Can I clerk many years (6-9) after grad?

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Can I clerk many years (6-9) after grad?

Post by Anonymous User » Tue May 04, 2021 11:50 pm

I'm a mid level/sr assoc. at a fairly reputable mid sized boutique. Around 7 years post grad now. I've spent the last 4+ years doing solid litigation work (was doing a different, tangentially related field before at a small firm). Bonus inclusive, each year I make about 250-280k billing around 2000/year (in a bad year, a bit under 2000).

I may have a shot at partnership in a couple years but don't dream of being partner. I think more about doing fed gov in the long run (DOJ or FTC if I can), and am wondering if I should keep on going with litigating in a mid sized boutique before trying to get a fed gov litigation job, or if I should try my hand at a clerkship. A bit worried working at a regional firm won't get me into DOJ/FTC.

I'm so many years out of grad that I'm not even sure I can get a 1 year term clerkship, which is what I'd like. Also, I am engaged and would not want to be apart from my fiance, so am thinking about clerking in the city I'm in right now (it's a major, non-NY/DC east coast city - think Bos, Phil, Wilmington, Hartford). Would it be a bad idea to get the clerkship process started, having partners be references, then risk not getting a clerkship in my city? Is it even possible to get a term clerk position so many years out of law school?

For reference, T14, below median (had a rough 1L year), executive board of secondary journal, have had serious litigation experience in the law firm (taking dep., going to trial, drafting motions and pleadings, etc.). T20 undergrad (if that even matters). Although I work for a mid-sized firm, I've worked on some big cases for blue chip companies, worth hundreds of millions in damages.

All comments/advice appreciated!

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Re: Can I clerk many years (6-9) after grad?

Post by Anonymous User » Wed May 05, 2021 12:10 am

I clerked four years out and one of my co-clerks was nine years out. It does happen. But there are much fewer judges willing to hire that senior. Judge Callahan on CA9 is one and I met a clerk of hers who was coming off literally a decade as an district attorney. You might have some luck applying to new appointees as they get fewer applicants, and having experienced clerks is a bigger upside -- trial experience may be very appealing for a new district court judge coming to the bench without much experience trying cases, if Biden follows Trump's lead on that. But I do think your grades could be a barrier even at that level of experience. It's not like lateraling where your ability to do the job well outweighs proxies like grades; clerking is still a snobby endeavor for better or worse, and hundreds of fresh grads do the job well enough every year so experience is not as much of a plus.

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Re: Can I clerk many years (6-9) after grad?

Post by Anonymous User » Wed May 05, 2021 1:02 am

I clerked way out of school, in the upper range of what you're talking about. There's definitely a significant contingent of judges that want people straight out of law school. But I think a lot of the issue is self-selection. Not many people want to go from earning what you're making to ~$100k (maybe more depending on locality and whether the judge has a career clerk), with awful benefits, terrible work-life balance, and losing basically all the autonomy that you've probably started to get used to at your seniority level. If the only reason you are doing it is to get into US DOJ, I'd suggest applying for those jobs now and doing your due diligence to make sure you're not actually already qualified.

The references were a bit tricky. I had a group of former partners at a firm who I had left on really good terms who were willing to go to bat for me. Finding a current reference that I could trust to keep everything under wraps and not jeopardize my current opportunities was tough. I had maintained some good relationships with profs at my law school, but I was just too far removed from regularly interacting with them to feel comfortable relying on them again.

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Re: Can I clerk many years (6-9) after grad?

Post by Anonymous User » Wed May 05, 2021 8:35 pm

Clerking after 4-6 years of practice for a USDC Judge. From big law. Not T-14, but Top 20. Not in top 1/3 (did horrible 1st semester, but Deans List on out; Moot Court; Journal). I recommend taking a temp clerk position and proving yourself, but obviously ask whether the temp clerk position could turn into a term clerkship before accepting an interview. Also, may want to think about clerking for magistrate judge. Good luck!

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Re: Can I clerk many years (6-9) after grad?

Post by Anonymous User » Thu May 06, 2021 12:52 am

I’m not OP, but I’ll also be clerking as a 6-9 year for a D. Ct. at a decent district (think NDCA/EDNY/SDNY). To those who commented above, would you say clerking was a valuable experience? If so, in what way? Obviously this was a consideration for me when I was applying; I decided to clerk because it was something I was personally interested in. But I’d love to hear from those who already finished their clerkships to get a sense of how it turned out for you.

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Re: Can I clerk many years (6-9) after grad?

Post by Anonymous User » Thu May 06, 2021 1:39 am

4-year-out anon above. I loved my clerkship and would do it again 100% of the time. I felt like I got a lot more out of it having practiced first. Unlike clerking straight out of law school, you'll have made some of the types of arguments that will come before you and your judge, and have more context to understand what works and doesn't. And especially if your pre-clerkship practice is at a big firm, you'll get exposed to much more both substantively and stylistically during the clerkship. There are some amazing attorneys out there in unexpected places (one of the best arguments i heard all year, other than high-high-end gov attorneys, was a random solo criminal practitioner with a dog of a case) and some who'll make you feel fantastic about your own practice. One of my biggest takeaways was just, god, please explain stuff, I have no idea what's going on in your case at first, and I don't know if I would've internalized that in the same way if not coming from practice. It was also great to have a (slightly) lower-pace year before going back into big firm life, and I did not face much difficulty going back in, though I know the post-clerkship job market can be rough. But as a slightly more senior clerk you'll get evaluated more like a lateral who can step in and contribute right away and I think that generally helps.

