SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

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SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jun 10, 2014 10:06 am

Hi there. SCOTUS Clerk taking questions about federal clerkships, "feeder" judges, COA clerkships, and what credentials qualify for these and similar.

Before anyone asks: this is not a joke or trolling. If necessary, admin, please feel free to email me at the account I registered with for proof/confirmation.

Please do not ask me any questions about my background for the sake of my anonymity. Or anything confidential about the Court. Otherwise, fair game re: clerkships and clerking.

09042014
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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby 09042014 » Tue Jun 10, 2014 10:07 am

Who fucked up the Scalia dissent?

BigLaw_Lit
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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby BigLaw_Lit » Tue Jun 10, 2014 10:12 am

I have been curious about how important a potential clerk's politics are when searching for a clerkship? Also, do you think being a conservative and active in the federalist society would be a boost because of the large number of liberal students?

Thanks and congrats on your success
Last edited by BigLaw_Lit on Tue Jun 10, 2014 10:13 am, edited 1 time in total.

exitoptions
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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby exitoptions » Tue Jun 10, 2014 10:13 am

First, thank you for contributing. SC clerkships are a black box for law students.

When did you realize SC was a real possibility, and did you actively seek it out or did someone approach you?

Are the clerks' hours as horrible as I've heard?

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jun 10, 2014 10:19 am

This is OP. Regarding Desert Fox's post, I won't be replying to questions like that, not that they aren't funny. (They are)

Re: Biglaw_Lit. I guess I need to break your question down between "politics" and "judicial ideology." Let's say politics are roughly where you are in day-to-day life, conservative vs. liberal, and judicial ideology is how you'd read and write opinions. This is at the SCOTUS level.

Politics matters a modest amount everywhere and matters a lot to Justices Ginsburg and Thomas (who are, respectively, the most conventionally liberal and conventionally conservative justices in hiring).

A demonstrated commitment to a judicial ideology is very important to all the justices. More to the conservative ones than the liberal ones. But the divisions run deeper than this. I wouldn't say there are two ideologies in terms of judging on the Court, but maybe more like five or six. Justices Scalia and Thomas share one. Roberts has one. Alito is between Scalia & Thomas and Roberts. Kennedy does his own thing. Breyer and Kagan are another still. And Sotomayor and Ginsburg are another beyond that.

If you can prove, through Federalist Society or ACS connections, that you share one of these specific sub-camps' methodological commitments, that's a big leg-up in getting your file out of the pile.

Below the SCOTUS/feeder level, politics matter to a handful of judges, and only big-name ideological COA ones. At first approximation, not much, and you get whatever benefit you need out of just having membership in FedSoc/ACS on your resume somewhere prominently. Think Ginsburg on DC Cir, Easterbrook or Posner, and so on. And not even exactly in the way you'd expect. Posner doesn't hire crazy ideologues but likes non-crazy ideologues. Easterbrook really likes conservatives but has institutional restrictions. And so on.

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jun 10, 2014 10:22 am

This is OP.

I irrationally hoped for SCOTUS after my 1L year. I was approached with it being a serious possibility near the end of my 2L year. As a general rule you will be contacted by your institution if they are serious about you applying. You absolutely have to have your law school behind you completely to have a real shot at SCOTUS. Less so for the elite appellate judges but still important for CADC, CA2, SDNY, and other really intense clerkship spots.

I think anyone in the top 5% of a T14 or who is #1 of a top 25 or so school has enough of a chance that it is worth considering. But even in those bands the chances diverge a lot. And no one has an objectively good chance just based on school/grades. Connections matter so much it is hard to describe without risking breaking my anonymity.

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jun 10, 2014 10:23 am

This is OP. Didn't see your question about hours. Hours vary by chambers and time of year. But when it's a bad time of year, they are every bit as bad as you've heard and worse.

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby nonprofit-prophet » Tue Jun 10, 2014 10:26 am

Do most clerks have a job in between their circuit clerkship and their scotus clerkship? If you tried to clerk in back to back years at the circuit level and scotus, how early on in your circuit clerkship would the judge have to determine s/he likes you and wants to recommend you?

Haven't started my clerkship yet (start this fall), but I'm curious what the dynamic is in chambers for a judge that isn't quite a feeder (usually one Scotus clerk every other year; one every year for the past few years). Are the clerks competing against each other for that one spot?

