Under what circumstances is COA not worth it?

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Under what circumstances is COA not worth it?

Post by Anonymous User » Fri Jun 26, 2020 9:12 pm

Rising 3L with COA competitive stats (think Latin honors at HYS/top 10-15% CCN) who just accepted a D.Ct clerkship for 2021 in my target market (one of EDVA/DMass/CDCA/NDCA/NDIL/SDTX).

If I want federal government or agency work in the market my D.Ct. clerkship is in, is it worth it career-wise to shoot for a COA in 2022 somewhere given the transaction costs (applying, moving there and back) and financial hit? Or should I just stick with what I have now because the value add won't be that big?

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Re: Under what circumstances is COA not worth it?

Post by lavarman84 » Fri Jun 26, 2020 11:34 pm

It's worth it if you want to do high-level appellate work or want another gold star. In your case, if you don't want to do it, I think you'll be just fine.

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Re: Under what circumstances is COA not worth it?

Post by HowAppealing » Sat Jun 27, 2020 5:17 pm

I would do it for a few reasons.

First, when doing honors, if you have two clerkships, you're going to be bringing the max amount of experience you can to an honors position. Its also another shiny gold star on your resume that never hurts.

Second, its another network of people that are strongly motivated to help you succeed.

Third, if you are looking to go into government work, you are not seeing the same pay cut that you would if you were going into biglaw. And my understanding is that you will get credit for the year of work for salary purposes.

Perhaps less importantly, I found the circuit clerkship to be a lot of fun. At least when clerking for my judge, I enjoyed having the time to think deeply about significant legal issues. While I also learned a lot at the district court (and enjoyed it a lot), the pace was much faster. But your mileage may vary, depending on the judge and on the court.

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Re: Under what circumstances is COA not worth it?

Post by Anonymous User » Sat Jun 27, 2020 8:28 pm

HowAppealing wrote:
Sat Jun 27, 2020 5:17 pm
First, when doing honors, if you have two clerkships, you're going to be bringing the max amount of experience you can to an honors position. Its also another shiny gold star on your resume that never hurts.
I think this depends a ton on what agency. I came into the federal government through an honors program and I'm not sure I know anyone who both DCt and COA clerkships. If the OP wants to do the COA, they certainly can; it's never going to hurt. But it sounds like they don't want to, and I don't think it's necessary for someone with their stats to achieve their goals.

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Re: Under what circumstances is COA not worth it?

Post by HowAppealing » Sat Jun 27, 2020 9:04 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Sat Jun 27, 2020 8:28 pm
HowAppealing wrote:
Sat Jun 27, 2020 5:17 pm
First, when doing honors, if you have two clerkships, you're going to be bringing the max amount of experience you can to an honors position. Its also another shiny gold star on your resume that never hurts.
I think this depends a ton on what agency. I came into the federal government through an honors program and I'm not sure I know anyone who both DCt and COA clerkships. If the OP wants to do the COA, they certainly can; it's never going to hurt. But it sounds like they don't want to, and I don't think it's necessary for someone with their stats to achieve their goals.
I'm sure that's true. To be clear, I think, if anything, it would be a small plus during honors hiring. At least for most agencies, the district court is going to be what provides the most practical benefit. But I do think it could have some marginal benefit. If you're looking at a resume of someone one year out with a d.ct. clerkship vs. someone two years out with coa and d.ct clerkships, I think the second one sticks out a bit more. But I don't mean to indicate that I think two years of clerking is necessary to obtain a position through DOJ honors.

My bigger point is that I think the opportunity cost is low for the COA clerkship if you're planning on doing honors and there are some benefits--some marginal immediate benefits and other benefits, perhaps somewhat intangible, that can help you over the course of your career.

I would also note OP that while a d.ct clerkship in your desired market is a good step, an honors position in that market is far from guaranteed. And I do think if things don't work out and you end up considering the private sector, the COA can open some doors (but that's generally in the appellate litigation/litigation boutique context, which may or may not be important to you).

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Re: Under what circumstances is COA not worth it?