Also coming from practice you're much better positioned to evaluate judges and find a good fit. I nearly ended up in a really bad situation when I applied for clerkships in law school and I had no idea. Applying after practice I was able to do better diligence and ended up in a much better situation.

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Re: Can I clerk many years (6-9) after grad?

Post by Anonymous User » Thu May 06, 2021 1:29 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Thu May 06, 2021 1:39 am
4-year-out anon above. I loved my clerkship and would do it again 100% of the time. I felt like I got a lot more out of it having practiced first. Unlike clerking straight out of law school, you'll have made some of the types of arguments that will come before you and your judge, and have more context to understand what works and doesn't. And especially if your pre-clerkship practice is at a big firm, you'll get exposed to much more both substantively and stylistically during the clerkship. There are some amazing attorneys out there in unexpected places (one of the best arguments i heard all year, other than high-high-end gov attorneys, was a random solo criminal practitioner with a dog of a case) and some who'll make you feel fantastic about your own practice. One of my biggest takeaways was just, god, please explain stuff, I have no idea what's going on in your case at first, and I don't know if I would've internalized that in the same way if not coming from practice. It was also great to have a (slightly) lower-pace year before going back into big firm life, and I did not face much difficulty going back in, though I know the post-clerkship job market can be rough. But as a slightly more senior clerk you'll get evaluated more like a lateral who can step in and contribute right away and I think that generally helps.

Also coming from practice you're much better positioned to evaluate judges and find a good fit. I nearly ended up in a really bad situation when I applied for clerkships in law school and I had no idea. Applying after practice I was able to do better diligence and ended up in a much better situation.
Anon who asked the last question above. Thank you for this helpful, thoughtful response. What you say about the experience is pretty much what I'm dreaming to see. Plus, I've wanted to clerk ever since I was a 1L (couldn't clerk immediately following grad due to personal reasons), so I'm really excited to start.

Re: the job market. That's pretty much what I fear the most--not being able to return to a firm after my clerkship. Unless something crazy happens, I expect my firm to offer me when I return; but I might consider going to a different firm because, well, a change of scenery sounds nice. But it seems that, based on your response, the prior big law experience may be a boon rather than an issue.

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Re: Can I clerk many years (6-9) after grad?

Post by Anonymous User » Thu May 06, 2021 1:37 pm

Above-quoted anon. I can see the firm thing turning on seniority. I was still a mid-level coming out and I could see it being different if you'd be like a 9th/10th-year associate coming off a clerkship with a year of lost senior associate experience. If you switch, that's a tough spot for firms since they will want to see a few years of your work before deciding on promotion, and you're sort of already at the window at that point. If you want to return, I'd probably try to lock in a return offer before leaving if your judge allows clerks to hold offers open. When I left I was prepared to transition out of biglaw if it didn't work out, and I would probably not clerk as a senior associate if you 100% want to return to biglaw. It worked out in my situation but the post-clerkship hiring market can be really hot or cold for people.

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Re: Can I clerk many years (6-9) after grad?

Post by Anonymous User » Fri May 07, 2021 12:44 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Thu May 06, 2021 1:37 pm
Above-quoted anon. I can see the firm thing turning on seniority. I was still a mid-level coming out and I could see it being different if you'd be like a 9th/10th-year associate coming off a clerkship with a year of lost senior associate experience. If you switch, that's a tough spot for firms since they will want to see a few years of your work before deciding on promotion, and you're sort of already at the window at that point. If you want to return, I'd probably try to lock in a return offer before leaving if your judge allows clerks to hold offers open. When I left I was prepared to transition out of biglaw if it didn't work out, and I would probably not clerk as a senior associate if you 100% want to return to biglaw. It worked out in my situation but the post-clerkship hiring market can be really hot or cold for people.
Thanks. I appreciate the insight.

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Re: Can I clerk many years (6-9) after grad?

Post by Anonymous User » Mon May 10, 2021 2:08 pm

I think it is pretty risky.

You know what your end goal is. It is hard to see how a typical district court clerkship helps you very much to achieve it. Maybe a judge that has specific connections to the agencies you care about could help. But you're already looking at a small pool of judges who would hire someone with this much experience. If you narrow it further to judges who know people at the FTC, it could be single digit or zero judges. That is not much of a pool to play in.

At your level, I think your experience counts a lot more. A post-clerkship hire is a hire based on potential, more or less, and maybe legal research and writing skills. But an attorney 7-10 years out is probably not going to get hired based on potential, and I'm sure you can already write a brief. I'd expect these agencies would care a great deal more about your relevant skills and experience. At your level you could arguing motions, trying cases, etc.

A clerkship could even end up hindering you. Right now you have a runway of 2-3 years (it sounds like) to try to get to your goal. Once you enter a clerkship, your runway shortens to one year. That's really not much time. And these agencies aren't always hiring, or hiring for the job you want.