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby Question Everything » Tue Jun 10, 2014 10:31 am

Anonymous User wrote:Connections matter so much it is hard to describe without risking breaking my anonymity.


Connections you developed yourself, or is your daddy a congressman?

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jun 10, 2014 10:33 am

This is OP.

I think going "straight through" is a little more common than not, but this has changed in the last few years. It would be more common typically for a SCOTUS clerk to have a career track something like this, graduating in year X:

Year X minus some amount, thanks non-plan: get COA judge clerkship
Year X: graduate
Year X+1 month: get SCOTUS papers in order
Year X+3 months: start clerkship with Fancy COA Judge
Year X+6 months: ask Fancy COA Judge for recommendation

Whether you interviewed then & got the clerkship then was by the judge/justice. But it would not be odd to have someone asking for a clerkship recommendation 1-3 months after starting, and to interview a few months after that. Not odd at all. Some justices can interview almost to the last second: Alito can be a real late actor and has hired people in April or May for the upcoming term starting in July in the same year. Scalia is usually the first mover, hiring a year or further in advance. Sometimes Thomas hires VERY far in advance. Ginsburg too, though not as much anymore. But the "main run" of hiring is in the late fall (year before) or early spring (year of).

Fancy COA judges know what's going on. They know that part of the draw to their chambers is the SCOTUS chance. You don't have to pretend it isn't, as long as you don't come off as an annoying gunner.

Re: competing with your co-clerks. Don't. Your co-clerks are going to be your best friends for life if you do it right. Your competition is mainly the faceless horde of other aspiring SCOTUS clerks. Do not come off as a competitive prick, or your judge will tank you (this happens a lot more than anyone knows) and you will waste several relationships that could otherwise be some of the most important you will ever make.

Another important thing. Reach out to former and upcoming clerks from your judge, if any. They are usually the best place to start to get the inside scoop, and will usually have a crazy amount of loyalty to their COA judge. That's your best way of getting a leg up if you have a feeder or kinda-feeder judge.

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jun 10, 2014 10:35 am

This is OP.

Without reference to my parentage (anonymity, right), I mostly mean connections people make themselves. There is some familial ties at work here. Carter Phillips, elite DC appellate lawyer, had a daughter that became an Alito clerk. But then again, Carter Phillips is a legitimate genius, and his daughter had his genes. Probably cuts both directions.

Many SCOTUS clerks knew other SCOTUS clerks before getting the job. That's not a coincidence. But most SCOTUS clerks didn't know anyone going into law school. So in that sense it is closer to a level playing field than you would expect.

Same thing goes for COA, though I found more favors got dispensed at the COA level because there were more favors to give.

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby Question Everything » Tue Jun 10, 2014 10:38 am

Interesting. Thanks

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby nonprofit-prophet » Tue Jun 10, 2014 10:47 am

Anonymous User wrote:This is OP.

I think going "straight through" is a little more common than not, but this has changed in the last few years. It would be more common typically for a SCOTUS clerk to have a career track something like this, graduating in year X:

Year X minus some amount, thanks non-plan: get COA judge clerkship
Year X: graduate
Year X+1 month: get SCOTUS papers in order
Year X+3 months: start clerkship with Fancy COA Judge
Year X+6 months: ask Fancy COA Judge for recommendation

Whether you interviewed then & got the clerkship then was by the judge/justice. But it would not be odd to have someone asking for a clerkship recommendation 1-3 months after starting, and to interview a few months after that. Not odd at all. Some justices can interview almost to the last second: Alito can be a real late actor and has hired people in April or May for the upcoming term starting in July in the same year. Scalia is usually the first mover, hiring a year or further in advance. Sometimes Thomas hires VERY far in advance. Ginsburg too, though not as much anymore. But the "main run" of hiring is in the late fall (year before) or early spring (year of).

Fancy COA judges know what's going on. They know that part of the draw to their chambers is the SCOTUS chance. You don't have to pretend it isn't, as long as you don't come off as an annoying gunner.

Re: competing with your co-clerks. Don't. Your co-clerks are going to be your best friends for life if you do it right. Your competition is mainly the faceless horde of other aspiring SCOTUS clerks. Do not come off as a competitive prick, or your judge will tank you (this happens a lot more than anyone knows) and you will waste several relationships that could otherwise be some of the most important you will ever make.

