OSCAR? That seems like it could get really expensive really quickly.

Also, I understand that a judge would be pleased to not have to go through so many applications, but it's very frustrating to an applicant because it seems like the judge is rewarding people who know how to play the game and punishing potentially great prospects who are out of the loop.


A couple things:

- I think that mailed applications are far better -- someone will actually look at the application. Sometimes half the battle is just getting your application looked at.

- The best way to get your application off a pile is to have a recommender call chambers and talk to the judge about you. While a professor who knows the judge is best, even a cold call is helpful, so long as the professor is exceptionally enthusiastic about you. If nothing else, it should get the judge to actually look at your application.

- I wouldn't worry about the cost of postage. You should have some strategy with your applications. As a general rule, the best way to be successful is to apply to (i) every judge you're willing to clerk for in (ii) every city you're willing to live in. That said, be realistic - the Amtrak corridor (i.e., the midatlantic) is far more competitive than the rest of the US. So, if you have some sort of strategy for your applications, then I can't imagine you'd be applying to more than ~ 100-150 judges. Postage is only ~ $1.50 per packet. Plus, you should see if your school will bundle/mail the packets for you. Its a good way to save money and its far better to have all your materials arrive at the same time.

- Fair warning - if you're worried about the cost of postage, you really need to prepare yourself for the cost of traveling to interviews. If you're applying nationally, you can easily spend $3k+ in travel if you go on a few interviews (I would especially warn people who are borderline candidates for feeders/semi-feeders -- if you don't lock up something quickly, you'll probably end up interviewing a fair amount).

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Re: Demystifying the application process?

Postby texas man » Sat Nov 16, 2013 11:46 pm

andythefir wrote:How can we find judges who are not hiring through OSCAR? Should we mail packages to every judge that says they won't hire through OSCAR? That seems like it could get really expensive really quickly.

Also, I understand that a judge would be pleased to not have to go through so many applications, but it's very frustrating to an applicant because it seems like the judge is rewarding people who know how to play the game and punishing potentially great prospects who are out of the loop.

In addition to A. Nony Mouse's and ClerkAdvisor's comments:

1. To find judges who are not hiring through OSCAR, I went to the website for each district in Texas (Northern, Western, Southern, Eastern), and compiled a master list of every judge, with mailing addresses, phone numbers, and alma maters. Then, by visiting the OSCAR website, I notated on my master list those judges accepting applications through OSCAR, as well as their hiring requirements.

2. For each judge not accepting applications through OSCAR, I called the judge's chambers/clerk's office to find out if they were hiring a term clerk for the upcoming term (and, if so, how many); as mentioned above, some judges have only career clerks and do not hire term clerks. Those judges not hiring term clerks were crossed off my master list.

3. I applied online to each judge accepting applications through OSCAR; I sent paper-application packages to the remaining judges. Fortunately, Career Services at my law school paid for all mailing expenses--I delivered only my resume/cover letters/transcript/writing samples to Career Services; they collected my letters of recommendation from my designated professors, supplied packing materials (address labels & nice, large envelopes), and mailed each package.

4. Regarding your comment about applicants "who know how to play the game":
There is an old saying that luck favors the prepared or hard-working. Through thorough preparation, an applicant increases his or her chances of success. It's not that judges want to punish those who are "out of the loop"--judges want to hire those who are thorough and diligent.




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