Post by Anonymous User » Sun Jun 28, 2020 11:29 am

HowAppealing wrote:
Sat Jun 27, 2020 9:04 pm
Anonymous User wrote:
Sat Jun 27, 2020 8:28 pm
HowAppealing wrote:
Sat Jun 27, 2020 5:17 pm
First, when doing honors, if you have two clerkships, you're going to be bringing the max amount of experience you can to an honors position. Its also another shiny gold star on your resume that never hurts.
I think this depends a ton on what agency. I came into the federal government through an honors program and I'm not sure I know anyone who both DCt and COA clerkships. If the OP wants to do the COA, they certainly can; it's never going to hurt. But it sounds like they don't want to, and I don't think it's necessary for someone with their stats to achieve their goals.
I'm sure that's true. To be clear, I think, if anything, it would be a small plus during honors hiring. At least for most agencies, the district court is going to be what provides the most practical benefit. But I do think it could have some marginal benefit. If you're looking at a resume of someone one year out with a d.ct. clerkship vs. someone two years out with coa and d.ct clerkships, I think the second one sticks out a bit more. But I don't mean to indicate that I think two years of clerking is necessary to obtain a position through DOJ honors.

My bigger point is that I think the opportunity cost is low for the COA clerkship if you're planning on doing honors and there are some benefits--some marginal immediate benefits and other benefits, perhaps somewhat intangible, that can help you over the course of your career.

I would also note OP that while a d.ct clerkship in your desired market is a good step, an honors position in that market is far from guaranteed. And I do think if things don't work out and you end up considering the private sector, the COA can open some doors (but that's generally in the appellate litigation/litigation boutique context, which may or may not be important to you).
OP here, I';m trying to gut check my own intuitions and the advice of my mentor at my 1L summer job (fedgov) who said (not verbatim but close) "if you can do an appellate clerkship, you should do it at all costs"

For me, the "costs" are tangible but not overwhelming -
1. another round of applications (since I'm assuming most COA judges are done hiring this cycle even for 2022) which by itself isn't too bad but means I have to gun hard during a remote 3L (not fun).
2. having to leave my desired market for a year to go to a random place (can't set down roots personally/socially etc.) and, most importantly,
3. a major financial sacrifice (since I'll be going two years without income to pay down my debt)

But of course, a COA clerkship is one of the most desirable resume lines in our profession and I feel like not doing it when I have a decent shot at a non-feeder is leaving a lot on the table. And I'm pretty young (24) by 3L standards so I feel like a lot of my worries have less force than they would if I were nearer to 30.

Also, to clarify, I don't really want to do honors because I have major debt (like 200k). I'm planning on doing two-three years biglaw before transitioning to government, then probably passing through the revolving door a few times in my career.

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Re: Under what circumstances is COA not worth it?

Post by Anonymous User » Mon Jun 29, 2020 6:19 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Sun Jun 28, 2020 11:29 am
HowAppealing wrote:
Sat Jun 27, 2020 9:04 pm
Anonymous User wrote:
Sat Jun 27, 2020 8:28 pm
HowAppealing wrote:
Sat Jun 27, 2020 5:17 pm
First, when doing honors, if you have two clerkships, you're going to be bringing the max amount of experience you can to an honors position. Its also another shiny gold star on your resume that never hurts.
I think this depends a ton on what agency. I came into the federal government through an honors program and I'm not sure I know anyone who both DCt and COA clerkships. If the OP wants to do the COA, they certainly can; it's never going to hurt. But it sounds like they don't want to, and I don't think it's necessary for someone with their stats to achieve their goals.
I'm sure that's true. To be clear, I think, if anything, it would be a small plus during honors hiring. At least for most agencies, the district court is going to be what provides the most practical benefit. But I do think it could have some marginal benefit. If you're looking at a resume of someone one year out with a d.ct. clerkship vs. someone two years out with coa and d.ct clerkships, I think the second one sticks out a bit more. But I don't mean to indicate that I think two years of clerking is necessary to obtain a position through DOJ honors.

My bigger point is that I think the opportunity cost is low for the COA clerkship if you're planning on doing honors and there are some benefits--some marginal immediate benefits and other benefits, perhaps somewhat intangible, that can help you over the course of your career.

I would also note OP that while a d.ct clerkship in your desired market is a good step, an honors position in that market is far from guaranteed. And I do think if things don't work out and you end up considering the private sector, the COA can open some doors (but that's generally in the appellate litigation/litigation boutique context, which may or may not be important to you).
OP here, I';m trying to gut check my own intuitions and the advice of my mentor at my 1L summer job (fedgov) who said (not verbatim but close) "if you can do an appellate clerkship, you should do it at all costs"

For me, the "costs" are tangible but not overwhelming -
1. another round of applications (since I'm assuming most COA judges are done hiring this cycle even for 2022) which by itself isn't too bad but means I have to gun hard during a remote 3L (not fun).
2. having to leave my desired market for a year to go to a random place (can't set down roots personally/socially etc.) and, most importantly,
3. a major financial sacrifice (since I'll be going two years without income to pay down my debt)

But of course, a COA clerkship is one of the most desirable resume lines in our profession and I feel like not doing it when I have a decent shot at a non-feeder is leaving a lot on the table. And I'm pretty young (24) by 3L standards so I feel like a lot of my worries have less force than they would if I were nearer to 30.

