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Five Tips for Landing a Clerkship

Five Tips for Landing a Clerkship

  • Student Tips
Joanna HughesJun 13, 2018

A clerkship after -- or even during! -- law school can be an invaluable stepping stone for aspiring lawyers. The good news? There are many different types of clerkships out there -- all of which provide training and growth opportunities. The not-so-good news? There are even more law grads out there looking to land one of these sought-after positions. But don’t count yourself out yet. Instead, read these five tips aimed at helping you secure a clerkship -- and a brighter future in the legal profession.

1. Apply also outside of the OSCAR system.

OSCAR, AKA the Online System for Clerkship Application and Review, is a web-based system for federal law clerk and appellate staff attorney hiring. While OSCAR is a great place to start, it’s far from comprehensive when it comes to open positions. Some jobs don’t just the system. Others may post on OSCAR but require application via a different method.

So where else should you look? Some judges post clerkship information on their courts’ web pages; find a directory of them here. Additionally, if you’re set on working for a certain judge, consider calling his/her chambers directly. Just be sure to have a compelling script prepared and keep it brief.

Ultimately, while looking for/applying for jobs outside of OSCAR may take a little more effort, it is effort well spent.

2. Don’t limit yourself geographically.

Some cities are hotter than others when it comes to drawing young lawyers. Unfortunately, this means the competition is stiff -- for jobs as well as clerkships. If you don’t want to limit your clerkship options, it may be necessary to cast a wider net. This doesn’t mean you’re sacrificing your dream to live and work in your first choice destination in the future; the skills and credentials acquired during a clerkship are transferable.

Not only that, but having a clerkship on your resume -- wherever it is -- will enhance your resume and therefore give you an ever greater shot at your dream job upon completion of the clerkship.

That said, do your research and only apply to positions you are willing to accept. Advises Debra M. Strauss for Above the Law, “Here’s is what I call the Golden Rule: Never apply to a judge with whom you would not want to clerk. Violating this rule can lead to problems down the road if and when you are lucky enough to receive a clerkship offer because another proverbial rule is never to turn down a clerkship offer.”

3. Be open to everything.

Federal clerkships may be the brass ring of clerkships, but insisting on applying only to prestigious federal clerkships is a recipe for disappointment. State court clerkships, as well as clerkships in appellate, trial or a specialty court, are perfectly respectable and therefore highly regarded by many employers.

As opposed to getting stuck on the often elusive prestige of a federal clerkship, focus on the skills conferred by ALL clerkships, along with how those skills will support your career goals.

4. Go above and beyond with your application.

Judges aren’t just hiring employees when filling clerkships, they’re adding new members to their teams. If you provide the minimal required information as your application, you’re also doing the bare minimum in terms of demonstrating why you’re the right fit. Rather, use your application to present a complete picture of yourself as a candidate -- and as a future contributing member of the team. The more job-relevant information you include, the more opportunities you give a judge to connect with you.

Recommended reading: Tips for landing a law internship

5. Use your connections.

Even if you follow Step #4, the reality is that judges may receive hundreds or even thousands of applications for a single position. The takeaway? Even if you’ve got a crackerjack education and background, your application may never end up in front of a job or clerk. So what can you do to get noticed? Call in your connections. Whether you ask one of your law professors to put in a phone call or ask an employer to send an email on your behalf, this intervention can help your application get a second look.

One last thing to keep in mind about getting a clerkship? You may not get the one you want, and that’s okay. In addition to looking into whether any other clerkship applications are still being accepted, there are plenty of other legal work experience opportunities, which can turn out to be just as valuable to launching your law career.

Joanna Hughes

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.