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Over time, the federal judicial clerkship hiring process crept back to the point where judges found themselves making hiring decisions based only on a student’s first-year academic record. A significant number of state supreme court justices moved their hiring to the same period, so they could compete for the top candidates. Students who struggled in their first year couldn’t compete based only on their first-year record, while successful students juggled on-campus interview season, new upper-level classes and judicial clerkship applications simultaneously, often to the detriment of their grade point average. Faculty members who taught first-year classes were bombarded with recommendation letter requests from students on whom they could provide little information, apart from their class performance in one course. The recommendations were becoming less helpful to the judges’ evaluation of candidates. Judges found that they sometimes didn’t remember the person who showed up to clerk two years after their initial meeting, or that the clerk did not live up to initial expectations. There was a substantial consensus that it was time for a more rational hiring timeline. In the spring of 2002, Chief Judge Edward Becker and Judge Harry Edwards of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, respectively, offered their colleagues a new option for hiring judicial clerks: Hire clerks only one year in advance of the clerkship term, and take a break from hiring clerks in the fall of 2002. The Judicial Clerkship Hiring Plan proffered by Becker and Edwards has been adopted and embraced by judges in every circuit of the U.S. Courts of Appeal, and as important, by a substantial majority of U.S. District Court judges across the country. The plan has been endorsed by the American Association of Law Schools, the American Law Deans Association and the National Association for Law Placement. Locally, district, magistrate and bankruptcy judges for the District of New Jersey have agreed to follow the plan. All levels of the New Jersey state judiciary also have agreed to support the plan. And all three New Jersey law schools support the plan and have taken steps to ensure its success. The Fall 2002 hiring moratorium was successful. Law schools effectively held the line on the “supply side.” The full implementation of the plan rapidly approaches. There are two simple proscriptions: “No applications may be submitted, references given, interviews conducted, or hiring offers extended until after Labor Day, 2003, and [t]he process will involve only clerkship applications for the 2004-2005 term.” See the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit Web site for law clerk hiring, www.cadc.uscourts.gov/Lawclerk/lawclerk.asp. Sounds simple, but the change does require adjustments for everyone involved, especially for law students preparing to apply. A SUMMER STRATEGY This summer, you’ll need to plan your clerkship application strategy. Virtually all judicial clerkship openings for 2004, from the 3rd Circuit to the Superior Court of New Jersey, are available this fall. Decide where you will apply. Talk to your career services office and school faculty about your plans and interest in clerkships. While faculty members on the schools’ clerkship committees are more directly involved in the clerkship hiring process, don’t overlook others who might serve as resources and references. Working with your career services office, consider and construct a timeline for your applications, that is, whether and when you’ll apply to certain courts and judges. There is a distinct possibility that the number of clerkship applications may increase this year. Students who had a weaker first-year academic record can now compete based on the improvement they experienced in their second year of law school. With a potentially bigger pool of federal and state supreme court applicants, the process could be more competitive in that arena. In other words, don’t place arbitrary limits on how many applications you send, or where you send them. RESEARCH THE MARKET Research the individual judges on each court to which you will apply. Often, the best information on any judge comes from alumni, faculty and employers who have worked for, or with, that judge. Don’t be shy about seeking out those resources. You don’t have to know everything about a judge to apply, but you will want to do some “weeding out,” rather than simply blanketing a court or courts with your materials. An effective cover letter also requires some knowledge of the judge to whom you’re addressing it. More in-depth research can be saved for those with whom you interview in the fall. THE APPLICATION PACKET Make sure your application materials are ready. All judges require a r�sum� and cover letter and few, if any, will hire you without seeing your transcript, although not all state trial court judges require that in your initial application packet. For a federal or state supreme court clerkship, you also automatically will include a writing sample and obtain letters of recommendation from two or three faculty members. Have a writing sample prepared, however, regardless where you apply. Virtually all judges require a writing sample at some point during the hiring process. Individually address cover letters and tailor them to the judges to whom you send them. Include your summer 2003 position and any clinics, journals or other skill-related credentials you may be pursuing during your third year of law school on your r�sum�, with the appropriate dates. Writing samples should be of reasonable length. Ideally, the writing sample should reflect your best work and showcase not only your writing style, but your ability to analyze facts, apply legal standards to those facts and reach and support a conclusion based on your analysis. Judges are interested in your writing ability, however, not your writing instructor’s, employer’s or journal editor’s, so make sure you start from your draft, not something that’s been heavily edited. Law review articles certainly reflect far more than your own work, and the judges know that. If you choose a writing project from legal employment, you MUST have the employer’s permission to use it. Whatever you use, have others review it for typographical errors. The documents you submit to a judge must show the level of attention to detail that she will require from you as a law clerk. RECOMMENDATIONS AND REFERENCES Faculty recommendation letters are processed at each school