Also, to clarify, I don't really want to do honors because I have major debt (like 200k). I'm planning on doing two-three years biglaw before transitioning to government, then probably passing through the revolving door a few times in my career.
Bumping bc I'm actively weighing whether to withdraw my oscar apps for this cycle (not that I'm expecting anything this late anyway but still)

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Re: Under what circumstances is COA not worth it?

Post by Joachim2017 » Mon Jun 29, 2020 6:35 pm

Some of the best paying (i.e., well-above market comp) litigation firms will look more favorably at your application if you have that COA clerkship in addition to a D Ct clerkship. Even if your goal is to pay off student debt for a few years in private practice before heading to govt work, that 1-year COA will give a boost towards an interview at some really high $$$ firms.

One reason is the networking; another is the experience; a third is the signal boost; a fourth is that your competition for these slots at top firms will, often or even usually, have that COA clerkship credential.

Most of the top jobs in law now are an arms race. But, less cynically, it's also *absolutely* true that a COA clerkship afford an intrinsically fun, interesting, and intellectually stimulating experience of what it's like inside some of the highest courts in the land. It's a one-year thing, and it's a privilege to help COA judges write opinions and see how that sort of law is made. You become a better legal writer and thinker. And your horizons expand. If you have the chance to do it, it's hard to see why yo wouldn't.

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Re: Under what circumstances is COA not worth it?

Post by Anonymous User » Tue Jun 30, 2020 7:53 pm

Joachim2017 wrote:
Mon Jun 29, 2020 6:35 pm
Some of the best paying (i.e., well-above market comp) litigation firms will look more favorably at your application if you have that COA clerkship in addition to a D Ct clerkship. Even if your goal is to pay off student debt for a few years in private practice before heading to govt work, that 1-year COA will give a boost towards an interview at some really high $$$ firms.

One reason is the networking; another is the experience; a third is the signal boost; a fourth is that your competition for these slots at top firms will, often or even usually, have that COA clerkship credential.

Most of the top jobs in law now are an arms race. But, less cynically, it's also *absolutely* true that a COA clerkship afford an intrinsically fun, interesting, and intellectually stimulating experience of what it's like inside some of the highest courts in the land. It's a one-year thing, and it's a privilege to help COA judges write opinions and see how that sort of law is made. You become a better legal writer and thinker. And your horizons expand. If you have the chance to do it, it's hard to see why yo wouldn't.
OP here. Yeah, I've decided I'm going to give it a shot. Have about 15 apps open right now but will start broadening my horizons and calling my target judges from my '21 applications asking for email addresses to send an updated CL/resume. Will really try to get something this cycle but more than likely it will be next round.

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Re: Under what circumstances is COA not worth it?

Post by dm1683 » Mon Jul 06, 2020 1:38 am

Speaking purely from a professional POV, you'd be dumb not to do it if you have the chance. That resume line will move to to the head of the pile in a lot of places. But people sacrifice professional opportunities for personal and financial reasons all the time. if it's more comfortable for you to stay in SF/Boston/wherever and work at a firm for awhile after the first clerkship, then do that and reapply in a few years.

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Re: Under what circumstances is COA not worth it?

Post by Anonymous User » Thu Jul 09, 2020 2:43 pm

I cannot imagine any circumstances under which one would decline a COA clerkship....even if you have a dream job already secured, if that employer is not willing to let you clerk for a year on the COA, then that employer probably doesn't have your best long-term interests in mind anyway

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Re: Under what circumstances is COA not worth it?

Post by Anonymous User » Thu Jul 09, 2020 3:01 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Thu Jul 09, 2020 2:43 pm
I cannot imagine any circumstances under which one would decline a COA clerkship....even if you have a dream job already secured, if that employer is not willing to let you clerk for a year on the COA, then that employer probably doesn't have your best long-term interests in mind anyway
I would disagree with this. For example, what is the point of doing a COA if you know want to be a DOJ trial lawyer, you’ve already done a D. Ct. clerkship, and you were selected a DOJ Honors position? Or if you want to be an attorney at the SEC and were offered a job there?

