To apply for a federal clerkship, you need to be on top of the application process. The rules to applying are established in the Federal Law Clerk Hiring Plan but don’t count on a level playing field. As a 2L you aren’t allowed to apply for a clerkship until the beginning of September and the judges start to identify candidates to interview about a week later.
In reality, many of the clerkships are already gone by the time you send in your well-honed application. Judges aren’t bound by the rules and will sometimes bend them to ensure they snag a highly coveted intern. Additionally, attorneys who are out of law school aren't bound by the rules (like you are) and can apply and be hired for a clerkship at any time. And you lucky law students are, again, the last in line. Don’t fret, you can pull the same rank once you’re a practicing attorney. No solace, right?
How can you get an inside track to one of these plum jobs?
Your quest for a clerkship will turn on eight factors:
- The prestigious law school you attend;
- Your stellar grades;
- Your substantive participation in law review;
- Awesome letters of recommendation;
- Your clear and cogent résumé;
- Whether you hold a position on the journal board;
- An excellent writing sample;and
- Your over-the-top cover letter.
As you can see, this is not an easy goal you’ve set for yourself. At the top of the list is your law school and it receives a very heavy weight in the hiring process. If you’re already in law school, you may need to transfer to a different law school to better position yourself. If you’re just starting out, make sure you’re in one of the right schools to start or you’ve already lowered your chances for success. You may have been surprised at the Top 10 list of law schools feeding the Biglaw employment market (i.e., placing at #14, Yale doesn’t make the list) so pay attention as you may find this list equally surprising.
Law Schools Snagging the Most Federal Clerkships
School % 2011 Grads Employed
Yale (CT) 34.5%
Stanford (CA) 24.1%
Harvard (MA) 17.1%
Duke (NC) 12.7%
NYU (NY) 11.4%
U Michigan – Ann Arbor 11.1%
Vanderbilt (TN) 11.1%
UVA (VA) 10.8%
Berkeley (CA) 10.3%
U of Pennsylvania (PA) 9.9%
Notre Dame (IN) 9.8%
Washington & Lee (VA) 9.7%
U Chicago (IL) 9.5%
U Alabama (AL) 9.2%
William & Mary (VA) 9.2%