Published October 2000.
Executive Summary and Action Plan
Introduction and Rationale
Overview of the Findings: Analysis of Employment Statistics
Findings from the Administrative Survey of Law Schools
Findings from the Law Student Survey
Findings from the Alumni Law Clerk Survey
Action Plan: Key Concerns
Action Plan to Address These Concerns
I. The Judiciary
II. Law Schools
Full Report: Findings of the Judicial Clerkship Study
Introduction and Rationale for Study
Judicial clerkships open doors to satisfying legal careers — yet the profession's understanding of who is applying for clerkships, why they do so, and how the process can be managed effectively is little understood. Motivated by several critical concerns about clerkships and diversity in the legal profession, the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) and the American Bar Association (ABA) undertook a comprehensive study of judicial clerkships as employment opportunities for law graduates.
The study, conducted in several phases, sought input from three significant populations: law school administrations/career service professionals, third-year students, and alumni law clerks. It has captured information on student perceptions about the clerkship application and selection processes; the value students perceive in clerkships; data on the presence of women graduates and graduates of color in federal, state, and local clerkships; the influence of clerkships on attorney careers; and the roles that law school faculty and administration assume in the student clerkship application processes.
This study compiled data from four sources. The first portion of the study analyzed retrospective empirical data compiled by NALP for five years (1994-1998) to refute or substantiate anecdotal evidence about differences in the frequency of judicial clerk positions among men, women and graduates of color. The data, collected by NALP annually on the employment experiences of new law graduates, produces information on 86-90% of all graduates from ABA-accredited law schools each year and thus offers the most comprehensive insights regarding graduate employment as judicial clerks through these detailed analyses.
For the subsequent phases of the study, NALP designed and implemented three comprehensive surveys to elicit critical information from each of the three target groups: law school administrations/career service professionals, third-year students, and alumni law clerks. The collective goals of these questionnaires, respectively, were:
- To determine the roles that law school administration and faculty assume in the student clerkship application process;
- To identify law school student perceptions regarding judicial clerkships and the application process; and
- To evaluate former and present law clerk perceptions regarding the application process, the value of the clerkship experience, and its impact on their future careers.
A joint letter from William Paul, President of the ABA, and Patricia Bass, President of NALP, notified the deans of all ABA-accredited law schools of the purposes of this study and invited each to participate in the administrative law school survey. One hundred and forty-seven law school career services offices, or 81%, returned their completed surveys to NALP.
Using standard survey selection methods, 61 law schools were identified to form a pool of schools for the law student and alumni inquiries. This pool included a representative sample of law schools that have a high number of federal clerkships, those with a high number of non-federal (state and/or local) clerkships, and some randomly selected from the remainder. As a result, the schools in the sample pool represent a diverse cross-section nationally of school characteristics (public, private, size, geographic region and reputation), with varying levels of students and graduates pursuing federal, state and local clerkships. These schools were invited to participate in an effort to survey all current third-year students, regardless of whether they have applied for or accepted a judicial clerkship, and graduates from the classes of 1998 and 1999 who pursued a clerkship following graduation.
A letter notifying the law schools in the sample pool was sent out by NALP in early December 1999 asking the schools to indicate their agreement to participate in the next phase of the study and to provide information as to the number of surveys needed for their third-year students and alumni from the classes of 1998 and 1999 who are serving or had served as law clerks, as well as their preferred method of distribution to the students and alumni.
Survey questionnaires were subsequently distributed to approximately 14,000 third-year students and 4,000 alumni law clerks in January 2000. Of the roughly 14,000 law students to whom the law student surveys were distributed, 1660 students, or 11%, returned their completed surveys to NALP. The law clerk survey was distributed to approximately 4,000 alumni, and 931 alumni returned their completed surveys — an extraordinary return rate that approaches 24%.
