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Career & Professional Development|College of Law

Judicial Clerkships

Contents

Quick Reference

Introduction
What is a Judicial Clerkship?

Choosing A Court

Federal Courts
State Courts

Application Process
The Interview

Online Resources

Quick Reference:

OSCAR - the online system for clerkship application and review

Federal judges and appellate staff attorney offices use OSCAR to post law clerk positions and accept applications online or by mail, email or fax. Judges and staff attorney offices who are not hiring can maintain an OSCAR profile to advise potential applicants of their hiring status.  Registration required.

Wyoming Courts

Search and apply for clerkship positions throughout the state of Wyoming.

Alaska Courts

Search and apply for clerkship positions in Alaska.

Colorado District Courts

The district courts in Colorado often will post job announcements for law clerks on its home page.

Colorado Court of Appeals

Information on applying for appellate law clerk positions with the Colorado Court of Appeals.

Colorado Supreme Court

Information on applying for law clerk positions with the Colorado Supreme Court.

The Nation's Court Directory

Features federal, state, and county court listings with contact information on all U.S. appellate and district judges and clerks of court; U.S. magistrate judges and bankruptcy judges; and state-by-state listing of county court clerks.

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Introduction

What is a Judicial Clerkship

A judicial clerkship is a salaried, post-J.D. position. Generally, a judicial clerk is hired for a one- or two-year term following graduation. Some judges, however, have "career" law clerks. Also, depending on a court's internal structure, a clerk may work for a specific judge or be part of a staff working for several or all judges of the court.

The judicial clerk is an assistant to the judge and performs a broad range of functions that include legal research, drafting of memoranda and opinions, editing, proofreading and verification of citations. Clerks often attend conferences in chambers with the attorneys in a case and also engage in conferences and discussions with the judge regarding pending cases. There is no narrow job description for a judicial clerk. The clerk may be called upon to perform any of the tasks assigned to the judge and his/her staff in order to aid in the administration of the judge's docket.

Judicial clerkships offer new graduates the opportunity to work closely with a judge for one or two years, gaining unparalleled insight into the judicial process and broad exposure to various areas of the law. Many lawyers view clerkships as the most prestigious and distinguished way to begin a legal career, and most employers highly value the learning experience of judicial clerkships.

Clerkships are available in both the federal and state courts and at both the trial and appellate court level. There are clerkship opportunities for law students of various academic standings. Judicial clerkships at any level court can open up a wide variety of career opportunities, both in the private and public sectors. Judicial clerks also have a very high level of job satisfaction -- When asked whether they would clerk again, a remarkable 97% of clerks say they would.

Trial court clerks perform a wider variety of functions than do appellate court clerks. The difference lies primarily in the different functions of trial and appellate courts. Trial courts are involved in fact-finding and in the details of the daily processing of litigation, including motion practice, discovery disputes and settlement conferences. As a result, trial court clerks have substantially more contact with attorneys and witnesses and are involved in the decisions made at every stage of each case. Trial court clerks often must work within shorter deadlines.

Appellate courts review the decisions of trial courts. The appellate court clerk's function is to research the issues of law and fact in an appeal and to draft a memorandum or working opinion for the judge, pursuant to his/her directions. Appellate decisions are usually published and become precedent for all trial courts in the respective jurisdiction. They therefore require comprehensive review and coordination of relevant existing decisions.

The unique value of clerking is the insight into the judicial process, which is invaluable for future practice. The judicial clerk's contact with the process of adjudicating disputes should refine his/her skills in analysis, writing and effective persuasion and improve his/her understanding of the practical considerations with which the law must deal. In addition, the clerk is exposed to a wide variety of lawyering styles and oral and written argument.

Moreover, clerks are exposed to the significant legal issues of the day, as well as the social and economic implications of those issues. Observing the challenging roles that experienced judges and lawyers play in the resolution of substantial controversies adds significantly to the clerk's own professional development.

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Choosing a Court

A wide range of options is open to those considering a judicial clerkship:

  • U.S. Supreme Court (generally prefers candidates who have completed a clerkship at the Federal level)
  • U.S. Court of Appeals
  • U.S. District Courts (federal trial courts)
  • State Supreme Courts and Appellate Courts
  • State Trial Courts
  • Special Federal Courts: U.S. Court of Federal Circuits, U.S. Court of International Trade, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, U.S. Tax Court, U.S. Court of Veterans Appeals, some federal Administrative Law Judges, and U.S. Magistrates.

Judges vary in their use of academic standing requirements for law clerks. However, judges tend to draw their clerks from the students ranked in the top twenty-five percent of their class. Federal clerkships are generally considered more competitive than state court clerkships, though some state supreme court clerkships can also be quite competitive.

Federal Courts

Judicial clerkships with the Federal Courts are generally the most competitive, and grades, class rank, and law review/moot court experience weigh heavily in the judges' decisions. Popular cities, such as Boston, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Washington D.C. are especially competitive since they attract a large number of applications. Judges outside these metropolitan centers do not receive as many applications and may be happy to consider candidates with academic records that are not quite as strong. Remember, since you will be clerking for the federal courts, your experience in any state is valued by employers in every other state.

Although the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court hire law clerks, as a practical matter, they offer clerkships to graduates who first clerk for judges in lower level courts. Most federal court of appeals and district court judges hire two or three law clerks each. Clerks generally serve either one-year or two-year terms.

