Obtaining a federal court clerkship as a practicing attorney Forum

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Obtaining a federal court clerkship as a practicing attorney

Post by Anonymous User » Mon Jul 08, 2024 2:56 pm

Hey all,

Long time listener, first time caller here. I'd be curious for any insight you all may have for a prospective judicial law clerk. I am a recent-ish law grad and have been practicing for about two years doing impact litigation at a moderately well-known public interest organization. For reasons both personal and professional, I have recently decided that I'd like to pursue a federal court clerkship around the 4-5 year mark.

However, as a law student during COVID, I did not really focus on clerkships - I was very gung ho about working in legal aid and public defense, so ended up prioritizing practical/clinical experiences over my coursework. Consequently, I ended up at median GPA at a T30 (also served on the editorial board for a secondary journal and published two law review articles, as well as my student note).

Now that I have been practicing in impact litigation, I'm considering a federal district court clerkship to expand the opportunities I may have within the field. Longer term, I am also interested in potentially trying to break into academia. Also, I currently reside on the East Coast, but I am a West Coast native and am strongly interested in trying to secure a clerkship somewhere within the Ninth Circuit.

To that end, I would be grateful for any insight that you can share on the following questions:

1. Would 4-5 years of practice experience be enough to outweigh a mediocre GPA? I would be interested in clerking for a magistrate judge or district court judge (although not interested in bankruptcy court, mainly because I'm neither qualified for it nor interested in bankruptcy law).

2. Do judges tend to value scholarly publications as evidence of academic achievement? I was fortunate to have several publications in law school and am considering authoring another within the next couple of years.

3. Is there any shot whatsoever for someone with a less-than-stellar GPA to be competitive for a federal court of appeals clerkship?

4. Another option I am considering is seeking a state court clerkship (at any level) and then seeking a federal district court clerkship. Is this generally a viable option for folks?

Again, would be grateful for any insight that you can share. As I mentioned above, I didn't seriously consider clerking until out of law school, so I don't have access to a lot of the conventional wisdom that a student might have in that environment. Thanks!

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Re: Obtaining a federal court clerkship as a practicing attorney

Post by Anonymous User » Mon Jul 08, 2024 3:20 pm

Hello! I’m on a similar timeline: no Latin honors, didn’t consider clerkships at all while a student, been working in legal aid for the past several years, applied this past winter/spring, and will be clerking next term. You should stick to your goal of ideally landing a federal clerkship imo — grades will be evaluated differently for someone in your position versus a 2L. Get a good writing sample and good letters, and you’re in the mix. FWIW, I’m really pleasantly surprised by where I landed and did better than I thought I would, originally thought I was going to strike out. Actually ended up taking a gamble and changed my strategy about a month in to be more selective.

Anonymous User
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Re: Obtaining a federal court clerkship as a practicing attorney

Post by Anonymous User » Mon Jul 08, 2024 3:52 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Mon Jul 08, 2024 2:56 pm
Hey all,

Long time listener, first time caller here. I'd be curious for any insight you all may have for a prospective judicial law clerk. I am a recent-ish law grad and have been practicing for about two years doing impact litigation at a moderately well-known public interest organization. For reasons both personal and professional, I have recently decided that I'd like to pursue a federal court clerkship around the 4-5 year mark.

However, as a law student during COVID, I did not really focus on clerkships - I was very gung ho about working in legal aid and public defense, so ended up prioritizing practical/clinical experiences over my coursework. Consequently, I ended up at median GPA at a T30 (also served on the editorial board for a secondary journal and published two law review articles, as well as my student note).

Now that I have been practicing in impact litigation, I'm considering a federal district court clerkship to expand the opportunities I may have within the field. Longer term, I am also interested in potentially trying to break into academia. Also, I currently reside on the East Coast, but I am a West Coast native and am strongly interested in trying to secure a clerkship somewhere within the Ninth Circuit.

To that end, I would be grateful for any insight that you can share on the following questions:

1. Would 4-5 years of practice experience be enough to outweigh a mediocre GPA? I would be interested in clerking for a magistrate judge or district court judge (although not interested in bankruptcy court, mainly because I'm neither qualified for it nor interested in bankruptcy law).

2. Do judges tend to value scholarly publications as evidence of academic achievement? I was fortunate to have several publications in law school and am considering authoring another within the next couple of years.

3. Is there any shot whatsoever for someone with a less-than-stellar GPA to be competitive for a federal court of appeals clerkship?

4. Another option I am considering is seeking a state court clerkship (at any level) and then seeking a federal district court clerkship. Is this generally a viable option for folks?

