Striking Out on Clerkships -- Any Tips before Giving Up?

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Striking Out on Clerkships -- Any Tips before Giving Up?

Postby Anonymous User » Sun Dec 02, 2018 10:37 am

Hi TLS - looking for advice. I have struck out of the clerkship application process for last two years. Am not sure what I did/am doing wrong but at this point am ready to give up. While I didn't apply to every geographic location, I did do many major markets. Figured I would see if TLS had any ideas -- I'm looking for a District clerkship. I generally am a strong interviewer, as well, but really haven't even gotten any interview bites either except for one-off magistrate judge.

About me:
T14 Graduate
Top 5% of class
V10 firm in major market
Recommenders: Three strong ones, but not professors who have great connections with judiciary
Law Review: none.

I suspect it is either the lack of law review or the fact that I don't have anything pulling me out of the pile. But, still, based on my conversations with past clerks, seems like every application is reviewed (albeit quickly).

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Re: Striking Out on Clerkships -- Any Tips before Giving Up?

Postby LBJ's Hair » Sun Dec 02, 2018 3:01 pm

1. How many judges have you applied to + interviews have you done? If you're 0/4, that's not at all unusual even for a very strong applicant.
2. Does your resume *say* you're top 5%, or have you left it to the clerks to infer it? If your school has an unusual grading system, the clerks reviewing may not realize how you stack up relative to your class.

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Re: Striking Out on Clerkships -- Any Tips before Giving Up?

Postby nixy » Sun Dec 02, 2018 4:36 pm

I would also want to know how many judges you applied to, because it might just be a function of numbers. You generally have the qualifications - lack of law review might hurt you if you don't have other extensive writing experience, but there are definitely judges who don't care. It's probably a combo of judges who do care about law review and not getting pulled out of the pile, since there are just so many strong candidates. Do you work for any former clerks? Can you cultivate them and ask about applying to their judges? Can you look for judges who share an alma mater with you and/or other kinds of background? (From your home town, worked in a job you worked in, that kind of thing.)

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Re: Striking Out on Clerkships -- Any Tips before Giving Up?

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Dec 04, 2018 1:45 pm

Another possibility is that your writing sample isn't very good/polished. In my years as a career clerk, I've been appalled at the large number of terrible, error-ridden writing samples that I've seen from people who have good grades from supposedly top schools. Before giving up, you might want to sit down and have a very critical look at your writing sample again to see if that's something that could be improved, especially since your lack of law review is already a strike against you in that area.

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Re: Striking Out on Clerkships -- Any Tips before Giving Up?

Postby QContinuum » Tue Dec 04, 2018 4:58 pm

nixy wrote:I would also want to know how many judges you applied to, because it might just be a function of numbers. You generally have the qualifications - lack of law review might hurt you if you don't have other extensive writing experience, but there are definitely judges who don't care. It's probably a combo of judges who do care about law review and not getting pulled out of the pile, since there are just so many strong candidates. Do you work for any former clerks? Can you cultivate them and ask about applying to their judges? Can you look for judges who share an alma mater with you and/or other kinds of background? (From your home town, worked in a job you worked in, that kind of thing.)

Caveat to the above: I'm pretty sure you don't need Law Review to clerk on a district court from a T14 (especially with top 5% grades), but it's typical/expected for applicants to be on at least a secondary journal. If OP's not on any journal at all, that may well be a yellow flag, which may be enough to doom them (given the number of very well-qualified candidates) absent a personal connection, namely, an enthusiastic recommender with judiciary ties who's willing to pick up the phone and call on OP's behalf.

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Re: Striking Out on Clerkships -- Any Tips before Giving Up?

Postby HillandHollow » Tue Dec 04, 2018 5:27 pm

You have mentioned some impressive academic credentials, but nothing else. In our review of candidates, we first looked for qualifications (you have them), then for possible interest-factor or fit. Is the person smart and curious? Is the person someone I want to spend a lot of time around? Will this person gel with the chambers' style? Etc etc etc. Are you sure you are as strong an interviewer as you think?

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Re: Striking Out on Clerkships -- Any Tips before Giving Up?

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Dec 04, 2018 5:39 pm

Thank you all for the responses. I have submitted around 15 applications. And I shared a similar suspicion re: writing sample but after reviewing it a hundred times didn't see any typos/mistakes. As for the other responses, I did not do any secondary journal, which is my theory for why I am not competitive here. I actually got sick right after my 1L exams and honestly wasn't at all with it for write on (and didn't appreciate the significance of it).

And its hard to assess how good an interviewer you are, but its not something I've really had problems with in my life. Again, the issue for me is I'm not even getting the interview invitations. Oh well, I guess.

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Re: Striking Out on Clerkships -- Any Tips before Giving Up?

Postby QContinuum » Tue Dec 04, 2018 5:45 pm

Anonymous User wrote:Thank you all for the responses. I have submitted around 15 applications. And I shared a similar suspicion re: writing sample but after reviewing it a hundred times didn't see any typos/mistakes. As for the other responses, I did not do any secondary journal, which is my theory for why I am not competitive here. I actually got sick right after my 1L exams and honestly wasn't at all with it for write on (and didn't appreciate the significance of it).

And its hard to assess how good an interviewer you are, but its not something I've really had problems with in my life. Again, the issue for me is I'm not even getting the interview invitations. Oh well, I guess.

