The Clerkship Maze
Looking back on the posts on here the past few years, I was shocked to see that there wasn’t a single one on the clerkship application process. Having just finished the process myself, and having seen how big a role it plays in so many of our 3L lives, I was really surprised. Perhaps it is because most of our blogging is done by 1L and 2Ls, at which point the process is like a distant highway sign on a foggy day.
The highway sign gets closer, but the fog never lifts. The clerkship process is obscure and confusing. The Career Development Office (CDO) here is fantastic, and they will lift as much of the fog as they can. But there is only so much such an office (at any law school) can do – there are over 800 federal judges out there, and an even larger number of state judges. And there is no central database which sufficiently answers such basic questions as “when do I need to apply to Judge X?”
There is only one way to minimize the fog around this process, and that is to be in touch with as many former, current and soon-to-be clerks as possible. They have been through the process, they know the judges, and they are often happy to guide you. Yale sends the highest percentage of its graduates on to clerkships, and CDO does a fantastic job keeping up with them. Other organizations, including journals, the American Constitution Society (ACS), and the Federalist Society also host events where their members who have obtained clerkships give advice to future applicants. Without this advice, it’s easy to get lost in the process.
Another advantage Yale students have is our professors’ familiarity with the process. They know the judges and, because of our small classes, they also know their students. They are happy to advise students as to which judges to focus on, which judges it might be better for them to avoid, and will sometimes be willing to call the judges and recommend their students to them. Having sent great clerks to those judges in the past (or clerked themselves), a phone call from these professors can be very helpful to an application.
Finally, our writing requirements give us great academic writing samples to show off to judges. It’s a confusing process, but after years of sending over a quarter of the class to clerkships, YLS has it down pat.