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Re: Can I clerk many years (6-9) after grad?

Post by Anonymous User » Fri May 14, 2021 10:02 am

Does any of the helpful anons here have any thoughts re: double clerking as a third-year associate in BL? I already have a clerkship locked down for D.D.C, and just received word that I have a non-negligible chance for an offer for a 2/7/9 clerkship with a respected judge (I received the interview without even having to apply through sheer chance). If I do decide to return to BL, I'll be well into my fifth year, and I was wondering what firms will think of that. My penultimate goal is to try to aim for an AUSA office after my clerkships as well, so I'm wondering what the portability of my second clerkship will be in that regard.

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Re: Can I clerk many years (6-9) after grad?

Post by Anonymous User » Fri May 14, 2021 11:00 am

Anonymous User wrote:
Fri May 14, 2021 10:02 am
Does any of the helpful anons here have any thoughts re: double clerking as a third-year associate in BL? I already have a clerkship locked down for D.D.C, and just received word that I have a non-negligible chance for an offer for a 2/7/9 clerkship with a respected judge (I received the interview without even having to apply through sheer chance). If I do decide to return to BL, I'll be well into my fifth year, and I was wondering what firms will think of that. My penultimate goal is to try to aim for an AUSA office after my clerkships as well, so I'm wondering what the portability of my second clerkship will be in that regard.
I think you're probably still junior enough that you could get back into a big firm without a ton of trouble. Each USAO is its own animal, but appellate clerkships - especially in the circuit that you're practicing in - generally seem to be highly regarded credentials.

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Re: Can I clerk many years (6-9) after grad?

Post by GoneSouth » Sat May 15, 2021 9:07 am

Anonymous User wrote:
Wed May 05, 2021 1:02 am
I clerked way out of school, in the upper range of what you're talking about. There's definitely a significant contingent of judges that want people straight out of law school. But I think a lot of the issue is self-selection. Not many people want to go from earning what you're making to ~$100k (maybe more depending on locality and whether the judge has a career clerk), with awful benefits, terrible work-life balance, and losing basically all the autonomy that you've probably started to get used to at your seniority level. If the only reason you are doing it is to get into US DOJ, I'd suggest applying for those jobs now and doing your due diligence to make sure you're not actually already qualified.

The references were a bit tricky. I had a group of former partners at a firm who I had left on really good terms who were willing to go to bat for me. Finding a current reference that I could trust to keep everything under wraps and not jeopardize my current opportunities was tough. I had maintained some good relationships with profs at my law school, but I was just too far removed from regularly interacting with them to feel comfortable relying on them again.
Every situation is different, but I don’t think most people would describe their clerkship as having terrible work-life balance and awful benefits

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Re: Can I clerk many years (6-9) after grad?

Post by Anonymous User » Sat May 15, 2021 11:57 am

GoneSouth wrote:
Sat May 15, 2021 9:07 am
Anonymous User wrote:
Wed May 05, 2021 1:02 am
I clerked way out of school, in the upper range of what you're talking about. There's definitely a significant contingent of judges that want people straight out of law school. But I think a lot of the issue is self-selection. Not many people want to go from earning what you're making to ~$100k (maybe more depending on locality and whether the judge has a career clerk), with awful benefits, terrible work-life balance, and losing basically all the autonomy that you've probably started to get used to at your seniority level. If the only reason you are doing it is to get into US DOJ, I'd suggest applying for those jobs now and doing your due diligence to make sure you're not actually already qualified.

The references were a bit tricky. I had a group of former partners at a firm who I had left on really good terms who were willing to go to bat for me. Finding a current reference that I could trust to keep everything under wraps and not jeopardize my current opportunities was tough. I had maintained some good relationships with profs at my law school, but I was just too far removed from regularly interacting with them to feel comfortable relying on them again.
Every situation is different, but I don’t think most people would describe their clerkship as having terrible work-life balance and awful benefits
That's a totally fair point about the work-life balance - that was just my personal experience with my mid-career clerkship showing through. The benefits are objectively bad.

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Re: Can I clerk many years (6-9) after grad?

Post by Anonymous User » Sat May 15, 2021 6:14 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Mon May 10, 2021 2:08 pm
If you narrow it further to judges who know people at the FTC, it could be single digit or zero judges. That is not much of a pool to play in.
This part doesn't seem right. The acting chairwoman of the FTC was Chuck Schumer's chief counsel for the entirety of the Obama Administration. Based on some personal experience, it is safe to say that she would have more than a passing familiarity with the judges that Obama put on the bench in NY, in particular. IIRC, Schumer was also on the Senate Judiciary Committee before becoming leader for the Dems. I.e., he probably met with every judicial nominee during those years and his chief counsel would have been there for most of those meetings, I would have to think. Then, you've got the various former clerks who are throughout the agency.

Granted, none of that is to say it's necessarily a good career move for OP to clerk or that it would be helpful for landing a position at FTC (where the chair likely wouldn't be involved in most hiring) or DOJ. But sometimes the specifics of a particular agency or division make it relatively more valuable.

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