Benefits of Waiting to Clerk

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Benefits of Waiting to Clerk

Postby Anonymous User » Sat Apr 27, 2019 2:08 pm

I'm a 2L considering when to apply for clerkships. I'll be going to a firm in DC this summer and will hopefully get an offer to return. I'm debating whether or not to apply for clerkships for 2020 or practice for a few years and clerk during the 2022-3 and/or 2023-4 terms. My reasoning for possibly delaying are:

1. I have six figures of debt that I'd like to pay off or make a dent in and I'd rather do that on a big law salary than a clerks salary.

2. It seems like a lot of judges (especially in EDVa and DDC where I would like to clerk) are looking for clerks with work experience. Would I be more competitive if I waited? Similarly, I was judicial intern and the clerk who clerked after practice seemed much more competent and our judge trusted him more.

3. I'm unsure whether I want to practice traditional litigation or if I want to do regulatory work with a litigation element. A clerkship may be helpful for either but if I go with the latter it'd possibly make more sense not to take two years off to clerk and spend a few years at the regulating agency that handles the type of work I'd like to do and come back to the firm later. On the other hand, clerking seems like a good way to "break up" my time in my big law.

4. Finally, my firm offers a very generous stipend after 3L on top of covering all bar related expenses and a stub bonus. This is the least of my concerns but it seems like I'd be potentially leaving around $30k on the table just in bonuses alone.

Can anyone help provide some insights and just speak generally on the pros and cons of clerking after practicing for 2 or 3 years versus straight out of school?

If it matters, I'm a 2L at a lower T13 with good (not tippy top) grades, law review, moot court, and good externships/internships in competitive market. I'm a KJD. CSO has told me I'm competitive for district court clerkships in semi competitive districts based on past data and possibly circuit if I get a district first. Not sure if this changes the considerations at all.

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Re: Benefits of Waiting to Clerk

Postby Anonymous User » Sat Apr 27, 2019 2:53 pm

I don't know much and it seems like you've thought it through pretty well. But to your point about six figures of debt, your firm probably offers a sizable clerkship bonus that could help make up for the year spent clerking with your minimum payments. Just an additional factor to consider. Depending on the firm and where you clerk, it could be a six figure bonus.

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Re: Benefits of Waiting to Clerk

Postby Sls17 » Sat Apr 27, 2019 3:53 pm

This is case by case, but one reason people sometimes cite for clerking straight out of school is that it’s a time in their lives when it’s easier to be geographically flexible. Potentially moving elsewhere for one year can be harder once you’ve settled into a firm for a couple years, plus factoring any partnership/family considerations. This may not apply to you (either because of your personal situation or because you’d limit yourself to applying locally, though that can be tough) but I think the personal life timeline can often play a role in a law grad’s calculus on this.

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Re: Benefits of Waiting to Clerk

Postby Anonymous User » Sat Apr 27, 2019 3:53 pm

Everything you wrote is reasonable. I see three downsides to waiting, though:

(1) The more senior you are, the harder it is to easily find a firm gig afterwards. Most BigLaw firms have room for a second year or even third year associate. They're cheap, trainable, easy to staff, and will probably leave in a few years anyway. If you hire a bad one, s/he isn't going to cause too much damage. All of that is much less true for fifth years. And frankly, law firms don't need as many.
(2) You're costing yourself much more money. The clerkship salary increases with experience, but it doesn't keep up with the salary + bonus at Cravath-scale BigLaw firms. And obviously clerkship bonuses are a flat $$$ amount.
(3) It's harder to move. You get into a relationship, you have kids, w/e--do you really want to move to Denver for a year?

IMO, sweet spot is working for a year or so. Definitely not like, four.

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Re: Benefits of Waiting to Clerk

Postby Anonymous User » Sat Apr 27, 2019 6:58 pm

Anonymous User wrote:I'm a 2L considering when to apply for clerkships. I'll be going to a firm in DC this summer and will hopefully get an offer to return. I'm debating whether or not to apply for clerkships for 2020 or practice for a few years and clerk during the 2022-3 and/or 2023-4 terms. My reasoning for possibly delaying are:

1. I have six figures of debt that I'd like to pay off or make a dent in and I'd rather do that on a big law salary than a clerks salary.

2. It seems like a lot of judges (especially in EDVa and DDC where I would like to clerk) are looking for clerks with work experience. Would I be more competitive if I waited? Similarly, I was judicial intern and the clerk who clerked after practice seemed much more competent and our judge trusted him more.

3. I'm unsure whether I want to practice traditional litigation or if I want to do regulatory work with a litigation element. A clerkship may be helpful for either but if I go with the latter it'd possibly make more sense not to take two years off to clerk and spend a few years at the regulating agency that handles the type of work I'd like to do and come back to the firm later. On the other hand, clerking seems like a good way to "break up" my time in my big law.