Overview of the Findings:
Analysis of Employment Statistics
- Minority representation among the clerkship population is generally lower than in the law school population. Historically, the representation of Hispanic and Black/African American law clerks has been significantly lower than the representation of these groups in the general law school population, with some variation observed by court types. In contrast, Asian-Pacific Islanders in the federal clerk population, particularly in certain circuit courts, increasingly maintain a representation equivalent or even exceeding their numbers in the law school class. The data show a trend towards a slightly decreasing percentage of white law clerks, from 87.1% in the Class of 1994 to 85.1% in the Class of 1998.
- For the last four of the five years included in the study, women comprised a majority of the law clerk population. However, there is a disproportionately high percentage of women serving as local and state clerks and a greater percentage of men than women as federal clerks, although the gap has decreased slightly through the years. Vastly different patterns emerge within each federal circuit, both with the relative percentages of men in comparison to women and with the degree of variation in these distributions from year to year.
- Different patterns of clerkship populations emerge based on law school characteristics. Federal clerkships comprise a significant percentage of the judicial clerkships taken by graduates of private law schools. In contrast, for public schools the distribution is sharply skewed towards state clerkships. Both school types show a relatively small, constant proportion of local clerks. When the law schools are aggregated according to their total J.D. enrollment, other patterns can be observed. As a whole, the law schools in all of the size categories report a higher percentage of state clerks than federal clerks, with the smallest portion being local clerks. However, in the smallest school size (500 or fewer students), prevalence of state clerkships significantly outweighs the other levels; the percentage of federal clerks is highest in the intermediate school size (501-750 students), where it approaches most closely the state clerk population.
Findings from the Administrative Survey of Law Schools
- Nearly all law schools offer programs on judicial clerkships, but the number and range of subjects vary widely. One of the most visible indicators of support for, or efforts devoted to, the judicial clerkship process is evident in the number and scope of programs on this subject. Almost all of the responding law schools conduct a program on an introduction or overview of clerkships, with most of them sponsored by the career services office. However, notably absent are specialized informational/support programs in this area for women and students of color — only about a quarter of the responding schools provide such programs. Also missing were programs on preparing for a clerkship, which are not offered by 64% of the law schools.
- The vast majority of law schools offer a formal internship or externship program with local judges. The schools with an externship or internship program generally believe that this has positively affected the number of clerkship applications, and the majority also perceive a positive effect on clerkship offers.
- As a group, law schools allocate considerable resources to the judicial clerkship process. Postings of letters from judges seeking clerks proved to be the most highly valued resource. Also highly valued by the schools are the clerkship handbooks published by their career services offices; however, 23% of schools, mostly the smaller schools, do not publish a clerkship handbook. Among the other resources most valued are the NALP Federal and State Judicial Clerkship Directory, the Almanac of the Federal Judiciary, and the WESTLAW® and LEXIS® resources.
- Equally notable are the resources that the majority of schools do not have. More than 71% reported that they do not have a judicial clerkship section on their Web site; of those that did have this resource, most found it to be useful. Largely missing as well were collections of written comments from faculty, and more than half of the schools did not have written feedback from alumni law clerks even though those who have such resources regarded them as valuable. Another significant resource, the Directory of Minority Judges of the United States, was not present at 49% of law schools, and the percent appeared even higher among certain school types; for example, 68% of the smallest school size and 52% of the public schools did not have this publication.
- Universally, the law schools cited a need for more comprehensive resources regarding clerkship hiring procedures. In the absence of a uniform comprehensive source on the timing of applications, hiring, contents of application packages, terms of clerkships, biographical and general information on judges, most schools maintain their own database of judges to which they allocate considerable time and resources.
- Law schools in every category type and size of school indicated that the lack of uniform guidelines hinders the clerkship application process. In their qualitative comments, this issue overshadowed all others, as the respondents addressed the problem this creates in their efforts to provide effective support for their students in the clerkship application process without draining the resources of their offices. Many schools commented that the clerkship applicant pool for the judges has been negatively impacted as well. Roughly half of the reporting schools noted that their schools are making programmatic changes in response to this issue, by moving up clerkship programming for second year students to earlier in the fall semester and by including first year students in their clerkship programming.
