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Students are applying for judicial clerkships sooner in the academic year than at any time in recent memory — and that has a number of law professors crying foul. Over the last several years, applications for clerks have been going out earlier and earlier. A decade ago, prospective clerks applied for positions after grades had come in for the first semester of their second year, law professors say. Now, some students are getting packets together the first week of their second year of law school — and at a few elite schools it’s even been pushed back to the end of a student’s first year. That, professors say, unfairly places too much weight on a student’s first-year grades. “It’s gotten out of control,” said Susan Robinson, associate dean for career services at Stanford Law School. But judges say they want the best students and contend they are competing with each other to get them. The system, they say, punishes judges who wait. Complaints from law professors have been particularly acute in the days following the attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. David Leebron, dean of Columbia Law School, organized an open letter to judges asking them not to review clerkship applications until Oct. 1. Ellen Wayne, dean of career services at Columbia, said this would give students who were unable to travel for interviews because of the terrorist attacks a fair shot at positions. A little patience would also give New York judges a chance to reschedule interviews and have a reasonable chance to hire qualified applicants, she said. “It was more a request for judges’ cooperation,” Wayne said. “I think that was really all we could do.” Yet, the plea — which has been signed by a dozen or so top law school deans — may not be able to quell this year’s application review frenzy. 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain said that just the other day he called up a student he wanted to interview. But the student had already accepted a clerkship with another judge. O’Scannlain said he has already received 130 of the approximately 400 applications he usually gets. “My personal view is the whole thing is one whole year too early,” he said. O’Scannlain said he doesn’t plan to hire anyone until after Oct. 1, but he will likely review applications. “We have to open the mail,” he said. The compressed timeline is also affecting third-year law students who want to clerk. Law schools — including Stanford, Columbia and Hastings College of the Law — say they have seen a surge in third-year applicants. The economy, delayed interest on the part of students, and greater marketing of clerkships by law schools are contributing to the increase. Rory Little, a Hastings professor, said he only had two or three third-year students talking to him about clerkships last year. This year, it’s 10. Little, however, thinks the reaction to the early hiring trend may be a little overblown. He said that only about 10 percent of federal judges are in the early hiring mode. “It is unfortunate in my opinion,” he said, “that judges can’t wait to make the system work.”

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