State Supreme Court or Small District Court?

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cambriabold

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State Supreme Court or Small District Court?

Post by cambriabold » Tue Jul 20, 2021 10:27 pm

Which would you choose, an offer from a top state supreme court (think NY/MA/NJ) or one from a small district court (think VT/RI/NH/ME)? Let's say that your medium-term plan is to stay in the state that the SSC is in, and you're headed to biglaw with pretty much zero clarity about what you want to end up doing after. Let's also say that the SSC would be personally much more convenient for you in terms of money/your SO, but that the district court is very workable in those respects.

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Re: State Supreme Court or Small District Court?

Post by Anonymous User » Wed Jul 21, 2021 8:55 am

cambriabold wrote:
Tue Jul 20, 2021 10:27 pm
Which would you choose, an offer from a top state supreme court (think NY/MA/NJ) or one from a small district court (think VT/RI/NH/ME)? Let's say that your medium-term plan is to stay in the state that the SSC is in, and you're headed to biglaw with pretty much zero clarity about what you want to end up doing after. Let's also say that the SSC would be personally much more convenient for you in terms of money/your SO, but that the district court is very workable in those respects.
The district court clerkship will be more fun/interesting, IMO, but you should probably take the SSC if its the state you want to be in, and it will be better for your personal life.

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Re: State Supreme Court or Small District Court?

Post by Anonymous User » Wed Jul 21, 2021 9:03 am

cambriabold wrote:
Tue Jul 20, 2021 10:27 pm
Which would you choose, an offer from a top state supreme court (think NY/MA/NJ) or one from a small district court (think VT/RI/NH/ME)? Let's say that your medium-term plan is to stay in the state that the SSC is in, and you're headed to biglaw with pretty much zero clarity about what you want to end up doing after. Let's also say that the SSC would be personally much more convenient for you in terms of money/your SO, but that the district court is very workable in those respects.
Congrats on getting two offers--that's amazing! I think the received wisdom is generally that, as the supremacy clause says, the federal judiciary rules all. If you're concerned about lay prestige, then the district court is probably a good choice. If you're interested in maximizing earning, at least in the short term, then the district court is probably the good choice, since some (not all) firms will pay marginally higher clerkship bonuses for them. You said you're not sure what you want to do, but if you're interested in trial work in any way then you likely know that the district court is better. But if those factors aren't relevant or you're interested in appellate work then the SSC is likely the better choice.

But since you're not sure what you're interested in doing post-clerkship, it might be better to focus on what you want from the clerkship. You have two amazing but very different opportunities ahead of you. The SSC will be much slower paced with a heavier emphasis on research and writing and, assuming the justice's chambers are run like most, more solitary work. Whereas the district court will be much faster paced and will see a very different kind of writing tasks. Additionally, with the SSC you're the court of last resort, so you're dealing with a discretionary docket and largely matters of first impression, whereas the district court you're getting everything. Also, consider the judges themselves and what you want in a boss. There are no right answers here, just what you want/works best for you. Do you want someone who has a heavy edit hand and is actively involved in your work or someone who is more detached in the day to day? Do you want someone who remains in your life as a mentor? Or are you looking for the relationship to not exceed the clerkship? Do you know who your co-clerks might be? What's the chambers environment like in each? Will you spend a year eating alone at your desk or will you go out with the judge and co-clerks? These considerations may or may not matter for you, but are perhaps things to consider. Congrats again!

Jchance

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Re: State Supreme Court or Small District Court?

Post by Jchance » Wed Jul 21, 2021 9:44 am

I'd take the district court. But you can also take both; just ask one of the judges to start in the following term.

nixy

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Re: State Supreme Court or Small District Court?

Post by nixy » Wed Jul 21, 2021 10:35 am

I think conventional wisdom would be to take the district court, especially if you don’t know what you want to do after biglaw (a federal clerkship can be a big deal for certain federal jobs, for instance). But I also know a lot of people with good outcomes out of SSC clerkships, so I don’t think there’s a *bad* choice here. It’s legit to consider family and convenience when deciding.

Re: fun/interesting - it will depend on what you like to do. If you love to write, to dig into sustained research, and come up with the best solution in the absence of clear answers, you’ll probably like the SSC. If you like something more fast-paced and people-facing, you’ll probably like the district court. (You can also like both!)

I also agree that if you can find out anything about the experience of clerking for these judges (assuming you have two offers), that’s an important factor. If you really liked one and the other not so much, or one is notorious as a great mentor and promoter of their clerks and the other not so much, go with the better judge. A year goes by quickly but the nature of the job means that working in a bad chambers is truly miserable.

And I also agree with Jchance that it’s worth finding out if you can do both, if one of the judges will let you delay a year.

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Re: State Supreme Court or Small District Court?

