Judicial Clerkship Application Process

There are multiple steps in any judicial clerkship application process. For one-on-one assistance contact Dan at 651-962-4995 or at daniel.winterlin@stthomas.edu.  To learn more about how to choose a court, the judicial clerkship application materials, judicial clerkship interviews or judicial clerkship application materials click on the headings below to expand the section that interests you.  

Choosing a Court

The first step in deciding whether to apply for a clerkship is to research a variety of courts and judges. There is a wide range of options available for students interested in pursuing a judicial clerkship including:

  • U.S. District Court
  • U.S. Court of Appeals
  • Special Federal Courts: U.S. Tax Court, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, U.S. Court of Federal Claims, U.S. Court of Veteran Appeals, some federal Administrative Law Judges, U.S. Magistrates
  • State Trial Courts
  • State Supreme and Appellate Courts

Trial Court 

Trial clerks are responsible for a wide variety of projects related to the litigation process. Trial clerks’ duties may include: assisting with the discovery process, legal research and writing, case management, participating in settlement negotiation and status conferences with the parties, draft opinions and orders, advise and assist the judge during trial, and perform record keeping and administrative tasks. Students interested in pursuing a career in litigation may find a clerkship in a trial court especially in understanding the litigation process.

Appellate Court 

Judicial clerks at the appellate level review filed by the parties and portions of the record from the trial court. Appellate clerks spend more of their time researching and writing than trial court clerks. Clerks are typically present in the courtroom during oral arguments and discuss cases with the judge prior to and following the arguments.

Specialty Courts

Specialty courts such as the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, the U.S. Tax Court, the U.S. Court of Federal Claims and the U.S. Court of International Trade require clerks to perform similar duties to judicial clerks at the trial level.

Location

The location of the court can often determine the competitiveness of the clerkship. Generally, courts in major urban areas attract a higher number of applicants making these positions more competitive. Applicants should consider the location that they would like to practice in when selecting a court, although a federal clerkship anywhere in the country will be beneficial.

Application Materials for Judicial Clerkships

Resume

Resumes should be conservative, concise and error free. In addition, resumes should highlight research and writing skills such as law journal, published materials and any other positions that the applicant had the opportunity to conduct legal research, write legal memoranda and/or prepare other legal documents. For more information, visit How to Build a Legal Resume.

Applicants should include community involvement or activities that will help give the judge a sense of who the applicant is. Judges are hiring more than an employee. Judicial clerks work very closely with the judge and often an applicant’s personality fit is just as important as his/her credentials.

Applicants should have their resume reviewed by the Office of Career and Professional Development prior to sending it out. A fresh set of eyes can catch errors that may have been overlooked and make sure the applicant has efficiently communicated his/her professional and educational experience. Set up an appointment with at CPD by emailing lawcareers@stthomas.edu.

Cover Letter

 A good cover letter is essential to a judicial clerkship application. The cover letter is the first impression a judge has of an applicant. A poorly written cover letter or a cover letter with errors can cost an applicant an interview. Cover letters should be brief, addressed to the judge with whom you are applying, and no more than one page. The cover letter should indicate the applicant’s interest in a judicial clerkship for a specific hiring cycle and include information that will allow the judge to evaluate the applicant’s academic credentials, interest in the geographic location, and interview availability.  A good cover letter will include:

  • The applicant’s interest in the particular court, judge and location.
  • Credentials that make the applicant a strong candidate for the position.
  • Specific situations that demonstrate the applicant’s relevant skills (e.g. a research assistant position that developed the applicant’s research skills).

In addition, take care to use the proper forms of address in a clerkship cover letter. Cover letters are formal and should defer properly to the judge. The following are guidelines:

  • Use “The Honorable” before the judge’s name.
  • Judges that sit on supreme courts are referred to as “Justice.” All others are “Judge.”
  • If judge is a chief judge, be sure to address him/her as such. E.g., Chief Judge Jones.
  • The appropriate closing for a judicial clerkship cover letter is “Respectfully.”

Writing Sample

Many judges find the writing sample to be the key to a successful clerkship application. Some judges want a writing sample with the initial application packet, while others prefer to receive it at the interview. Applicants should consult the individual judge’s requirements before including a writing sample in the application. The writing sample should be the best, unedited piece of the applicant’s work. It should be well organized, concise and error free, and demonstrate strong research and analytical skills.  