In terms of turning down biglaw firms I understand what you’re saying, but if it is truly a dream job I would turn down a COA (speaking as someone who recently interviewed with a semi-feeder and is still looking for a COA).

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Re: Under what circumstances is COA not worth it?

Post by nixy » Thu Jul 09, 2020 3:42 pm

So, to be clear, no one is saying to “decline” a COA gig because the OP doesn’t have one yet. Turning one down and deciding not to apply aren’t the same thing.

And it’s perfectly fine not to do a COA even if you have a shot at getting one. Maybe, as the post above mine suggests, you already have your dream job and it’s not necessary for your goals. Maybe you value the earning power of a firm that much more for your family. Maybe appellate work doesn’t really interest you, or you’re not excited to spend two years in very small chambers doing nothing but research and writing. Maybe you just decide you don’t need to chase every single brass ring in the profession just because it’s there.

It’s perfectly fine to try for one, too, obviously. But it’s not necessary to strive just for the sake of it.

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Re: Under what circumstances is COA not worth it?

Post by decimalsanddollars » Thu Jul 09, 2020 6:10 pm

I think you should do it if you can. It's not an "all costs" situation, but as a previous poster mentioned, it makes your resume much more attractive for an above-market-lit position and carries enough cache in fedgov later on that it will make the revolving door easier to spin at your desired pace.

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Re: Under what circumstances is COA not worth it?

Post by Joachim2017 » Thu Jul 09, 2020 8:58 pm

This is not addressed to OP, but it always surprises me how many people on TLS have the attitude of "well, if you already know now what you want to do as a lawyer, there's no need to try out for X, or pay a little more for Y. Ignore the elitists!" You can't know for certain today what you will want your career to be like 5, 10, 15, 20 years from now. That's just a fact. I came into law school thinking *for sure* I wanted to do one type of law; turns out, years later, I prefer a different type. Law is (for better or worse) about credentials. Optionality is value. Flexibility is power. It's power for yourself down the road. Everyone needs to have this sort of long-term thinking early in life.

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Re: Under what circumstances is COA not worth it?

Post by nixy » Thu Jul 09, 2020 9:16 pm

Joachim2017 wrote:
Thu Jul 09, 2020 8:58 pm
This is not addressed to OP, but it always surprises me how many people on TLS have the attitude of "well, if you already know now what you want to do as a lawyer, there's no need to try out for X, or pay a little more for Y. Ignore the elitists!" You can't know for certain today what you will want your career to be like 5, 10, 15, 20 years from now. That's just a fact. I came into law school thinking *for sure* I wanted to do one type of law; turns out, years later, I prefer a different type. Law is (for better or worse) about credentials. Optionality is value. Flexibility is power. It's power for yourself down the road. Everyone needs to have this sort of long-term thinking early in life.
This is also not addressed to OP, but it never surprises me how many people on TLS get all twitchy at the prospect of voluntarily passing on the opportunity to chase one more brass ring when they already have an armful of them.

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Re: Under what circumstances is COA not worth it?

Post by Joachim2017 » Fri Jul 10, 2020 9:37 am

nixy wrote:
Thu Jul 09, 2020 9:16 pm
Joachim2017 wrote:
Thu Jul 09, 2020 8:58 pm
This is not addressed to OP, but it always surprises me how many people on TLS have the attitude of "well, if you already know now what you want to do as a lawyer, there's no need to try out for X, or pay a little more for Y. Ignore the elitists!" You can't know for certain today what you will want your career to be like 5, 10, 15, 20 years from now. That's just a fact. I came into law school thinking *for sure* I wanted to do one type of law; turns out, years later, I prefer a different type. Law is (for better or worse) about credentials. Optionality is value. Flexibility is power. It's power for yourself down the road. Everyone needs to have this sort of long-term thinking early in life.
This is also not addressed to OP, but it never surprises me how many people on TLS get all twitchy at the prospect of voluntarily passing on the opportunity to chase one more brass ring when they already have an armful of them.
I provided actual reasons why it's a mistake -- a kind of psychological comfort blanket -- to dismissively (preemptively?) think of things like federal appellate clerkships as just "chasing one more brass ring." At this point, anyone reading this can judge our posts on their merits.

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Re: Under what circumstances is COA not worth it?

