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Future law clerks, nota bene: The rules for applying for a federal judicial clerkship have changed — radically. Starting right now, federal judges will no longer interview 2Ls. Beginning next fall, judges will select their clerks from the 3L class — one year in advance. Most positions for 2003-2004 have already been filled under the old interview rules, so few judges will be interviewing this year. This new timetable was developed by Judge Harry Edwards of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, who concluded that his colleagues were veering out of control. They were interviewing 2Ls as early as August or September for clerkships that wouldn’t start for two years, and they were making offers based solely on first-year grades. The process wasn’t exactly easy for 2Ls, who had to apply for clerkships while slugging their way through fall recruiting — with journal duties and coursework thrown in for extra stress. The rest of the federal bench apparently agreed that reform was needed. Last spring, over 90 percent of the appellate judges voted to try the Edwards plan. Many lower federal courts have jumped on board, and law school deans have pledged their allegiance. Still, following the plan is not mandatory, because federal judges answer to no one except Congress and its impeachment power. So any federal judge who doesn’t like the Edwards plan can just ignore it. That’s why a similar proposal in the 1990s collapsed after a few years. What does the Edwards plan mean for you? If you’re a 2L right now, most federal judges won’t consider you for a clerkship until next September. That means second-year grades, journal membership, and a 2L summer internship will now be part of your application. So forget about watching the new season of “The Osbournes” and focus on racking up those A’s. If your first-year grades weren’t so hot, you just got a huge reprieve. Make the most of it. You also need to plan now for recommendations and writing samples. In almost all cases, you’ll need two of the former and one of the latter. For recommendations, take at least two classes with the same professor, speak out in class, and aim to get A’s. Research assistants also tend to get good recommendations. Writing samples can come from your law review, a seminar, moot court, or from some real-world experience like a clinic, internship, or 2L summer law firm job. If you want to be a 2L renegade and apply now to judges who ignore the Edwards plan, your law school will almost certainly refuse to provide you with an official transcript, and the dean has probably asked the faculty not to write recommendations for 2Ls. But that doesn’t have to derail you, since an unofficial transcript should be acceptable, and faculty members tend to respond like judges when someone tries to tell them what to do. Identifying the nonconformist judges might not be easy. One place to look is the federal law clerk information system at www.uscourts.gov, under “employment.” It lists available law clerk positions and is also a good resource for current 3Ls who haven’t lined up a clerkship. Word of mouth is another way to find rebellious judges. But be careful: If you inadvertently apply to a judge who is supporting the Edwards plan, that judge might refuse to consider you for the following year. Don’t be afraid to call chambers in advance to verify that the judge wants to interview 2Ls. As for the state courts, some judges already conform to the new federal plan because they only consider 3Ls. Others like to interview 2Ls in the spring, and may not feel compelled to throw their calendars out the window just because the federal bench is trying to reform itself again. The Conference of [State] Chief Justices discussed the Edwards plan over the summer but decided not to take an official position, which would have been unenforceable anyway. The National Association for Law Placement (NALP), on the other hand, says that the Edwards plan should be applied to state court clerkships. Where does this leave aspiring state court clerks? If you’re a 2L, it still comes down to transcripts and recommendations. Your law school might take a hard line and make them difficult to get, or it might lighten up on 2Ls applying to state courts. If you’re a 3L, you won’t face that problem. All you have to do is get your application in the mail on time. The Vermont Law School Guide to State Judicial Clerkships is the bible for such details. It lists application requirements on a state-by-state, court-by-court basis and is updated every August. Look for it in your law school placement office: At $85, it’s a little expensive to buy. Finally, regardless of whether you’re a 1L, 2L, or 3L, get your hands on L‘s in-depth clerkship guide coming out this winter. We’re going to tell you everything you need to know about the application process — from who should apply to who pays for interview travel expenses. As a preview, the answer to both of those questions is: you.

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