Many judges do not publicize their clerkships. Students must be aggressive in seeking them out. If you want a judicial clerkship, research the judges and courts that seem most attractive to you and approach them directly. To find out more about judges, you may want to consult members of the faculty and clerks from past graduating classes.

Many federal judges in Wyoming attended the University of Wyoming and hire law clerks from the College of Law. They may or may not post on the Federal Law Clerk Information System. Most judges are trying to comply with the Federal Law Clerk Hiring Plan and are accepting applications in the early fall of the third year or over the summer. Students should visit with the Director of Law School Career Services for specific information about each judge.

To search the national database of federal law clerk vacancies, use OSCAR at https://oscar.symplicity.com/ . While a substantial number of judges list their clerkship vacancies on this website, the database may not be exhaustive.

State Courts

Like the federal courts, state court clerkships have varying procedures for applying. Some state court judges may accept applications in the Spring, Summer or Fall of the second year and/or third year of law school. It is important to remember when deciding between a federal and state court clerkship that although competitive, state courts are generally willing to consider qualifications other than simply grades and class rank. Factors such as work experience, interest in practicing in the state and participation in trial competitions at UW are all important.

There are several resources to help you find a state judicial clerkship. The most important resource for you is the Guide to State Judicial Clerkships, available on the password protected site for UW law students and alumni. This resource is compiled by Vermont Law School and is a cooperative effort to provide one location for information on state clerkships.  Please contact Career Services for login information.

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Application Process

A very important point to keep in mind is that you should NEVER apply for a clerkship that, if offered, you would not accept. Although you can and should apply to more than one judge, you should think about the following factors when deciding to whom you will apply:

1. You will be responsible for paying all expenses related to the application and interviewing processes. You can contact other judges in the same area once you receive your first callback to see if you can consolidate interviews.

2. Judges reply randomly--you will not be able to collect offers and make your decisions based on full knowledge of all your clerkship opportunities. Most judges will expect an immediate response to their offer (some may give you time to think about it) and there is a lot of pressure to accept the first offer received.

Once you decide upon the judges you will send applications to, you should submit your materials as soon as possible; many judges review applications on a "rolling" basis, and getting your materials in early could maximize your chances of getting an interview.

In general, the judicial clerkship application consists of the elements listed below:

  • Resumes should be up-to-date and error free.
  • Cover letters can be one to two pages and should include your interest in the clerkship and your qualifications, any special factors that were important to your selection of this particular judge, and the names of your references (attach a list of references, including title, address and phone numbers). Remember that your cover letter is an example of your best writing, i.e. be sure it is well written and free from typos and/or grammatical mistakes.
  • Transcripts: Most judges will accept an unofficial transcript, but some may want an official transcript. Many like undergraduate transcripts as well. On OSCAR, you will be asked to type in grade sheets instead of attaching transcripts.
  • Writing samples should be approximately 8-10 pages. (It may be an excerpt from a longer piece; if it is an excerpt, be sure to then include a cover sheet providing context.)
  • Recommendations should be from law school professors or legal employers who can comment on your legal research and writing ability and legal analytical skills. Faculty recommendations are especially important, and you should avoid getting generic letters that are not individualized to your particular strengths.  

The Interview

Once you are invited for an interview, the objective data contained in your resume becomes relatively insignificant. The interview is of the utmost importance in the selection process.

In a relatively short time period, you must establish a rapport and convey your competence and your ability to meet the level of responsibility the position demands. Keep in mind that the position for which you are interviewing requires strong analytical, research, writing and communication skills. Other qualities which will be under consideration include your personality, maturity, sense of humor, ability to meet deadlines, ability to work independently and as part of a team, time management and organizational skills, and ability to make well reasoned decisions.

When an interview takes place in the judge's chambers, you will usually speak with the judge and the clerks. A discussion with the clerks and secretaries may seem very informal; however, staff often represent an important component of the evaluation and decision making processes.

An interview with a judge can last anywhere from a few minutes to an hour or longer. Most judges will not test you by asking substantive legal questions. Those who do will probably target issues raised in your writing sample or law review article. However, you should be prepared to discuss recent and noteworthy or precedent setting opinions/decisions that have been generated by the judge or within the court.

Questions about law school, specific courses, and outside legal and non-legal activities are very common. You should give some thought to the reasons you are interested in clerking and the expectations you may have of the clerkship. In addition, most judges are interested in your career plans and goals.

Clerkship interviews vary greatly from judge to judge. In order to be prepared, students should find out as much about the judge as possible and gain enough familiarity with his/her history to anticipate some of his/her questions and concerns. Seek out people who have interviewed or clerked for the judge in the past, such as alumni. Talk to faculty members. If you are offered an interview, remember it is yet another opportunity to spend time one-on-one with a very successful and probably very interesting lawyer.

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General Clerkship Information

Welcome to the World of Judicial Clerkships

The National Center for State Courts

Link to federal, state, and international court sites.

Federal Court Clerkship Information

OSCAR - The Online System for Clerkship Application and Review

Federal judges and appellate staff attorney offices use OSCAR to post law clerk positions and accept applications online or by mail, email or fax. Judges and staff attorney offices who are not hiring can maintain an OSCAR profile to advise potential applicants of their hiring status.  Registration required.

Federal Judiciary Homepage

Federal Judicial Center

Judicial Biographical Information

State Court Clerkship Information

State Web Sites

Wyoming State Courts


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