Post by Anonymous User » Wed Jul 21, 2021 11:22 am

Like others have said, don't lose sight of the fact that your choice is not between two courts in the abstract but between two real people who will be your boss for a year and then associated with you for the rest of your career. If you haven't already done so, you should definitely be talking to former clerks to see if one of them is an especially good/bad boss.

Imho, the "prestige" difference between a random district court and the SSC of the state where you plan to practice isn't all that significant, and if I were in your position I'd be making my decision largely on the basis of which judge I'd personally rather work for.

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Re: State Supreme Court or Small District Court?

Post by objctnyrhnr » Wed Jul 21, 2021 3:23 pm

Doing a fedclerkship (full A3, not magistrate/bankruptcy) allows you to join an elite club, albeit not an official one. It’s something you’ll have for life, and will be a permanent resume stamp. When you make partner, when you become a judge it’ll be referenced.

SSC is a great opportunity for sure, and can certainly also open some top-tier doors in its own right. And if you can do both, you probably should.

But I’d never take a SSC over a A3 fedclerkship unless fedclerk was total flyover-type district that is widely known as being way easier to snag and SSC was one of the top couple in the country (CA in particular comes to mind, but maybe NY and MA fall into the group).

Surely doing a SSC clerkship in the state you want to practice is better than the alternative and same goes for fedclerk. But if SSC is in your desired state and fedclerk is in a district nearby, that consideration shouldn’t carry the day.

On the whole, I echo group wisdom here. Say no to one (probably SSC) and very politely ask if you can do it the subsequent term.

Ideally you would have gotten fed offer first, so you can tell SSC judge that you got other offer first. If it happened in other order it’s tougher.

j01

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Re: State Supreme Court or Small District Court?

Post by j01 » Wed Jul 21, 2021 8:07 pm

Having done both, take the state supreme court if you want to practice in state government where you'll clerk. Take the district court in every other circumstance.

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Re: State Supreme Court or Small District Court?

Post by lavarman84 » Wed Jul 21, 2021 9:11 pm

I would echo much of the great advice given already (especially trying to determine how the two jurists are as bosses). I'll add one more thing. If you're not looking to do appellate, the district court clerkship is going to be of a lot more practical use to you.

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Re: State Supreme Court or Small District Court?

Post by Anonymous User » Thu Jul 22, 2021 11:11 am

FWIW I am a double A3 clerk (District then COA) and recently looked into moving to a small state to be closer to my family after my second clerkship. Every firm I looked at was dominated by in-state clerks who had also gone to the local law school and externed for the local federal judges. I definitely got the sense that even though my "pedigree" mattered in my major market (where I am also doing my COA), the small-state firms could not have cared less. It is not that important to their practices.

I would definitely try to do both. The district court clerkship is invaluable for the skills you will gain and the SSC clerkship is what is going to get you into the local legal community. I'd be surprised if the SSC judge said no, but the A3 judge might be upset about having to go back to the pool later in the hiring season.

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Re: State Supreme Court or Small District Court?

Post by Anonymous User » Thu Jul 22, 2021 11:59 am

Anonymous User wrote:
Thu Jul 22, 2021 11:11 am
FWIW I am a double A3 clerk (District then COA) and recently looked into moving to a small state to be closer to my family after my second clerkship. Every firm I looked at was dominated by in-state clerks who had also gone to the local law school and externed for the local federal judges. I definitely got the sense that even though my "pedigree" mattered in my major market (where I am also doing my COA), the small-state firms could not have cared less. It is not that important to their practices.

I would definitely try to do both. The district court clerkship is invaluable for the skills you will gain and the SSC clerkship is what is going to get you into the local legal community. I'd be surprised if the SSC judge said no, but the A3 judge might be upset about having to go back to the pool later in the hiring season.
I think OP's SSC/target market are in a large state so I don't know how relevant this is, but fwiw I somewhat disagree with this advice for people targeting small states. I'm not currently a small state practitioner, but I'm a federal clerk small state native who's worked at multiple small-state firms, has friends who practice there, etc.

There are definitely firms in small states that preferentially, or even sometimes exclusively, hire federal/SSC clerks, and virtually all that do sophisticated work will understand and value federal clerkships. Same with USAOs. They're not rubes, they work for F500s, opposite and alongside biglaw firms, have friends who clerked, and so on. It's true that the vast majority of clerks in the market will have clerked in-state, but that's mostly supply-side, most practitioners in small markets went to the local schools and never left the state. I'm sure the shitlaw firms don't care but if you're a federal clerk you don't want to work for them anyway.

That said, clerking in the market is definitely better than clerking out of the market all else being equal, and SSCs are very valuable experiences in small states, probably at least as much as an out-of-state district court. You'll learn local practices, meet local practitioners, have access to a more relevant network of former clerks, etc. But that's probably true for any market.

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