- About half of the schools have a faculty clerkship committee. Faculty generally are supportive of students applying for clerkships in terms of providing recommendations, but one-quarter of the schools experienced difficulty in getting the faculty to send letters of recommendation in a timely fashion.
- Career services offices generally provide counseling or advising in connection with judicial clerkship applications but fewer offer clerical support. A little more than half of the career services offices provide some kind of clerical support for students in connection with the processing of the clerkship applications, ranging from supplying students with a list of judges on a disk to mail merge to collecting and mailing the application package. These services, when provided by a career services office, are generally available to all students who would like to apply for judicial clerkships, although some schools select the students to which they will provide other kinds of support.
- Financial assistance in connection with the clerkship application and interview process is limited at best. Moreover, no school offers any other financial assistance for the judicial clerkship term except for a few schools that include clerkships within their loan forgiveness programs.
- In their perceptions of student success, the career services professionals followed traditional expectations. They named as the top criteria for success high class ranks, the law review/law journal credential, support of top faculty, and a summer or academic year judicial internship or externship. In the experience of career service professionals, a special connection to a judge does not emerge as a primary factor in acquiring federal and state clerkships.
- Schools that offer more resources to students tend to have a higher percentage of graduates in clerkships. Law schools that provide academic programs designed to support or encourage judicial clerkships had a higher percentage of their graduates obtaining clerkships than their counterparts without these programs and those schools that maintain a judicial database showed a similar tendency. In addition, the law schools with a faculty clerkship committee tended to have more of their graduates entering clerkships than those that did not have this committee; however, this positive correlation did not exist where the committee included a screening function. On a cautionary note, a causative link has not been established between these factors from the law schools and the clerkship rates of their students, nor can this be ascertained from the present data.
Findings from the Law Student Survey
- Clearly students recognize the value of the clerkship relative to one's legal career. For those who did apply for a clerkship, the factors that most influenced their decision to apply were the desire to gain the work experience of a clerkship; the impact of a clerkship on their future career; the prestige of clerkships; and discussions with others, primarily lawyers in practice.
- The desire to clerk in the geographic locale or court of their future practice was the factor that most influenced the decision to apply to particular courts. More than one-half of the students looked to the level of the court (trial/appellate), while almost as many focused on the type of court (federal/state/local). The reputation of the judge was also ranked by students as extremely significant in their decision where to apply. Other significant factors included the length of the clerkship term (one year versus two year); the atmosphere in chambers/ working conditions; and that the judge previously hired clerks from their law school. Considerably de-emphasized by the students were factors such as personal connection to the judge and the race/ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or disability status of the judge.
- A substantial number of students cited the financial differential of a clerkship salary as a component of their decision not to apply for a clerkship at all. While the financial burdens of applying for a judicial clerkship did not appear to play as large a role as expected for those students who chose to apply for a clerkship, the expense of the application and interview process did surface as a concern among some students.
- The data do not support a finding that students chose not to apply for clerkships due to a perception of bias toward their gender, race or ethnicity. Respondents who did not apply for a clerkship cited most often as a reason for not applying that they preferred a different post-graduation option. A substantial percent of the students indicated that they did not think their applications would be competitive. More than one-third of the non-applying students stated as a reason that they lacked the finances to apply or interview for a clerkship and emphasized as a deterrent the financial differential of the clerkship salary given their considerable educational debt. Almost one-third of these students stated that they felt discouraged by some aspect of the application process; of these, most pointed to the timing or the arduousness of the process. Most of those students who did not apply for a clerkship reported that they would have done so if one or more of these factors were different.
- The racial and ethnic patterns of judicial clerks appear to be a reflection of these patterns in the student applicant population of our study, rather than a difference in the success of their applications. The overall success rate of those applying for a clerkship was quite high at 69.5%, and two of these groups, Asian/Pacific Islander and Hispanic/Latino, had even higher success rates. In order to increase minority representation among law clerks, efforts should focus on the need to increase the number of minority students who apply in the first instance, particularly among certain groups, such as Hispanics and African-Americans.
