Applying for Clerkships
When to Apply
CPD will host a mandatory clerkship information meeting each spring for those interested in applying for clerkships; you should attend the meeting during your second year. Once you've attended the meeting, carefully read through the Clerkship Application Handbook provided to those who attend. You should generally start drafting and assembling application materials at the end of your second year and into the summer.
Traditionally, many state court judges interview and hire students during the summer between second and third year for a clerkship term that starts in the fall after graduation.
Most federal court judges follow a hiring plan that calls for hiring clerks during the early fall of the third year. Whether judges participate in OSCAR or request paper applications, they will generally not accept applications before the day after Labor Day of a student's third year.
How to Apply for a Clerkship
Because of the special considerations in applying for clerkships, you may want to carefully consider the timing of your applications; bear in mind that each judge interviews and hires on his or her own timeframe. While federal judges generally follow the specific schedule outlined on OSCAR, state judges may start reviewing applications (or interviewing or even hiring) at any time during your second or third year of law school. There is no standard or uniform response date or hiring process. Your fifth choice may respond long before your first. You cannot collect multiple offers and choose from among them, nor can you rescind an acceptance except in the most extraordinary of circumstances. If you have a prioritized list of judges for whom you'd like to clerk, you may wish to send out applications in "waves."
Each judge will specify the application materials to be submitted, but they usually include a resume, cover letter, unedited writing sample, references, and transcript. A clerk is an individual hire by an individual judge, and your application materials should reflect not only your qualifications, but also your reasons for seeking a clerkship. Keep in mind that in most chambers, the judge relies on current clerks or a judicial assistant (JA) to make a first cut of the hundreds (or even a thousand in some cases) of applications received. This is especially relevant if you are making reference to a connection that you have to the judge - be explicit.
Like all job application materials, your clerkship materials should be tailored for each judge to whom you apply. And also like all job application materials, your clerkship materials must be flawless-no typos, no grammatical errors, no citation errors.
1. Resume. A resume for a clerkship should reflect your education and your experience in detail. It should also include your interests. A clerk works long hours in small chambers, and fit is very important. Read our resumes page.
2. Cover letter. This is one of the few times when a one-plus page cover letter is acceptable. In addition to explaining your qualifications, your cover letter should also discuss your reasons for seeking a clerkship. It's also acceptable to be more personal in a clerkship cover letter than in a cover letter for a job with a law firm. Judges are looking for indicia of what kind of lawyer you will become, so you may wish to explain why you went to law school, what you hope to get out of a clerkship, etc. Read our cover letters page. For information on cover letters for judicial clerkships and about correct forms of address and salutation, please review the Preparing Clerkship Cover Letters document developed by Vermont Law School.
3. Unedited writing sample. Select the writing sample that best displays your research, analytical, and writing skills. Either objective or persuasive writing is acceptable, unless a judge specifies otherwise. Eight - 10 pages is sufficient, so you may have to choose an excerpt from a longer document. If necessary, include a cover note with a synopsis of the facts and the context. The writing you submit should be your own. Don't use a published article, as it is likely edited heavily by others.
4. References. Judges will ask for two or three, and at least one must be a faculty member who can speak knowledgeably to your research, analytical, and writing skills. If a judge requests letters of recommendation, make sure that those who are writing on your behalf have adequate time to do so. If a judge requests names and contact information for references, make sure that you have obtained permission from them before you submit their names to judges. It's also a good idea to let each person know which judges you're applying to. Under federal law, you must sign a release before a faculty member may serve as a reference. Downloaded the release form. Keep in touch with your references throughout the application process; let them know when you receive an interview or an offer.
5. Transcript. An unofficial transcript is usually acceptable. Request one from the registrar's office, and be sure to allow enough time for processing.