Circuit Clerkship Writing Sample

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huntin4clerkships

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Circuit Clerkship Writing Sample

Post by huntin4clerkships » Sun May 17, 2020 6:26 pm

First time applying for circuit clerkship. I currently clerk for a state COA judge and will be clerking in September for a federal district judge.

For my writing sample, should I send an unedited copy of a published law rev article (I have three publications) or a draft bench memo/draft opinion (current judge allows drafts to be used as writing samples).

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mjb447

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Re: Circuit Clerkship Writing Sample

Post by mjb447 » Sun May 17, 2020 7:08 pm

If you have to choose - some judges accept or require more than one - I'd go with a bench memo, since it tends to be the closest to what you'll be doing in chambers.

huntin4clerkships

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Re: Circuit Clerkship Writing Sample

Post by huntin4clerkships » Sun May 17, 2020 8:26 pm

Thanks. I wasn’t sure. I’ve read a few older posts that lead in both directions, so I was hoping to get some clarification.

lavarman84

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Re: Circuit Clerkship Writing Sample

Post by lavarman84 » Mon May 18, 2020 12:21 am

huntin4clerkships wrote:
Sun May 17, 2020 8:26 pm
Thanks. I wasn’t sure. I’ve read a few older posts that lead in both directions, so I was hoping to get some clarification.
A minority of judges will prefer academic writing. They might mention it on their profile. If not, you could search here and see if somebody mentions it. But the majority prefer something practical, like the bench memo or a draft opinion.

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ayylmao

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Re: Circuit Clerkship Writing Sample

Post by ayylmao » Mon May 18, 2020 1:30 pm

lavarman84 wrote:
Mon May 18, 2020 12:21 am
huntin4clerkships wrote:
Sun May 17, 2020 8:26 pm
Thanks. I wasn’t sure. I’ve read a few older posts that lead in both directions, so I was hoping to get some clarification.
A minority of judges will prefer academic writing. They might mention it on their profile. If not, you could search here and see if somebody mentions it. But the majority prefer something practical, like the bench memo or a draft opinion.
Very helpful to know. If one has to choose between a moot court brief and a piece of academic writing, which would you suggest? Also, ideally how long should the piece be?

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mjb447

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Re: Circuit Clerkship Writing Sample

Post by mjb447 » Mon May 18, 2020 1:52 pm

If you have to choose, I'd probably go with a brief because it's legal writing in the context of litigation that hews a little closer to chambers work than most academic writing. I doubt most judges would hold it against you if you wanted to submit both, though, as long as you're confident that both pieces are strong and free of errors.

I did fine with something that was about ten pages, but most of that ten pages was pure analysis because the facts were pretty straightforward. Some samples might require more wind-up, although I've heard you still probably shouldn't go much higher than fifteen.

lavarman84

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Re: Circuit Clerkship Writing Sample

Post by lavarman84 » Mon May 18, 2020 3:34 pm

mjb447 wrote:
Mon May 18, 2020 1:52 pm
If you have to choose, I'd probably go with a brief because it's legal writing in the context of litigation that hews a little closer to chambers work than most academic writing. I doubt most judges would hold it against you if you wanted to submit both, though, as long as you're confident that both pieces are strong and free of errors.

I did fine with something that was about ten pages, but most of that ten pages was pure analysis because the facts were pretty straightforward. Some samples might require more wind-up, although I've heard you still probably shouldn't go much higher than fifteen.
Agreed on all of this. I think 10 to 15 pages is a safe bet as long as there is ample legal analysis. For judges who want something longer or shorter, they'll typically note that on their posting.

texanslimjim

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Re: Circuit Clerkship Writing Sample

Post by texanslimjim » Fri May 22, 2020 2:51 pm

Rule of thumb for writing samples is 10 pages. You can probably go up to 15 pages if you think it's needed.

A lot of law students will not have a writing sample that is that perfect length. You can edit down a longer piece and use an excerpt. For example a 1L who has nothing but their 20 page memo from their legal writing class might replace their 4 page statement of facts with a 2-sentence summary (which are clearly marked as a substitution), and cut out the most boring issue, leaving only 10 pages of juicy analysis.

Your writing sample should have a cover letter that explains what it is and what (if any) edits you have made to the final product to make it into a writing sample.

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Re: Circuit Clerkship Writing Sample

Post by Quichelorraine » Fri May 22, 2020 2:58 pm

texanslimjim wrote:
Fri May 22, 2020 2:51 pm

Your writing sample should have a cover letter that explains what it is and what (if any) edits you have made to the final product to make it into a writing sample.
If it's an edit of something publicly available--"this is something I filed as part of a clinic"--then sure, but otherwise, I'm not sure this is necessary? If you'd like to submit a 1L legal writing assignment as your sample, but you never liked the way Section IA came out, why not just change it? It's still your writing.