4. Finally, my firm offers a very generous stipend after 3L on top of covering all bar related expenses and a stub bonus. This is the least of my concerns but it seems like I'd be potentially leaving around $30k on the table just in bonuses alone.

Can anyone help provide some insights and just speak generally on the pros and cons of clerking after practicing for 2 or 3 years versus straight out of school?

If it matters, I'm a 2L at a lower T13 with good (not tippy top) grades, law review, moot court, and good externships/internships in competitive market. I'm a KJD. CSO has told me I'm competitive for district court clerkships in semi competitive districts based on past data and possibly circuit if I get a district first. Not sure if this changes the considerations at all.


Tagging to see responses. Oddly I'm making the same decision and in the exact same situation minus moot court.

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Re: Benefits of Waiting to Clerk

Postby Anonymous User » Sun Apr 28, 2019 8:28 am

The biggest benefit of waiting to clerk is that if you realize you hate your firm, biglaw, and/or private practice generally, you have a prestigious/legitimate reason to gtfo and spend a year applying to positions that are a better fit for you. It's a good escape route, and it's nice to have that option available -- whether you end up needing it or not.

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Re: Benefits of Waiting to Clerk

Postby hdivschool » Sun Apr 28, 2019 8:46 am

A couple thoughts in addition to the several good ones already mentioned. The later you clerk, the more money you are leaving on the table.

As a 3rd year in biglaw, your comp (salary + bonus) is about $270k. If you clerked instead, you'd probably be JSP-13, which would have comp around $90k. Even if you got a $50k clerkship bonus (which you probably wouldn't get unless you went straight from clerking back to a biglaw firm), you'd only be at $140k. That's a pre-tax difference of $130k.

As a 1st year in biglaw, your comp (salary + bonus) is about $205k. If you clerked instead, you'd be JSP-11, which would have comp around $57k. With a $50k clerkship bonus, you'd be at $107k. That's a pre-tax difference of $98k.

You are also leaving more experience and training on the table. 3rd years tend to get more substantive experience than 1st years, particularly if they've clerked. You miss out on that experience if you clerk instead. If you clerk your first year, you are not missing much.

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Re: Benefits of Waiting to Clerk

Postby Anonymous User » Mon Apr 29, 2019 8:35 pm

Hi OP. I'm a 2018 grad who accepted a district court clerkship for 2020-2021. I'll be in NYC biglaw for 2 years (about 6 months in now) before I clerk. My goal in law school was LS --> clerkship --> biglaw, for a lot of the reasons mentioned here. I didn't end up having that option - the clerkship offer I got was for 2020, I didn't get one for right after graduation (2018 for me), but it was with a judge I was incredibly excited to work for and was thrilled to accepted.

Now, I am so happy I am not clerking straight out of law school. This is for several reasons:

First - I will get a 2 year taste of biglaw and then a break. I know I can do biglaw for 2 years, and then I get time to re-evaluate whether I want to do that again. I've seen how many people leave 2-3 years in - having a built in pause on your biglaw career is not a bad thing.

Second - location. I am single with no kids and my clerkship is in an area I know well. I'll have to move but I won't be that far from family/friends. I don't know if where I'm living now is where I want to live forever, and getting to leave and experience living another place is something I'm looking forward to. But again, if you're married or have kids this is a drawback. I wouldn't have wanted to only work for a year before clerking for others reasons but the law school --> moving for 1 year --> then moving for another year was one. At least I get to settle in for 2 years before I move again.

Third - the type of work I'm doing. While I find the subject matter I work on interesting, it is not what I want to do forever. If I did this for 3-4 years I would be very concerned about being pigeon-holed into the one type of litigation I do now. With 2 years of it (getting as much variety as I can at my firm) plus a clerkship, thats much less of a concern of mine.

Fourth - the training. My work goes through multiple levels of mid levels and sr associates. I can see where drafts were revised, get tips on how to improve, and most of the time my work is not going straight to a partner. Its reassuring to me that by the time I clerk and present work product to a judge, without the insulation of associates along the way, its going to be with two years of experience under my belt.

A lot of this is highly specific (depends on your firm experience, the quality of work you're getting [2 years of doc review likely isn't going to leave you feeling more prepared to clerk than law school...], your family life.) For me, this was the right choice. The biggest drawback I've felt is physically moving was a headache and I don't want to do it again in 18 months.

*Also quick note on the $$$ breakdowns. I think this ignores a COL adjustment if you're not clerking in a major city. Obviously I'm going to take a big paycheck hit when I clerk, but I'm also going to be clerking someplace where rent is less than 1/3 of what I pay now. NYC is so freaking expensive and the city I'm moving to is so much cheaper that you can't straight up compare salary.

