Benefits of a Judicial Clerkship

One of the greatest honors a law student can receive while in school is an offer by a judge to be a clerk following graduation. Employers strongly favor students that clerk for judges and aggressively recruit individuals that have held a clerkship. In fact, many firms will give students one to two years “credit” toward the firm’s requirement to make partner if they complete a judicial clerkship before beginning work with the firm. Law schools also strongly favor professor candidates that have held a judicial clerkship. Clerking for a judge will open many doors in the legal community.

One advantage of clerking is the insight it provides into the judicial process. A clerkship provides a student first-hand knowledge of how the court works and what a judge does on the bench. This learning experience gives valuable insight into those issues the judge finds interesting. A clerk is exposed to judicial proceedings, performing legal research, preparing bench memoranda, and drafting orders and opinions. These skills are invaluable to anyone planning to practice law or teach.

Improved research and writing skills are also major benefits of a judicial clerkship. Judicial clerks research real issues and act as the “right arm” of the judge. Challenging issues of law require clerks to “think outside the box” and hone their analytical skills. The large amount of writing done during the clerkship under the careful supervision of a judge results in clerks gaining superior writing skills. These skills are sought after by the legal employers and rewarded when the clerkship is over. A clerkship also teaches a student how to write for a new audience: the judge. This is an important skill for a practitioner.

Length of a Judicial Clerkship

Judicial clerks usually serve a one- or two-year term, but career clerkships are becoming more common. Both types of clerking opportunities are covered by Social Security and are eligible for benefits. Some judges also appoint temporary clerks. These clerkships usually last less than a year and occur due to a clerk being needed in an emergency situation or to cover the remaining months for another clerk who is unable to complete their clerkship. Another option is to apply for staff attorney positions with a court. These attorneys work for the entire court and are not assigned to a particular judge. Although these positions may not be as prestigious as a clerkship, many attorneys find these positions to be very rewarding long-term career opportunities.

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Salaries

Clerkship salaries are reasonable, but not competitive with salaries being offered by medium and large law firms. Law school graduates obtaining a federal clerkship should expect to be classified a JSP-11 and receive a salary of $46,189 or higher. If a new federal law clerk is a member of any state bar and has at least one year of full-time legal work experience, he/she would be classified a JSP-12 and given a salary of $55,630 or higher. To confirm starting salaries for federal clerkships, check the U.S. court system's website. Salaries for state appellate clerkships typically range from $40,000 to $55,000.

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When to Apply

Circuit court judges do not begin interviewing students until early fall of the third year. Although not required to follow this rule, most District court judges are honoring the third year hiring guideline. To determine when the federal judge are hiring, visit to the federal law clerk website. The site provides a national database of law clerk vacancies, position information and application requirements.

When you apply for judicial clerkships, it is important that you use the proper format in your cover letters and envelopes, so we have put together a cover letter and envelope guide for you to follow.

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Qualifications

Judges set their own qualification requirements for their law clerks. However, given the extensive amount of research and writing required of judicial clerks, most judges will prefer candidates on law review who performed well in law school. Federal clerkships are heavily sought after by top law students across the country. Federal judges, even at the district court level, receive hundreds of applications each year. Given the large number of students that apply for clerkships, interested candidates hoping to obtaining a clerkship should consider applying to as many judges as possible and not overlook great opportunities in less popular locations in the United States.

State court judges, particularly those that practice on the trial level or lower appellate level, tend to ease their requirements for law school candidates and look to other factors including work experience and place of residence. Often state judges will prefer to hire students that either live or attend law school in the state where the clerkship is available. Many state court judges, both on the trial and appellate level, begin interviewing potential clerks the fall of the candidates’ third year of law school.

Check the resources available in the CSO for a list of hiring criteria for individual judges.

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Types of Clerkships

Trial vs. Appellate

Clerking for a trial judge provides great exposure to the public and to attorneys in the local community. A trial court clerk will be introduced to the mechanics of a lawsuit, drafting entries and a fast-paced work environment. Trial court clerks are under more pressure than appellate clerks to quickly complete work due to the evidence flow. The result is that work product is often less formal due to the rush to keep up with the docket.