Caution is advised if an applicant is interested in using a writing sample he/she worked on as a judicial extern. It is necessary to obtain and clearly state the judge’s permission to use an opinion or decision written for that judge as a sample. It is also important to indicate that the sample is a draft and not the final opinion of the judge. Be advised that some judges still disapprove of using an actual judicial opinion as a writing sample despite receiving permission.

As a general matter, it is recommended to make clear the purpose and context for which the piece was written. Unless otherwise specified, the writing sample should not exceed 10 pages long.

Transcript

An unofficial transcript is accepted by most state judges. Unofficial transcripts include photocopies of official transcripts and printouts from MURPHY Online. Follow this link for information on downloading and converting an unofficial transcript to PDF format.

To request an official transcript, visit http://www.stthomas.edu/registrar/student/forms/transcriptrequest.html. There is a $3.00 charge for an official transcript request.

Federal judges who use OSCAR will require a grade sheet be filled out in the OSCAR system.  For more information check out OSCAR - How to Create a Grade Sheet.  

Letters of Recommendation

The number of recommendations required varies by judge. Applicants should check this element for each judge as part of their research of application requirements. Generally, two to three letters of recommendation will be appropriate. It is important to choose recommenders wisely and seek out the most meaningful letters of recommendation. Applicants should approach recommenders early, preferably before the clerkship application period. Other clerkship applicants are also seeking recommendations and many professors limit how many students for whom he/she will write a letter for. Professors also need ample time to prepare a letter on the applicant’s behalf; four weeks of advance time is a reasonably courtesy.  When selecting a recommender, consider the following:

  • Someone who you believe will write a strong letter of recommendation on your behalf.
  • At least one letter of recommendation should come from a law school professor in whose class the applicant excelled.
  • Recommenders should be familiar with the applicant’s legal writing and be able to attest to his/her strengths in this area.
  • Applicants should consider professors with whom they took a small class, clinic or completed a writing assignment for.
  • An employer or lawyers in practice from a summer position are also appropriate recommenders.
  • Letters from former college professors are generally discouraged unless the professor is familiar with the applicant’s relevant legal writing and abilities.

Whenever possible letters of recommendation should be personally addressed to the judge receiving the letter. If you are applying to multiple judges at once consider using a mail merge or if you are applying through OSCAR using the online editor.  

The Interview

If a judge requests an interview, applicants should make themselves available as soon as it is possible. Once an applicant has been selected for an interview, the judge has already considered the applicant’s credentials. The focus of the judicial clerkship interview is the applicant’s “fit.” As part of preparation, talk to people who have interviewed with judges in the past. The Office of Career and Professional Development (CPD) has a list of alumni who are or have been judicial clerks and can help applicants get in contact with past clerks. Before interviewing with a judge, applicants should research the judge and his/her recent or noteworthy decisions.

In general, a judicial clerkship interview does not differ much from a typical legal interview. For information on what to expect and how to prepare for a legal interview, visit the interviewing page of our website. However, interviews can vary widely between judges.

  • Some judges will not discuss any substantive matters during the interview.
  • Others will want to know what it is like to discuss legal issue with the applicant.
  • Applicants should be prepared to discuss anything on their resumes, transcripts or in their writing sample.
  • Additionally, it often helps to be familiar with current events that have legal implications as this can be a popular area of discussion with judges.

Interviews are usually conducted in the judge’s chambers allowing the judge’s current clerks and other staff to meet the candidate. The judge’s staff can have enormous input on who gets hired; thus, it is important to always be professional and courteous when communicating with the judge’s staff. To schedule a mock interview or career counseling session with CPD to prepare for a judicial clerkship interview, email lawcareers@stthomas.edu.

The Offer

Unlike most law firms, judges do not expect to wait long for a decision on an offer. As a general rule, if an offer is made, it is best to accept immediately rather than ask for time to think it over. If, after an interview, a candidate decides that he/she is no long interested in working for a particular judge, he/she should withdraw his/her application. Withdrawals are generally discouraged, but are a better option than declining an offer.