Again, would be grateful for any insight that you can share. As I mentioned above, I didn't seriously consider clerking until out of law school, so I don't have access to a lot of the conventional wisdom that a student might have in that environment. Thanks!
1) It depends. Unlikely to do much in my chambers but I’d prob give your app a skim anyway. Magistrate, you’re probably quite competitive.

2) can’t hurt.

3) “any” shot? Sure. I would be networking like crazy tho (going to Bar events where judges attend, etc).

4) increasingly common route as judges like clerks with experience clerking. I know off the top of my head 2 people who came from mediocre law schools and whose resumes don’t suggest high GPA but are excellent clerks in my big city courthouse.

Anonymous User
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Joined: Tue Aug 11, 2009 9:32 am

Re: Obtaining a federal court clerkship as a practicing attorney

Post by Anonymous User » Mon Jul 08, 2024 4:01 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Mon Jul 08, 2024 3:20 pm
Hello! I’m on a similar timeline: no Latin honors, didn’t consider clerkships at all while a student, been working in legal aid for the past several years, applied this past winter/spring, and will be clerking next term. You should stick to your goal of ideally landing a federal clerkship imo — grades will be evaluated differently for someone in your position versus a 2L. Get a good writing sample and good letters, and you’re in the mix. FWIW, I’m really pleasantly surprised by where I landed and did better than I thought I would, originally thought I was going to strike out. Actually ended up taking a gamble and changed my strategy about a month in to be more selective.
OP here - thanks so much for sharing and congrats on securing your clerkship! Hearing your experience is definitely encouraging and helpful. Plus, it's always great to see other PI folks clerking. I appreciate the tips on this, too!

Anonymous User
Posts: 429940
Joined: Tue Aug 11, 2009 9:32 am

Re: Obtaining a federal court clerkship as a practicing attorney

Post by Anonymous User » Mon Jul 08, 2024 4:04 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Mon Jul 08, 2024 3:52 pm
Anonymous User wrote:
Mon Jul 08, 2024 2:56 pm
Hey all,

Long time listener, first time caller here. I'd be curious for any insight you all may have for a prospective judicial law clerk. I am a recent-ish law grad and have been practicing for about two years doing impact litigation at a moderately well-known public interest organization. For reasons both personal and professional, I have recently decided that I'd like to pursue a federal court clerkship around the 4-5 year mark.

However, as a law student during COVID, I did not really focus on clerkships - I was very gung ho about working in legal aid and public defense, so ended up prioritizing practical/clinical experiences over my coursework. Consequently, I ended up at median GPA at a T30 (also served on the editorial board for a secondary journal and published two law review articles, as well as my student note).

Now that I have been practicing in impact litigation, I'm considering a federal district court clerkship to expand the opportunities I may have within the field. Longer term, I am also interested in potentially trying to break into academia. Also, I currently reside on the East Coast, but I am a West Coast native and am strongly interested in trying to secure a clerkship somewhere within the Ninth Circuit.

To that end, I would be grateful for any insight that you can share on the following questions:

1. Would 4-5 years of practice experience be enough to outweigh a mediocre GPA? I would be interested in clerking for a magistrate judge or district court judge (although not interested in bankruptcy court, mainly because I'm neither qualified for it nor interested in bankruptcy law).

2. Do judges tend to value scholarly publications as evidence of academic achievement? I was fortunate to have several publications in law school and am considering authoring another within the next couple of years.

3. Is there any shot whatsoever for someone with a less-than-stellar GPA to be competitive for a federal court of appeals clerkship?

4. Another option I am considering is seeking a state court clerkship (at any level) and then seeking a federal district court clerkship. Is this generally a viable option for folks?

Again, would be grateful for any insight that you can share. As I mentioned above, I didn't seriously consider clerking until out of law school, so I don't have access to a lot of the conventional wisdom that a student might have in that environment. Thanks!
1) It depends. Unlikely to do much in my chambers but I’d prob give your app a skim anyway. Magistrate, you’re probably quite competitive.

2) can’t hurt.

3) “any” shot? Sure. I would be networking like crazy tho (going to Bar events where judges attend, etc).

4) increasingly common route as judges like clerks with experience clerking. I know off the top of my head 2 people who came from mediocre law schools and whose resumes don’t suggest high GPA but are excellent clerks in my big city courthouse.
OP here - thanks so much for sharing your insight. I was definitely planning on targeting some Magistrate positions, as I had heard that practice experience carried more weight there. Great tip on going to bar events too. I've been pretty cloistered as a new grad and haven't done really anything in the way of joining bar associations and attending events, so good to hear that it might present an opportunity.