Do you know any partners with judiciary ties? And are your current recommenders picking up the phone and calling? You basically need more than just a "paper" LoR to get out of the pile, especially with your lack of journal.

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Re: Striking Out on Clerkships -- Any Tips before Giving Up?

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Dec 04, 2018 5:55 pm

Some, but most are with judges who are no longer on the bench/not in my targets.

Interesting regarding phone calls -- do they really help that much even if the judge doesn't have a relationship with the professor? If so, I will definitely ask. I think at least one of my professors will be willing.

Really appreciate the advice all.

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Re: Striking Out on Clerkships -- Any Tips before Giving Up?

Postby nixy » Tue Dec 04, 2018 6:32 pm

15 is a TINY number of applications. Super super tiny. It’s not uncommon (even for strong candidates) to apply to upwards of 100+ judges. So there is really no way to assess the strength of your application based on 15 judges - it’s just way to small a number to be representative of anything. It could absolutely just be luck of the draw that those 15 judges happened to find something more interesting about other candidates, and that there are other judges out there who’d think you’re great.

That said, there’s no reason you should send out more applications if those are genuinely the other judges you’re interested in. But keep in mind that you’re significantly narrowing your chances by such a small application pool.

I have definitely seen judges who don’t care about journal, but mostly as long as there’s some other indication of writing ability, like moot court or publications. So if you don’t have something like that you might consider trying to write something for your firm or bar association or such (or an actual journal if you have the time/inclination).

Re: calls, I think some judges aren’t interested in calls from people they don’t know, but some are, so I think overall if a prof is willing, it can help.

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Re: Striking Out on Clerkships -- Any Tips before Giving Up?

Postby lavarman84 » Wed Dec 05, 2018 4:21 pm

Anonymous User wrote:Thank you all for the responses. I have submitted around 15 applications. And I shared a similar suspicion re: writing sample but after reviewing it a hundred times didn't see any typos/mistakes. As for the other responses, I did not do any secondary journal, which is my theory for why I am not competitive here. I actually got sick right after my 1L exams and honestly wasn't at all with it for write on (and didn't appreciate the significance of it).

And its hard to assess how good an interviewer you are, but its not something I've really had problems with in my life. Again, the issue for me is I'm not even getting the interview invitations. Oh well, I guess.


Not getting an interview after submitting only 15 applications isn't really "striking out." It's a numbers game. If you're submitting to competitive judges, they have a bunch of people with similar credentials to yours. If you only want to work for a small group of judges (based on geography or some other reason), that's fine. But that's likely why you're not having success.

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Re: Striking Out on Clerkships -- Any Tips before Giving Up?

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Dec 06, 2018 11:40 pm

I have slightly lower academic stats than you from a T14, applied to about 40-50 judges per round, and ended up with a DCT clerkship. You need to apply to an enormous number of judges before you even get a hit. For me it was maybe one interview per 20-30 applications.

nixy wrote:15 is a TINY number of applications. Super super tiny. It’s not uncommon (even for strong candidates) to apply to upwards of 100+ judges. So there is really no way to assess the strength of your application based on 15 judges - it’s just way to small a number to be representative of anything. It could absolutely just be luck of the draw that those 15 judges happened to find something more interesting about other candidates, and that there are other judges out there who’d think you’re great.

That said, there’s no reason you should send out more applications if those are genuinely the other judges you’re interested in. But keep in mind that you’re significantly narrowing your chances by such a small application pool.

I have definitely seen judges who don’t care about journal, but mostly as long as there’s some other indication of writing ability, like moot court or publications. So if you don’t have something like that you might consider trying to write something for your firm or bar association or such (or an actual journal if you have the time/inclination).

Re: calls, I think some judges aren’t interested in calls from people they don’t know, but some are, so I think overall if a prof is willing, it can help.

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Re: Striking Out on Clerkships -- Any Tips before Giving Up?

Postby HillandHollow » Fri Dec 07, 2018 9:52 am

Anonymous User wrote:Thank you all for the responses. I have submitted around 15 applications. And I shared a similar suspicion re: writing sample but after reviewing it a hundred times didn't see any typos/mistakes. As for the other responses, I did not do any secondary journal, which is my theory for why I am not competitive here. I actually got sick right after my 1L exams and honestly wasn't at all with it for write on (and didn't appreciate the significance of it).

And its hard to assess how good an interviewer you are, but its not something I've really had problems with in my life. Again, the issue for me is I'm not even getting the interview invitations. Oh well, I guess.


I meant does your resume/application demonstrate that you are more than just some good grades? There will be plenty of academically/professionally qualified applicants. The ones who got calls for interviews (at least with my judge) were the ones who had a plus factor of personality/whatever.

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Re: Striking Out on Clerkships -- Any Tips before Giving Up?

Postby Quichelorraine » Fri Dec 07, 2018 10:25 am

Echo what everyone else has said: 15 applications is nothing. It isn't even a thimbleful. So I wouldn't interpret these results as a lack of success.

Clerkship hiring, more than anything else, is a combination numbers game/connections lottery/lightning strike--at least, it is for everybody but the absolutely top candidates (who, it so happens, tend to be overrepresented in stories about clerkship hiring). The process rewards both perseverance and shamelessness. "Perseverance," in this context, is defined as applying extremely broadly and not assuming that one round is all that it will take. "Shamelessness" means taking advantage of connections where you have them.

Right now, you really need to increase your numbers. Why just 15 judges? If one judge on a particular court appeals to you, apply to all of her colleagues too.



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