Post by nixy » Fri Jul 10, 2020 10:31 am

And I obviously don’t agree with your reasons. Of course law is about credentials and you might change your mind about what you want to do. The OP is already eminently credentialed. If you want to change paths in the future, especially 10, 15, 20 years down the road, your ability to do so is going to be determined much more by what you’ve accomplished as a lawyer during that time than one clerkship. Of course everything you do builds on everything else, so sure, that clerkship can be influential in how you get there. I just have a REALLY hard time seeing someone who’s been practicing for 20 years turning around and saying “gosh, now I really wish I could do X, but I can’t because I didn’t do that COA 20 years ago.” That’s just not how careers work.

I completely agree that it’s going to be to probably almost everyone’s benefit to do a COA. I just don’t think someone deciding not to should necessarily be dismissed as not thinking long-term enough. And I think there is a type of person who ends up in top law schools who has achieved academically their whole life and tends to measure their self worth by those external measures, and it can lead to some serious issues down the line.

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Re: Under what circumstances is COA not worth it?

Post by Anonymous User » Fri Jul 10, 2020 10:34 pm

nixy wrote:
Thu Jul 09, 2020 9:16 pm
Joachim2017 wrote:
Thu Jul 09, 2020 8:58 pm
This is not addressed to OP, but it always surprises me how many people on TLS have the attitude of "well, if you already know now what you want to do as a lawyer, there's no need to try out for X, or pay a little more for Y. Ignore the elitists!" You can't know for certain today what you will want your career to be like 5, 10, 15, 20 years from now. That's just a fact. I came into law school thinking *for sure* I wanted to do one type of law; turns out, years later, I prefer a different type. Law is (for better or worse) about credentials. Optionality is value. Flexibility is power. It's power for yourself down the road. Everyone needs to have this sort of long-term thinking early in life.
This is also not addressed to OP, but it never surprises me how many people on TLS get all twitchy at the prospect of voluntarily passing on the opportunity to chase one more brass ring when they already have an armful of them.
OP here, this is my main tension. Between feeling like I'm chasing gold stars for their own sake, and feeling like I'm leaving a great professional experience on the table just for financial/personal stability and path of least resistance.

And I have no idea whether I want to to appellate work or not, the extent of my familarity is limited to my 1L spring brief. I'm afraid that if I don't get a coa, I will be leaving the possibility on the table. On the other hand I am in pretty severe student debt, that's why I was really hoping to get a circuit the first time, and maybe I should just accept the fantastic opportunity I do have without wanting seconds.

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Re: Under what circumstances is COA not worth it?

Post by Anonymous User » Sat Jul 11, 2020 12:49 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Fri Jul 10, 2020 10:34 pm
nixy wrote:
Thu Jul 09, 2020 9:16 pm
Joachim2017 wrote:
Thu Jul 09, 2020 8:58 pm
This is not addressed to OP, but it always surprises me how many people on TLS have the attitude of "well, if you already know now what you want to do as a lawyer, there's no need to try out for X, or pay a little more for Y. Ignore the elitists!" You can't know for certain today what you will want your career to be like 5, 10, 15, 20 years from now. That's just a fact. I came into law school thinking *for sure* I wanted to do one type of law; turns out, years later, I prefer a different type. Law is (for better or worse) about credentials. Optionality is value. Flexibility is power. It's power for yourself down the road. Everyone needs to have this sort of long-term thinking early in life.
This is also not addressed to OP, but it never surprises me how many people on TLS get all twitchy at the prospect of voluntarily passing on the opportunity to chase one more brass ring when they already have an armful of them.
OP here, this is my main tension. Between feeling like I'm chasing gold stars for their own sake, and feeling like I'm leaving a great professional experience on the table just for financial/personal stability and path of least resistance.

And I have no idea whether I want to to appellate work or not, the extent of my familarity is limited to my 1L spring brief. I'm afraid that if I don't get a coa, I will be leaving the possibility on the table. On the other hand I am in pretty severe student debt, that's why I was really hoping to get a circuit the first time, and maybe I should just accept the fantastic opportunity I do have without wanting seconds.
There are only a handful of super snobby jobs where a district court clerkship isn't sufficient, and a COA clerkship is required. This is a generalization, but a specialization in appellate litigation is one of those. There are a number of others I'm sure - the legal academy for example. If you have a feeling in the back of your mind that you may want to explore a career in those areas someday, do everything you can to grab the COA clerkship so you're not kicking yourself 10 years down the line. If you can safely rule that out, then I wouldn't bother applying or spending more time worrying about it.

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