subject to established practices. For example, at Seton Hall Law School, all faculty recommendation letters are processed by the career services staff, and career services provides the address files for those letters and for students to use in their cover letters. Students submit their application packets to us and we then include the faculty letters, covering the postage for the applications. Needless to say, clerkship applications require labor-intensive processes for the career services offices at all three schools. You need to cooperate with deadlines and requirements to assure yourself that your applications will get to the judges as soon after Labor Day as possible. Ask the faculty members for the recommendations as soon as possible. Schedules may make it difficult to get in touch with faculty at the last minute, especially as classes start in August. Talk with your career services office about deadlines they impose on their role in the process. Communicate throughout the summer with your faculty recommenders and with your career services office to ensure your applications are moving forward appropriately. If you do not apply to courts that require faculty recommendation letters, it is still necessary and wise to talk with faculty and employers who might provide references for you to specific judges. Most judges on the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey want reference information, if not recommendation letters, from applicants. Check with your career services office to make sure you are providing exactly the materials the judges require. Most state trial court judges will seek reference information before extending an offer, and some will request it as part of their screening process. Again, check with the relevant sources to ensure a complete application reaches the judges you choose. THE AOC R�SUM� BOOK The Administrative Office of the Courts, as always, will prepare r�sum� books from interested clerkship applicants for distribution to New Jersey’s state judiciary several times over the course of the next academic year. The AOC recommends individual applications to judges, in addition to participating in the r�sum� submission process. Judges have more interest in candidates who have shown some specific interest in working for them, so we always recommend individual applications, even where students submit their r�sum�s to the AOC. For inclusion in the September distribution of r�sum�s, the AOC must receive your r�sum� by July 14, 2003. It is important to remember that the r�sum�s will not be submitted to the judges over the summer; the AOC simply needs time to compile and process the r�sum�s so they can be sent consistently with the new hiring plan. For more information on the AOC’s r�sum� collections, ask your career services office, or go to www.judiciary.state.us/jobs. THE CLERKSHIP APPLICATION PROCESS AND YOUR SUMMER EMPLOYER For the past several years, most summer associates began their summers aware of whether and where they were clerking following graduation. This summer, things are different. You’ll be making decisions whether to apply, and where, and preparing applications and researching judges while working full time to secure a permanent job offer from your employer. The new hiring timetable impacts law firms’ planning for the associate class of 2004, and beyond. Employers will want to know your plans. They may ask early in the summer or wait until an exit interview and/or they extend you an offer. Employers know the value of a judicial clerkship experience, and firms that accommodated the one-year deferral for students clerking under the old plan will continue to do so under this one — but their planning is contingent on your clerkship application process, something that will not be resolved until the fall. Regardless of when the employer asks, you must give a direct answer about your plans. Law firms are full of partners and associates who have clerked for, and appeared before, state and federal judges. They can be invaluable resources. Unless you work with an attorney with a direct connection, that is, a former clerk to the judge, your recommendation letters should still come from faculty, who have a better basis for comparison among students. If you want to use a writing sample from the work you do for a firm, ask permission, and do so early. Give the firm ample notice of your request so that it can work with you to make sure the document is prepared appropriately for distribution. Finally, and obviously, be responsible about the time you devote to your clerkship application efforts. Don’t forget the firm is paying you to do its work. And you don’t want to jeopardize a permanent job offer — ever. WHAT TO EXPECT THIS FALL Applications will be mailed out to judges beginning Sept. 2, 2003. There is no set timeline for hiring once applications arrive at judges’ chambers. Past experience suggests that a significant number of judges in New Jersey will complete their hiring well before the semester ends. State trial court hiring will proceed as it usually does, with a significant number of judges hiring their clerks before November. Unlike other types of legal hiring, you do not gather multiple offers and then pick your favorite after weeks of visiting and revisiting “contenders.” Once interviewed, you may receive an offer on the spot, or soon thereafter. The judges expect a prompt response. Extensions of time to decide on clerkship offers are the rare exception. Do your research prior to your interviews so you are prepared to make a decision on the judges’ timetable. Communicate with your career services office and faculty recommenders as you move through the interviews for assistance with preparation and follow-up after each one. Communicate with law firms that have extended you an offer. Your plans for clerking affect law firms’ recruitment planning for 2004 and beyond. Let them know where you are in the process periodically, so they can assess where they stand. Communicate your final decision to all of these participants in your judicial clerkship application efforts as soon as you make it. Your successful judicial clerkship application begins this summer. Research, preparation and communication are key to an effective and efficient transition to the new hiring plan. Take advantage of the increased opportunity afforded by this change, and the resources available to you in managing it. The author is assistant dean for career services at Seton Hall University School of Law.

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