Thanks for taking the time!

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Anonymous User
Posts: 429940
Joined: Tue Aug 11, 2009 9:32 am

Re: Obtaining a federal court clerkship as a practicing attorney

Post by Anonymous User » Tue Jul 09, 2024 8:26 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Mon Jul 08, 2024 4:04 pm
Anonymous User wrote:
Mon Jul 08, 2024 3:52 pm
Anonymous User wrote:
Mon Jul 08, 2024 2:56 pm
Hey all,

Long time listener, first time caller here. I'd be curious for any insight you all may have for a prospective judicial law clerk. I am a recent-ish law grad and have been practicing for about two years doing impact litigation at a moderately well-known public interest organization. For reasons both personal and professional, I have recently decided that I'd like to pursue a federal court clerkship around the 4-5 year mark.

However, as a law student during COVID, I did not really focus on clerkships - I was very gung ho about working in legal aid and public defense, so ended up prioritizing practical/clinical experiences over my coursework. Consequently, I ended up at median GPA at a T30 (also served on the editorial board for a secondary journal and published two law review articles, as well as my student note).

Now that I have been practicing in impact litigation, I'm considering a federal district court clerkship to expand the opportunities I may have within the field. Longer term, I am also interested in potentially trying to break into academia. Also, I currently reside on the East Coast, but I am a West Coast native and am strongly interested in trying to secure a clerkship somewhere within the Ninth Circuit.

To that end, I would be grateful for any insight that you can share on the following questions:

1. Would 4-5 years of practice experience be enough to outweigh a mediocre GPA? I would be interested in clerking for a magistrate judge or district court judge (although not interested in bankruptcy court, mainly because I'm neither qualified for it nor interested in bankruptcy law).

2. Do judges tend to value scholarly publications as evidence of academic achievement? I was fortunate to have several publications in law school and am considering authoring another within the next couple of years.

3. Is there any shot whatsoever for someone with a less-than-stellar GPA to be competitive for a federal court of appeals clerkship?

4. Another option I am considering is seeking a state court clerkship (at any level) and then seeking a federal district court clerkship. Is this generally a viable option for folks?

Again, would be grateful for any insight that you can share. As I mentioned above, I didn't seriously consider clerking until out of law school, so I don't have access to a lot of the conventional wisdom that a student might have in that environment. Thanks!
1) It depends. Unlikely to do much in my chambers but I’d prob give your app a skim anyway. Magistrate, you’re probably quite competitive.

2) can’t hurt.

3) “any” shot? Sure. I would be networking like crazy tho (going to Bar events where judges attend, etc).

4) increasingly common route as judges like clerks with experience clerking. I know off the top of my head 2 people who came from mediocre law schools and whose resumes don’t suggest high GPA but are excellent clerks in my big city courthouse.
OP here - thanks so much for sharing your insight. I was definitely planning on targeting some Magistrate positions, as I had heard that practice experience carried more weight there. Great tip on going to bar events too. I've been pretty cloistered as a new grad and haven't done really anything in the way of joining bar associations and attending events, so good to hear that it might present an opportunity.

Thanks for taking the time!
For sure. I’d definitely shoot for A3 first and see if you get bites, then broaden.

lavarman84

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Re: Obtaining a federal court clerkship as a practicing attorney

Post by lavarman84 » Tue Jul 09, 2024 10:53 pm

OP, you could have a compelling application in the right chambers. Unfortunately, others judges likely won't seriously consider you due to your law school/grades combo. Check and see which judges highly value public interest backgrounds.

Additionally, I'm assuming your organization partners with other orgs. Build relationships in your org (I'm sure you have) and with attorneys you partner with. Assuming you do good work and are likable, you may be able to get some (or at least one) of those attorneys to recommend you to a judge they clerked for. (As you know, federal clerkships are very common in this line of work.)

Those are my high-level thoughts. I think you can land an Art. III clerkship. You just need to be strategic about it.

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Re: Obtaining a federal court clerkship as a practicing attorney

Post by Anonymous User » Thu Jul 11, 2024 3:49 pm

In the immediate future, consider applying to Biden nominees who are approaching confirmation or just confirmed. Many newly confirmed judges prioritize immediate availability and maturity/experience over not-yet-available, or too-junior, shiny resumes, so you might be able to land a clerkship in the first year or two of a new judge's tenure that you would not be able to land during later years. Also, new Biden judges are more likely to prioritize the types of experience you have, since more of them have public-defender or other public-interest/impact-litigation backgrounds.

Clerking for a judge in their first year or two on the bench will have its own challenges, but it's still an option to consider.

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