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A new wrinkle this year for law firms and summer associates is the fact that judicial law clerk hiring will followthe summer instead of precede it. For the past two decades, most federal and state courts have hired law clerks at various points in the second year of law school. In 2001, the federal hiring process had advanced so far that the judges finally reached a sensible, if radical, consensus in the spring of 2002 — they would wait and hire clerks in the fall of their third year of law school. The hiring plan Web site, www.cadc.uscourts.gov/lawclerk, summarizes the basic principles of the plan for the coming year: • No applications may be submitted, references given, interviews conducted, or hiring offers extended until after Labor Day 2003. • The process will involve only applications for the 2004-05 term. The later timetable benefits applicants as well as judges. Here’s how it happened, and how you can make optimal use of your summer. A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIMING Before the mid-1970s, law clerks were hired in their final year of law school. Opinions about the reasons behind the shift vary, but there is no denying that some federal judges started hiring earlier and pulled their colleagues along with them. Most state courts that shifted their hiring to the second year made it clear they were responding to the accelerated federal schedule. In the recent past, federal judges tried various schemes to regulate clerkship hiring. When the last regime was rescinded by the Judicial Conference in 1999, the application period started moving earlier into the third semester of law school until, in the fall of 2001, judges began hiring in early September. Even while doing it, judges expressed frustration with the precipitate hiring schedule. They recognized that, by pushing the application period to the beginning of the third semester, they deprived themselves of much information that would allow meaningful distinctions among candidates. Law students beginning their second year have had few, if any, significant writing opportunities; they have not yet been able to assume leadership positions with journals or other organizations; they do not have many grades; and rarely have they formed the working relationships with professors that lead to detailed, useful recommendation letters. Judge Harry Edwards of the D.C. Circuit and Chief Judge Edward Becker of the 3rd Circuit went beyond complaining. Judge Edwards proposed an elegantly simple solution: If the judges thought the early fall was a good time to be hiring law clerks, they should keep on doing it — just a year later. They could take the year off from law clerk hiring in 2002 in order to shift to hiring one year ahead instead of two. Chief Judge Becker joined Judge Edwards in chairing an ad hoc committee of federal appellate judges from every circuit to review the proposal. The committee announced in March 2002 that the proposal had met with the approval of the vast majority of the judges in each circuit. The new plan was then circulated to district, magistrate, and bankruptcy judges, who endorsed it in large numbers. The new schedule is significantly better for all sides of the hiring process. The judges get more useful information. Students get additional time to think about whether clerking is a good option, where they would like to be, what types of courts are more appealing, and which judges would be a good match. You can also present a more complete picture — two summers of work instead of one; two additional semesters of coursework; a stronger history of involvement with law school activities; more people who can comment on your research and writing skills. The first stage of the new plan, the 2002 moratorium, has been a remarkable success. The outlook for the second stage is promising. The summer offers great opportunities for you to take full advantage of the extra time. Labor Day will be here before you know it, and applications will start flowing into judges’ chambers soon thereafter, so the more you can accomplish during the summer, the better! DO YOUR RESEARCH The mechanics of clerkship applications are pretty easy. The harder, more important tasks are figuring out whether a clerkship fits your longer-term goals, and finding a clerkship that fits. Fortunately, you will spend the summer in a treasure trove of resources. Talk to lawyers who have clerked to learn exactly what clerks do, and gain perspective on the differences between trial and appellate clerkships on the federal and state levels. Lawyers who appear regularly before individual judges can also be helpful in assessing them. Take opportunities to observe judges in action. If you are working in a city where you would like to clerk, look for opportunities to see judges that interest you. Even if you are considering clerkships in a different city, you can gather general information in local courts. You may be caught up in the action of the trial court, for example, or find the deliberate speed of the appellate court more attractive. Observing judges at work will reveal work styles and personality traits you might want to seek out (or avoid) when considering where to send your applications. Use your firm’s library to gather additional data. A variety of publications have biographical information on judges, and the law library is sure to have at least one of them. POLISH YOUR WRITING The standard clerkship application package includes a short cover letter, résumé, law school transcript, writing sample, and two or three (depending on the judge) letters of recommendation. The summer is an ideal time to develop a well-crafted writing sample. Most judges prefer fairly short, substantive pieces to long, descriptive, or highly theoretical research papers. Legal memoranda or excerpts from briefs often work well. If you have something you wrote in law school that you think is an excellent example of your writing, terrific. If you have something from law school that could be excellent with a little additional work, now is the time to polish it up. If you do not have law school work that you think would be appropriate, use the summer to seek out substantive research and writing assignments. Remember, though, that if you want to use a work assignment as a writing sample, you will need the permission of the supervising attorney, and you must make any necessary modifications and redactions to preserve client confidentiality. Allow a reasonable time for the supervising attorney to respond — don’t wait until you are walking out the door at the end of the summer. You may also want to consider whether you want an attorney at the firm to write a recommendation letter. Law professors still edge out employers for many judges, but if you find a particular attorney who sees enough of your work to write a detailed, positive assessment of your writing and analytical skills and other qualifications, you should broach the subject as early as you comfortably can. You want to give the attorney sufficient time to prepare a strong letter. Last, but not least, update your résumé. You will need to add your summer employment, but you may also have new law school activities or leadership positions in student organizations to add. Do not hesitate to contact your law school career office for assistance with your résumé or additional guidance on the clerkship application. LET THE FIRM KNOW The new hiring schedule presents additional challenges for law firms as they try to make recruiting plans. Until now, second-year summer associates had clerkships when they arrived. Thus, firms had a pretty accurate idea of how many summer associates would not be available to start work the year after graduation, which allowed them to plan their third-year interviewing more accurately. Now, firms will be called on to make decisions about fall interviewing numbers before law clerks are chosen. If they cannot have hard numbers, they will want the next best thing — they will ask summers if they are planning to apply for clerkships. Some might ask at the beginning, others at the end, but they will ask. This is not a loaded question; it is a question about numbers. Law firms value the clerkship experience, but they also appreciate people who come straight to work for them. If you have any questions or concerns about the firm’s policies or practices regarding law clerks or clerkship applications, do not hesitate to ask. Ultimately, honesty is the only policy. If you know what you want to do, say so. If you are undecided, say you are still thinking about it. If your plans change, let the firm know. The new schedule offers distinct advantages for law students, but in this first year, students and employers are walking an unknown path. Using the time and resources available to you this summer, and working collaboratively with your firm, will help you make better decisions and simplify the process. Marilyn F. Drees is the director of judicial clerkships and fellowships in the Yale Law School Career Development Office.

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