Clerks that work for appellate judges are involved with cases after the trial process is complete. These clerks will find greater emphasis on formal writing and citation. Because the court only hears appeals, an appellate clerk will have limited interaction with the general population and be exposed to a more narrowly defined group of attorneys who specialize in appellate arguments.

Federal vs. State

Federal court clerkships are available with the U.S. District Court, Circuit Courts and the Supreme Court. There are also opportunities to work for federal magistrate judges hired by district court judges in both civil and criminal law areas. Clerking opportunities also exist in U.S. Bankruptcy Courts and in various specialty courts such as the Court of International Trade and the Court of Federal Claims. Another option is to clerk for an administrative law judge employed by one of the federal agencies. Current law clerk vacancies with the federal bench are available on the federal law clerk website.

State courts offer clerkship opportunities at the trial and appellate levels. State trial courts and appellate courts usually interview students for clerkship positions during the third year of law school. Some states have specialty courts that students should consider applying to based on the area of interest.

Two resources are helpful for students interested in state court clerkships. The Vermont Law School Guide to State Judicial Clerkship Procedures lists state court clerkship information for the highest court, mid-level court and trial court for each of the 50 states. The second useful resource is Want's Federal-State Court Directory, which  provides an overview for each state of the court system, state judiciary websites, state supreme court justices, supreme court administrators and state attorneys general. The Want's Directory is available in the CSO.

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Determining Where to Apply

Students are strongly encouraged to set realistic goals and understand the high degree of competition associated with getting a judicial clerkship. Your credentials of the student, prestige of the court, and location of the clerkship should all be considered when determining where to apply.

Applying for judicial clerkships is both time-consuming and expensive. Judges will not pay for any fees associated with the interview process, so if you are requested to interview with the judge, you will carry the entire burden of travel costs. 

Certain courts in the United States are more prestigious than others, and some judges are known for being active jurists. Clerkships for these types of courts and judges are difficult to obtain due to the high number of qualified students applying for them. There are also certain courts that receive many applications from students due to their location. For example, clerkships in Washington D.C., New York and California are difficult to obtain due to the large number of students desiring to work in those locations.

Students are strongly encouraged to seek out clerkships with judges that have ties with UDSL. While researching clerkships, students are also encouraged to apply to judges in states where they live or where they go to school since many judges often want to hire clerks with a connection to the location where they sit.

To research judges, the Almanac of the Federal Judiciary, The American Bench and the Judicial Yellow Book will provide necessary information. LexisNexis and Westlaw are also useful research tools for judicial clerkships. Students are also encouraged to continue to monitor new appointments to the bench since these judges will need to hire clerks and given the date of the appointment, may not receive as many resumes as other judges.

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Application Contents

Each judge will have different requirements and deadlines so you should review the clerkship resources available in the Career Services Office. If no resources are available for a particular judge, you will need to call the judge’s chambers and ask whether that judge will be hiring and what information will need to be submitted for the application process. Typically, a judge will request a cover letter, resume, transcript(s), writing sample, and two to three letters of recommendation.

The CSO organizes programs each fall on applying for judicial clerkships. Stop by the CSO for more information.

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Former Judicial Clerks at Dayton Law

Susan Brenner: Indiana Court of Appeals for the Third District, Indianapolis; and U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, Hammond, Ind.

Rebecca Cochran: U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Chicago

Jeannette Cox: U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, Portland, Ore.

Susan Elliott: U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, Dayton

Harry Gerla: U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, Montgomery, Ala.

Charles Hallinan: U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, Toledo

Thaddeus Hoffmeister: U.S. District Court of New Jersey, Trenton, N.J.

Lisa Kloppenberg: U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, Los Angeles and Pasadena, Calif.

Monique Lampke: Ohio Court of Appeals for the Tenth District, Columbus, Ohio

Pamela Laufer-Ukeles: U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, New York

Paul McGreal: Alaska Supreme Court, Anchorage, Alaska

Tracy Reilly: U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois and Appellate Court of Illinois, Chicago

Lori Shaw: U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, Dayton

Blake Watson: U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, Memphis

Susan Wawrose: Ohio Court of Appeals for the Twelfth District, Middletown, Ohio

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