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Re: Benefits of Waiting to Clerk

Postby Anonymous User » Fri May 03, 2019 12:07 am

Wow, I am in an extremely similar situation, down to the dual interest in litigation and regulatory work.

I am torn about the exact same things, but I think I'm going to move forward with applying for the 2020 term and try to clerk right after we graduate. My reasoning is, I'm happy to move somewhere for a year right now, but after that I'd like to stay put for at least a couple of years; I've had to move to new housing every year during law school and I'm done with it!

Also, doing a clerkship later down the line isn't off the table, especially since we both seem to be targeting district court clerkships this time around. It's totally reasonable (from what I understand) to do a district clerkship right after graduating and then an appellate level one later down the line. So if we start at a firm and decide we love litigation and want to take a break from BigLaw, transition to PI/govt work, etc., then we can clerk!

I am unhappy about waiting another year to put a dent in my debt, but we won't be making nothing... $50-70k is still better than most other entry-level jobs (just looks terrible next to big law).

I also see applying now as sort of a safety net... what if we hate biglaw this summer? Now we have an extra year + extra pre$$$tige to find another job!

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Re: Benefits of Waiting to Clerk

Postby objctnyrhnr » Fri May 03, 2019 2:19 pm

I see this as a very wonderful thread. Everybody here has really thought through the pros and cons and is evidently weighing them. Either decision is great, as it sounds like you all have great creds so you’ll be in good shape regardless.

A con of clerking part way through is that when you’re a fourth fifth sixth (if you’re like me) you get to the point where you really are your cases. You live them, you breathe them. Yeah—partner is the “guy” on paper, but strategically they are very much yours (I say this with the caveat that my office of my v20 happens to often staff cases with one 4-9 year associate and one or two juniors; for firms that don’t give effective senior associate status until later this might not apply).

Now many of these cases last years and take months and months to get to whatever the “really good part” might be. If you’re like me and you have a good rep and you’ve hit that spot, clerking is like taking the wind out of your sales. Somebody else is going to pick up those cases. You won’t get to guide them to completion, won’t get to decide what comes next.

Now I acknowledge that many won’t really understand this point of view, and this level of true enjoyment of biglaw litigation practice as a concept. So if you think you are one of those people, obviously disregard. If you’re like me, though, that’s a big factor.

I fedclerked right out of school. Now am midlevel. Contemplated coa but this major con, as well as cons others have voiced on this thread, have sufficiently dissuaded me from pursuing that end.

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Re: Benefits of Waiting to Clerk

Postby Anonymous User » Mon May 06, 2019 7:40 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
I also see applying now as sort of a safety net... what if we hate biglaw this summer? Now we have an extra year + extra pre$$$tige to find another job!

I'm the above anon 2018 grad. This is the exact reason I think clerking after 1-2 years in biglaw works well. I don't know anyone who hated biglaw after their summer - I know a lot who did after 1-2 years. Summer doesn't really tell you whether you're going to handle biglaw well or whether you're going to be miserable because the experience as a summer associate is so different than the experience as a jr associate. But YMMV and this is definitely a situation where you can't really go wrong clerking straight out vs a few years out!

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Re: Benefits of Waiting to Clerk

Postby LikelyThrowaway » Tue May 07, 2019 1:05 pm

objctnyrhnr wrote:I see this as a very wonderful thread. Everybody here has really thought through the pros and cons and is evidently weighing them. Either decision is great, as it sounds like you all have great creds so you’ll be in good shape regardless.

A con of clerking part way through is that when you’re a fourth fifth sixth (if you’re like me) you get to the point where you really are your cases. You live them, you breathe them. Yeah—partner is the “guy” on paper, but strategically they are very much yours (I say this with the caveat that my office of my v20 happens to often staff cases with one 4-9 year associate and one or two juniors; for firms that don’t give effective senior associate status until later this might not apply).

Now many of these cases last years and take months and months to get to whatever the “really good part” might be. If you’re like me and you have a good rep and you’ve hit that spot, clerking is like taking the wind out of your sales. Somebody else is going to pick up those cases. You won’t get to guide them to completion, won’t get to decide what comes next.

Now I acknowledge that many won’t really understand this point of view, and this level of true enjoyment of biglaw litigation practice as a concept. So if you think you are one of those people, obviously disregard. If you’re like me, though, that’s a big factor.

I fedclerked right out of school. Now am midlevel. Contemplated coa but this major con, as well as cons others have voiced on this thread, have sufficiently dissuaded me from pursuing that end.



How much does this con apply to someone who leaves after more like two years? You make, to my mind, a pretty persuasive point, but will it feel like the wind's being taken out of your sales when you're still pretty junior when you leave?