Another important thing. Reach out to former and upcoming clerks from your judge, if any. They are usually the best place to start to get the inside scoop, and will usually have a crazy amount of loyalty to their COA judge. That's your best way of getting a leg up if you have a feeder or kinda-feeder judge.



What are "scotus papers?" App materials? What goes into a scotus app?

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jun 10, 2014 10:49 am

This is OP. Application materials. Applications should include LS transcript, UG transcript if very good, current resume, 3-5 letters of rec, including previous judge, 1-2 writing samples, ideally between 15-45 pages each, cumulatively over 40 pages. You have to show you can write well and write long pieces well. Oh. And phone calls. People have to make phone calls for you.

It's a lot like the typical clerkship application.

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby anagram » Tue Jun 10, 2014 10:53 am

So everyone says that professors going to bat for you is really really important for getting a great clerkship. But, because of their varied connections it seems like the support of some professors would be more powerful than others. If you're going to a T6 school, would you recommend doing research on which professors have had friendships with judges/justices and helped students get clerkships, or does it not really matter who exactly writes your faculty recommendation?

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jun 10, 2014 10:56 am

anagram wrote:So everyone says that professors going to bat for you is really really important for getting a great clerkship. But, because of their varied connections it seems like the support of some professors would be more powerful than others. If you're going to a T6 school, would you recommend doing research on which professors have had friendships with judges/justices and helped students get clerkships, or does it not really matter who exactly writes your faculty recommendation?


It matters enormously. Every top school, not even T6 but even down to maybe T25, has the Tribes or McConnells of the faculty, that everyone knows has a huge connection with the Justices. T14 schools usually even have a special committee or at least group of professors that deal with these. Shorthand: look for the profs that themselves clerked for the Justices and ingratiate yourself to them.

Here's the catch. Professors can tell sucking up when they see it. Some like it; some hate it. All else equal, try and make sure the prof you're getting close to knows you have legitimate interests in what he or she does beyond just the rec that prof can provide.

But beyond having institutional support, yes, who the profs recommending you are matters immensely. I think the median SCOTUS clerk had at least one nationally known professor pushing him. Hard.

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby futurehorse » Tue Jun 10, 2014 11:15 am

As someone with no chance at a SCOTUS clerkship, I still find this information fascinating and informative. I'll pass it along to my friends who do have the stats you've mentioned. Thanks a lot, OP.

Since you were in COA before SCOTUS, a question there: have you seen the trend re: alums taking clerkships that's become more prevalent at the D.Ct. level? Or is it still largely people fresh out of law school? Any judges in particular you'd recommend to an alum seeking to transit from D.Ct. to COA?

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jun 10, 2014 11:23 am

futurehorse wrote:As someone with no chance at a SCOTUS clerkship, I still find this information fascinating and informative. I'll pass it along to my friends who do have the stats you've mentioned. Thanks a lot, OP.

Since you were in COA before SCOTUS, a question there: have you seen the trend re: alums taking clerkships that's become more prevalent at the D.Ct. level? Or is it still largely people fresh out of law school? Any judges in particular you'd recommend to an alum seeking to transit from D.Ct. to COA?


This is OP.

Basically every SCOTUS clerk goes to COA first. Usually SCOTUS clerks got their COA clerkships fresh out of law school. Not always, but usually. Usually SCOTUS clerks either go straight from COA to SCOTUS or have 1 year in-between. I find that 1 year in-between is becoming more common. It is also becoming a little more common to have a year between graduation and COA. I think this is in part because of the hiring plan breaking down entirely.

I have not seen as significant a rise in alums as COA clerks as I have with dist. ct. clerks, but there is something of a rise too. I would expect the rise to be slower as you go up the food chain: for it to be less common for alums to land COA spots than dist. ct. spots and SCOTUS than COA. This is just because there's always a brand new crop of super-elites to compete over, and the newest kids always have the advantage of institutional support. This is for a lot of reasons, but the biggest is mere proximity. The new graduates don't have the institution's ear because law schools have a bias for new graduates. They have the law school's ear because they were just at the law school!

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jun 10, 2014 11:26 am

futurehorse wrote:As someone with no chance at a SCOTUS clerkship, I still find this information fascinating and informative. I'll pass it along to my friends who do have the stats you've mentioned. Thanks a lot, OP.

Since you were in COA before SCOTUS, a question there: have you seen the trend re: alums taking clerkships that's become more prevalent at the D.Ct. level? Or is it still largely people fresh out of law school? Any judges in particular you'd recommend to an alum seeking to transit from D.Ct. to COA?


