U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer delivers the keynote address at New York Law School’s 126th Commencement ceremony at Carnegie Hall on Friday. Photo: David Handschuh/NYLJ

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer said he supported an effort by federal judges to straighten out the process for applying to clerk for federal judges, an effort that already has the support of Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan and many federal judges.

Ginsburg and Kagan have each supported the plan to delay the law-clerk application process, which now begins after a law student’s first year.

While delivering a commencement address on Friday for New York Law School graduates, held at Carnegie Hall in Manhattan, Breyer said there is a “terrible system” in place for hiring law clerks that is “really confusing” and that some judges are trying to “straighten it out.”

“I’m all for that straightening out, 100 percent,” Breyer said.

Breyer’s address was the first time since 2014 that a U.S. Supreme Court justice has delivered remarks at a law school commencement.

Under the plan, judges will not seek or accept clerkship applications or recommendations, conduct interviews or make offers to students who started law school in 2017 before June 17, 2019.

Kagan, who has drawn clerks from a diverse array of circuits, has gone further to say that she will take into account whether or not the plan was followed when she hires clerks.

The plan is intended to be a two-year pilot, and participating judges will come together in 2020 to discuss if it should be continued.

The new plan was produced by a committee formed to study law clerk hiring, led by Chief Judges Merrick Garland of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, Robert Katzmann of the Second Circuit, Sidney Thomas of the Ninth Circuit and Diane Wood of the Seventh Circuit.

Those judges’ circuits have announced that they will follow the plan.

New York Law School Dean Anthony Crowell is one of 100 law school deans who signed a letter supporting the new hiring plan and expressing concern that the current system of beginning the clerkship application process after students’ 1L year adds to what is already a stressful time in most students’ tenures.

The deans’ letter also expresses concern that students who are the first in their families to get into law school are disadvantaged by the fact that they lack the professional connections that some of their peers possess.

“The accelerated schedule does not give all of our students a chance to shine,” the deans said.  

The letter was spearheaded by New York University Law School Dean Trevor Morrison and Yale Law School Dean Heather Gerken.

Through a spokeswoman, Crowell said that New York Law School has kept students under advisement about the clerk plan and that he hopes the remaining circuits take part.

“Students benefit greatly from a unified effort that provides clarity and transparency,” he said.