(sorry, accidental anon)

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Re: Benefits of Waiting to Clerk

Postby objctnyrhnr » Tue May 07, 2019 10:35 pm

LikelyThrowaway wrote:
objctnyrhnr wrote:I see this as a very wonderful thread. Everybody here has really thought through the pros and cons and is evidently weighing them. Either decision is great, as it sounds like you all have great creds so you’ll be in good shape regardless.

A con of clerking part way through is that when you’re a fourth fifth sixth (if you’re like me) you get to the point where you really are your cases. You live them, you breathe them. Yeah—partner is the “guy” on paper, but strategically they are very much yours (I say this with the caveat that my office of my v20 happens to often staff cases with one 4-9 year associate and one or two juniors; for firms that don’t give effective senior associate status until later this might not apply).

Now many of these cases last years and take months and months to get to whatever the “really good part” might be. If you’re like me and you have a good rep and you’ve hit that spot, clerking is like taking the wind out of your sales. Somebody else is going to pick up those cases. You won’t get to guide them to completion, won’t get to decide what comes next.

Now I acknowledge that many won’t really understand this point of view, and this level of true enjoyment of biglaw litigation practice as a concept. So if you think you are one of those people, obviously disregard. If you’re like me, though, that’s a big factor.

I fedclerked right out of school. Now am midlevel. Contemplated coa but this major con, as well as cons others have voiced on this thread, have sufficiently dissuaded me from pursuing that end.



How much does this con apply to someone who leaves after more like two years? You make, to my mind, a pretty persuasive point, but will it feel like the wind's being taken out of your sales when you're still pretty junior when you leave?

(sorry, accidental anon)


Probably as much as you think...which is not as much but possibly some and depends on the firm and how it structures its staffing. I mean do the second years feel like they’re really substantively contributing and helping to guide the case strategy, or is it more like a series of discreet assignments from senior/midlevel associates on a series of cases without much direct connection to the larger picture of any specific cases?

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Re: Benefits of Waiting to Clerk

Postby Anonymous User » Wed May 08, 2019 11:07 am

Agree with objctnyrhnr on that reply -- I'm a couple years out and will be heading off to a clerkship from my east coast biglaw firm this year, and I'm surprised how much I'm personally invested in some of my cases where I'm more involved in "steering the ship." But that's certainly more true on cases where it's me and a partner, which feel more like "my" cases, and less true on cases where there's an associate above me. That said, I don't think I feel like the wind is being taken out of my sails, in Likelythrowaway's words. I trust almost every associate who will pick up my cases to dive in and take the same charge over them as I did. There is one case where I really am legitimately bummed I won't get to continue working on it, but I have a lifetime ahead of me to take on cases I care about.

I'll say that I thought the way that several folks above thought when I was in law school, and forewent clerking in part to have an exit valve from biglaw that did not involve leaving through one of the mostly-one-way gates (e.g. to go in-house or to a non-AUSA government job). I ultimately don't regret that, but do have a couple reservations about it that I didn't anticipate: namely, (a) as someone mentioned above, it's a MUCH bigger pay disparity than I anticipated, as I'm leaving before what would be a $50k market bonus this year, even setting aside the salary stuff, and (b) I'm giving up a lot of the relationships and goodwill that I've built up at my firm, and it's to be seen whether I'll be able to maintain those if I return -- and having seen the life of a lateral associate hire here, and hearing about it from friends who have lateraled to other firms, that seems like a potentially really challenging position to be in even if you are "ahead of the curve" with respect to substantive experience in biglaw. Firms know what to do with associates who go from law school -> clerkship -> biglaw because that happens all the time. Law school -> biglaw -> clerkship -> biglaw is happening more, but is still relatively less common (outside of gap year setups). I'll be a midlevel associate on the market after my clerkship, with a clerkship occupying the "midlevel" years rather than the junior associate years.

That said, I at least hope that I'll be able to get a lot more out of the clerkship having substantial practice experience than I would have early on. There's a ton I'm really curious to see from the other side of the table. That's a positive to clerking late that I didn't anticipate.

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Re: Benefits of Waiting to Clerk

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jun 11, 2019 1:46 pm

I think it's a very individualized decision that others cannot really prescribe for you. My trajectory has been BigLaw 1 year, Dist Ct. 1 year, and will be BigLaw 2 years before I start my CoA position. The geography of the CoA position is workable (but won't be easy) for my family. Leaving $200k on the table sucks, but I'm pretty disillusioned with BigLaw. I go to court once every 6 months and have done more doc review and BS memo writing as a 3rd year than I ever did as a 1st year. Pretty sold on USAO/Main Justice after the CoA, but if those don't work out and I have to return for another 1-2 year stint in BigLaw, it shouldn't be too difficult to do so either in my current market or the CoA market.



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