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texanslimjim

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Re: Circuit Clerkship Writing Sample

Post by texanslimjim » Fri May 22, 2020 3:20 pm

Quichelorraine wrote:
Fri May 22, 2020 2:58 pm
texanslimjim wrote:
Fri May 22, 2020 2:51 pm

Your writing sample should have a cover letter that explains what it is and what (if any) edits you have made to the final product to make it into a writing sample.
If it's an edit of something publicly available--"this is something I filed as part of a clinic"--then sure, but otherwise, I'm not sure this is necessary? If you'd like to submit a 1L legal writing assignment as your sample, but you never liked the way Section IA came out, why not just change it? It's still your writing.
Yeah, I meant stuff like when you're omitting or condensing certain sections to pare down the length of the writing sample. You're the master of what the final looks like, but if you want to submit a portion of a longer piece it's helpful to very clearly signal what's been changed where so the reader has a picture of what the complete piece looks like.

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mjb447

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Re: Circuit Clerkship Writing Sample

Post by mjb447 » Fri May 22, 2020 3:44 pm

texanslimjim wrote:
Fri May 22, 2020 3:20 pm
Quichelorraine wrote:
Fri May 22, 2020 2:58 pm
texanslimjim wrote:
Fri May 22, 2020 2:51 pm

Your writing sample should have a cover letter that explains what it is and what (if any) edits you have made to the final product to make it into a writing sample.
If it's an edit of something publicly available--"this is something I filed as part of a clinic"--then sure, but otherwise, I'm not sure this is necessary? If you'd like to submit a 1L legal writing assignment as your sample, but you never liked the way Section IA came out, why not just change it? It's still your writing.
Yeah, I meant stuff like when you're omitting or condensing certain sections to pare down the length of the writing sample. You're the master of what the final looks like, but if you want to submit a portion of a longer piece it's helpful to very clearly signal what's been changed where so the reader has a picture of what the complete piece looks like.
It was shocking to me how many times we'd get applications where the W/S was clearly just a brief or set of motion papers exactly as they had been filed in court, even though the audience and purpose for a writing sample are very different. It usually didn't end well for the applicant.

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Re: Circuit Clerkship Writing Sample

Post by Quichelorraine » Fri May 22, 2020 3:44 pm

Yeah, I meant stuff like when you're omitting or condensing certain sections to pare down the length of the writing sample. You're the master of what the final looks like, but if you want to submit a portion of a longer piece it's helpful to very clearly signal what's been changed where so the reader has a picture of what the complete piece looks like.
My bad. I completely misunderstood what you were saying. Yes, this is fine advice; if you're chopping a section out, definitely explain what's going on.

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Re: Circuit Clerkship Writing Sample

Post by Quichelorraine » Fri May 22, 2020 3:48 pm

It was shocking to me how many times we'd get applications where the W/S was clearly just a brief or set of motion papers exactly as they had been filed in court, even though the audience and purpose for a writing sample are very different. It usually didn't end well for the applicant.
We once interviewed an applicant who submitted a pretty good writing sample, with the exception of one section that was just...weird, and uncomfortable, and poorly organized. I asked, "What gives?" "Oh, the senior partner on the case wanted it that way. I didn't like it, but y'know, the boss is the boss."

Absolutely. But you know you can change it now, right?

(He got he job, though, so it wasn't make or break.)

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mjb447

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Re: Circuit Clerkship Writing Sample

Post by mjb447 » Fri May 22, 2020 4:14 pm

Quichelorraine wrote:
Fri May 22, 2020 3:48 pm
It was shocking to me how many times we'd get applications where the W/S was clearly just a brief or set of motion papers exactly as they had been filed in court, even though the audience and purpose for a writing sample are very different. It usually didn't end well for the applicant.
We once interviewed an applicant who submitted a pretty good writing sample, with the exception of one section that was just...weird, and uncomfortable, and poorly organized. I asked, "What gives?" "Oh, the senior partner on the case wanted it that way. I didn't like it, but y'know, the boss is the boss."

Absolutely. But you know you can change it now, right?

(He got he job, though, so it wasn't make or break.)
That's fair. I could maybe even see spinning that as a positive (although he should have omitted it), depending on the details and if the applicant makes it to the interview stage to explain it - chambers is ultimately a "the boss is the boss [with basically no oversight and lifetime tenure]" situation.

The biggest problem was when a sample that was submitted as it was filed dropped us into the middle of complicated litigation. I get that the advice is to submit a sample that makes a complex problem digestible, but that's going to mean something different for a judge with some familiarity than it does for a judge with no familiarity, especially if the latter judge is anticipating reading something that's only 10 - 15 pages long.

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