And re: any particular judges. I think targeting specific judges is basically impossible if you don't have a very strong connection with one of the judges or a given city. By "very strong tie" I mean a professor who knows the judge on a first-name basis, ideally that clerked for him/her, and who is in regular contact.

For going from D.Ct. to COA your best bet is the COA judges in the circuit embracing your district: that's where your judge's reputation is the strongest. Beyond that, apply nationally unless you have a very attractive Dist. Ct. gig, then maybe get picky. But if you're looking to do a D.Ct. somewhere + COA somewhere, I think your best bet is same COA as your district (and then starting your career there if possible).

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jun 10, 2014 11:54 am

First, thanks for this, OP. Truly, truly appreciated.

I'm clerking for a semi-feeder but graduated from a school that has never sent anyone to SCOTUS. Worth applying? The school doesn't really have much experience in providing institutional support for SCOTUS clerkship applicants, so what should the administration be doing?

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jun 10, 2014 11:56 am

Echoing all the above, thank you a ton for doing this.

About grades - If you're in, say, top 5% at HYS, how much does it matter whether you are around 5% versus around 2%? Does it mostly come down to other factors at that point?

About applying to the various circuits - I see why it's difficult to target specific judges. But how important is D.C. Circuit versus Second? Second versus Ninth? Ninth versus Seventh? Etc. I know the obvious answer is that it really comes down to the judge in question (e.g., someone like Reinhardt is obviously different from some other Ninth Circuit judge sitting in, say Phoenix). But since it's a lot harder to place your bets on any particular judge than to focus on certain circuits, how important is it to prioritize the circuits? If at all.

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jun 10, 2014 12:07 pm

Wow thank you for doing this. I have a question about when you develop professor connections. I was an idiot 1L and didn't take the time to get to know my professors, even though I did well on my exams. Some of them (especially the bigger name ones) aren't going to be at the school next year, so I can't try to reach out to them then. Is it too late to start developing professor connections in 2L? 3L?

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jun 10, 2014 12:09 pm

I have one question about building professor ties and clerkships, would love a fairly competitive District Court or anything appellate.

I go to a CCN school and am top 10-15% after 1L. I was hoping to take a follow-up class with a professor (a former SCOTUS clerk) whose class I did very well in, but she's not teaching anything but the 1L core class next year. How can I continue to build connections there, if I won't be TA-ing? Should I ask if she needs any research assistants, and if she isn't, do I have any other options for maintaining that bond?

This thread's extremely interesting, thank you!

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jun 10, 2014 12:14 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
But beyond having institutional support, yes, who the profs recommending you are matters immensely. I think the median SCOTUS clerk had at least one nationally known professor pushing him. Hard.



Thanks for answering questions!

I just have two followup questions to the institutional support piece because it seems so mysterious to me.

First, what does "institutional support" refer to aside from professor recommendations/calls? Logistical help from a career services office? Or something else?

Second, does your reference to the "median" SCOTUS clerk mean that strong support from well-connected professors is not necessary (though still very, very helpful)? Do otherwise strong applications have any meaningful shot without well-connected professors beyond them?

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jun 10, 2014 1:20 pm

Anonymous User wrote:First, thanks for this, OP. Truly, truly appreciated.

I'm clerking for a semi-feeder but graduated from a school that has never sent anyone to SCOTUS. Worth applying? The school doesn't really have much experience in providing institutional support for SCOTUS clerkship applicants, so what should the administration be doing?


This is OP.

Assume you mean either Vanderbilt or Emory, since these are the two schools which, from my recollection, have never sent a clerk but occasionally have credible applicants.

If so, or approximately: you need for your dean and clerkship committee (assuming you have one, since you have a semi-feeder) to reach out to better known professors to see who they know as far as SCOTUS clerks go and to see who knows the Justices. Your dean should make a phone call on your behalf. The professors should reach out to former/current clerks, as best they can, on your behalf. Your question in a sense is like asking how to make friendships, and so it is hard to answer. It is definitely worth applying but your best bet will be if your dean calls up and says: "this is the one, give this guy a chance" combined with another prominent professor happening to have a friend, co-author, contact, etc. that knows someone or clerked him or herself.

It would also help a lot if you graduated #1-#3 in your class. For schools that don't regularly send, top 3 is really what you have to be to have more than a prayer, and it helps a lot more at #1.




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