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What Is a Federal Judicial Clerkship and How to Apply For It

A clerkship under a federal judge is known as a federal judicial clerkship. The title “Federal Judge” refers to a judge who is appointed by the President of the country and is pursuant to the Constitution. Though the application process might seem easy, there is a lot of research to be done when applying for a clerkship under a federal judge. This guide, by Ellery Shane Gordon, an experienced and well known Law Clerk at the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, California, is your go to guide for the prerequisites of a judicial clerkship application.

One of the most critical steps is to gather information. Talk to your friends, the clerkship coordinator at your school, your recommenders, anybody who can give you the right kind of information and hence influence you to make a better decision.

Research, research, research – How to research?

Identify the judges that you are interested to work for. To choose the best of these you have to consider four factors – prestige, geography, preference, and availability.

  1. Prestige: It is common knowledge that federal clerkships are more prestigious than state clerkships, trial courts or appellate courts. So decide which one you would want to work for.
  2. Geography: Your workplace should reflect your taste or you might end up not enjoying your job. Some places are more densely populated than others. Do you want to work in a big city or a medium sized town? Choose whichever suits you best.
  3. Preference: This is completely on your taste. The people you ask for guidance would give opinions influenced by their own experience which might not be ideal for you. Professors might appellate clerkships or Supreme Court clerkships while students in your class might prefer trial courts because of their fast paced nature. Your coordinator on the other hand might pressurize to apply for a federal clerkship as they are more prestigious. Make sure to take mental notes of everyone’s experience, but in the end choose one that inspires you.
  4. Availability: This is not exactly in your hands. Every judge would have a specific requirement. They would go through all the applications and then shortlist suitable candidates. The components they keep in mind while shortlisting applicants, in the decreasing order of priority, are as follows:
    Law School
    2. Grades
    3. Law Review
    4. Recommendations
    5. Resume
    6. Journal Board Membership
    7. Writing Sample
    8. Cover Letter

To make sure that you get selected, keep your options open and apply to as many judges as possible. The Federal Law Clerk Hiring Plan is issued every year by a committee of federal judges to provide the basic guidelines to hire clerks.

These guidelines are for second-year law students applying for clerkships. They generally have a series of dates for applications, shortlisting, interviews, etc. To stay ahead, make a plan with sets of tasks to complete, well before the closing date of permitted activities.  This way you don’t have to make hurried decisions.

Sometimes, even though you have kept your options open, you might not get selected. This is because of tough competition from post graduate students. Some judges do not follow the afore said guidelines and take candidates as per their requirement. So don’t fret. Try, try again.
All the best for a wonderful career!

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