- A gender differential in success rates emerged. Sixty-six percent of the women who applied received a clerkship offer, in contrast to 74% of the male students in our study. The gender patterns in judicial clerks and applicants, while favorable when viewed in the context of the overall law school class, tend to vary with the type of court (federal versus state and local) and may also reflect a differential in the success rate of their applications.
- A much lower percentage of students in the upper age category (36 and older) received an offer. Moreover, more than any other demographic group, students in this category perceived their age to be a disadvantage leading to unsuccessful clerkship applications.
- The results do not support the hypothesis of connections to judge as a significant component in obtaining a clerkship. This fact contrasts with the perceptions among many of the students who offered as a reason for not applying for a clerkship, or for not succeeding with their clerkship applications, that they did not have the right "connections" to acquire a clerkship.
- Grades, law review, and the academic record all play the largest roles in both the perceptions of students and the reality of a successful clerkship application. These perceptions largely coincide with those of the career services personnel of their law schools.
- Roughly one in ten applications at the federal level resulted in an invitation to interview, and one in four applications at the state level did so. However, these numbers may not accurately reflect the practice common in some courts of submitting one application to a pool for distribution to many judges in that court. About one in three of the interviews with a state or federal judge resulted in an offer, although for state appellate courts the yield rate appeared somewhat higher at 43%.
- The time given by judges to respond to a clerkship offer may not be as limited as has been widely believed and previously reported, but it is still a problem. The response time most often described — identified by approximately one-third of the students — was "two days to one week." Still, a substantial proportion of students reported the prevalence of "on the spot" responses. Many students expressed frustration with the time pressure they experienced both in scheduling their interviews and responding to an offer.
- One of the most problematic aspects of the application process for students was the obtaining and control of references. Most strikingly, over one-third of the students indicated that they experienced difficulties in finding people to provide these references and an even greater percentage (36%) reported problems with the content of the letters. A large number of students expressed the concern that their professors did not know them well enough to write meaningful recommendations, due in part to the part to the earlier timing of the application process. In addition, almost one-third of the students experienced problems with the timely submission of these letters.
- Students were generally satisfied with the assistance provided by their law schools. In describing the level of assistance provided by their law schools overall, most of the students felt that they received adequate or very useful assistance in obtaining information or advice about their cover letter, resume, writing sample or letters of recommendation, and received adequate assistance in the area of interviewing. However, almost one-half of the students would have liked additional assistance from their law schools in collecting information or advice about the judges.
- The lack of timing guidelines and standard application procedures makes the process chaotic and encumbered their experiences. The absence of these uniform procedures, along with a lack of information about individual judges' application procedures and requirements, emerged repeatedly as significant factors in students' dissatisfaction with the clerkship application process.
Findings from the Alumni Law Clerk Survey
- The respondents to the alumni law clerk survey represented clerkships from a wide variety of types and levels of courts and judges nationwide. In their demographic composition, the racial/ethnic and gender distributions were closely similar to the demographics observed for the student respondents who applied for a judicial clerkship, as well as the general law clerk population.
- The qualifications of the clerks mirrored the perceptions of students as to the qualifications of successful candidates. A significant percent of these law clerks reported that they had top grades/high class rank, had been a teaching or research assistant, were on the law review/ law journal, and/or had significant professional work experience prior to law school. Nearly one-third had a summer or academic year judicial intern/externship.
- Only a relatively small percentage of the alumni law clerks reported having a special connection to a judge while in law school. This fact provides further support for the findings of the student survey that, contrary to the perceptions among many of the students who did not apply for or receive a clerkship, very few of the students who applied and received an offer actually had a special connection to a judge.
- The majority of law clerks responded that costs did not affect their choices during the application process. A relatively small percentage applied to fewer judges as a consequence of the cost. Once again, the financial factor does not appear most significant for the choices made by applicants during the clerkship application process. However, some alumni did complain of the expense and, as noted above, some students pointed to financial considerations (i.e., the salary differential) as a reason for their decision not to apply for a judicial clerkship in the first instance.
- The views of the law clerks did not entirely coincide with those of the students and career services professionals with regard to the important factors in judges' selections of law clerks. Based on their past application experience and their observations as a law clerk, these alumni identified most often as "extremely important" to the judge the evaluation of the interview — even more highly than the academic record, which had received the strongest weight from their student counterparts. (Of course, it must be recognized that grades are an important component in obtaining this crucial interview.) According to the law clerks, second in importance were personal character traits. Not very important in the clerks' view were demographic characteristics and personal connection to the judge.
- Almost one-third of the law clerks indicated that in retrospect they would have done something differently in the application process. Many of them would have applied to more judges or more widely across the courts, applied sooner or started the application process earlier, built stronger recommendations from the faculty, pursued the clerkship more aggressively through phone calls to chambers, and/or researched additional information about the judicial ideology and the atmosphere of different judges' chambers, particularly by talking to former clerks.
- Overall, the law clerks reported that their clerkship helped them acquire and improve a wide variety of legal and professional skills. The substantial majority felt that the skills gained in their clerkships met or exceeded their initial expectations. Generally, clerks in trial courts (whether federal or state) ranked their skill development somewhat higher than those in appellate courts. The same pattern holds true with regard to the clerks' perception of the development of the relationship with their judges; most agreed that the relationship met or exceeded their expectations but trial court clerks ranked this slightly higher than appellate clerks.
- When asked to characterize the degree to which their clerkship affected the ease of success in handling their post-clerkship duties, the former law clerks answered positively. Significant variation appeared by court type, with the most positive response from law clerks in state trial and local trial courts, followed by federal trial courts, and a moderately positive response in federal appellate and state appellate courts.
- Many respondents commented that their clerkship made them rethink their long-term goals and gave them a greater awareness of opportunities within the field. They also cited an emphasis on quality of life issues, as well as consideration of personal happiness and the value of job satisfaction. In addition, many addressed their need for increased financial compensation and a pressure to enter private practice at the outset. Several indicated that the exposure to a variety of attorneys and law firms helped them decide which firm to join. As a result of their clerkship, some reported a heightened interest in government service or academia.
- Almost half of the law clerks responded that their clerkship helped a great deal in obtaining their first post-clerkship position. Almost one-quarter stated that it helped somewhat and over one-quarter believed that the clerkship did not substantially affect this factor. In essence, no one reported that the clerkship negatively affected the post-clerkship employment search.
- In rating their clerkships, the law clerks resoundingly gave their overall experience high marks. When asked whether they would clerk again, a remarkable 97% responded in the affirmative. In addition, their narrative comments reflect the strong positive feelings these alumni carry with them from their judicial clerkship experiences, as well as the valuable impact this professional experience has had on their future careers.
- The lack of clerkship timing guidelines and uniform application procedures severely hampers law schools in their programming, information gathering and counseling efforts. As a result, the clerkship applicant pool is negatively impacted, as some qualified students decide not to apply for a judicial clerkship at all. In addition, those students that do enter the process find their application experience — for most of them, their first contact with the judiciary — embroiled in chaos and turmoil.
- A related problem is the lack of information on individual judges and their application requirements, procedures, and application and interview dates. As repeatedly requested by law schools and students, there is a critical need for a centralized resource of information on judges and their hiring procedures. One student respondent suggested, "We need one comprehensive resource that contains accurate and complete information for all . . . judges seeking clerks that year. . . . Anything that can be done to better synchronize the time frames on which judges operate would be an improvement — right now it's a free-for-all!"
- In order to increase minority representation among law clerks, efforts should focus on the need to increase the number of minority students who apply in the first instance. The data indicate that the representation of Hispanic and Black/African-American law clerks has been significantly lower than the representation of these groups in the general law school population, with some variation observed by court types. The racial and ethnic patterns characterizing judicial clerks appear to be a reflection of these patterns in the student applicant population, rather than a difference in the success of their applications.
- Gender and age patterns vary among courts. This study determined that the gender patterns in judicial clerks and applicants, while favorable when viewed in the context of the overall law school class, tend to vary with the type of court and may also reflect a differential in the success rate of their applications. In addition, students in the upper age category (36 and older), more than any other demographic group, believe their age to be a disadvantage leading to unsuccessful clerkship applications.
- The expense of the clerkship application and interview process did surface as a concern among the comments by many students and alumni law clerks. In addition, more than one-third of the students who did not apply for a clerkship cited the lack of the finances to consider a clerkship, emphasizing as a deterrent the financial differential of the clerkship salary given their considerable educational debt.
- Obtaining valid and timely recommendations was problematic. A large number of students expressed concern that their professors did not know them well enough to write meaningful recommendations, due in part to the early application deadlines. In addition, almost one-third of the students experienced problems with the timely submission of these letters, a fact that was supported by the reports of law school administrators.
Action Plan to Address These Concerns:
I. The Judiciary
- There is a critical need for a resolution of the clerkship application deadlines. It is hoped that this study will encourage federal judges to initiate viable timing guidelines and in the process set the application and interview dates further back in the student's career. If this process occurred later in the second year — or even in the third year — of law school, students would have more of an opportunity to develop a more complete academic record, important law school activities, professional work experience and meaningful faculty recommendations.
- Universally, the law schools, students and alumni cited a need for more accurate and complete resources regarding the timing of applications, hiring, contents of application packages, the terms of the clerkships, biographical and general information on judges. While there are a number of resources about judges now available, few deal specifically with hiring procedures. (Two resources that currently address this problem are NALP's Judicial Clerkship Directory and the new on-line database on federal clerkships offered by the Administrative Office of the Courts.) Such centralized, comprehensive sources would provide potential applicants with more information as to the judges' individual application preferences, requirements, and deadlines and would also benefit judges by reducing or even eliminating multiple inquiries from schools and others asking for similar information. The universality of the world wide web offers innovative avenues to accomplish this goal.
This request for informational resources applies to state and local courts as well as to federal courts. A law school respondent commented that biographical and evaluative information on state court and local judges is lacking in most materials. Another school suggested bar associations might develop directories for each state listing federal and state judges and addresses. These informational resources could be state-based or centralized with input provided by the state and local courts. Such an arrangement would be most logical in view of the fact that the students and law clerks named geographical considerations as the most important factor in their decision to apply to particular courts, with many desiring to clerk in the locale or court of their future practice.
- Judges are strongly encouraged to provide applicants sufficient time to respond to a clerkship offer. While the students most often described a response time of "two days to one week," they frequently reported that judges asked for "on the spot" responses to offers. Many students expressed frustration with the time pressure they experienced in scheduling their interviews and responding to an offer. More flexibility regarding responses could significantly improve the process for these students and allow judges access to a broader applicant pool.
- Courts might adopt a regional or circuit interview process or a matching model of selection. As one student commented, "Something needs to be done about the costs. Many judges could cooperate in their interviewing and do regional interview weekends so students wouldn't have to make so many trips." Similarly, innovative uses of videoconference technology for clerkship interviews might provide another way of controlling interview expenses.
As an alternative, some students offered the medical school model for consideration: "The process could be like the medical school system — we go through all of the interviews and are ‘matched up' at the end. It would take the stress off the students and allow us to not worry so much about timing issues." Another suggested a centralized application process: "The judges could agree on a date at which they will begin accepting applications and set up a clearinghouse where applicants only send one application to a central location."
- The judiciary is encouraged to join many other organizations who have embraced the goal of diversity in background, experience, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and age for the legal profession by setting a similar goal for their clerkship ranks.
II. Law Schools
- The law schools should endeavor to gather and disseminate more information about the judges. Overall, most of the students and alumni felt that they received adequate or very useful assistance from their law schools in obtaining information or advice about their cover letter, resume, writing sample or letters of recommendation, and received adequate assistance in the area of interviewing. However, almost one-half of the students would have liked additional assistance from their law schools in collecting information or advice about the judges. To address the need for a complete and current source of contact information, contents of application materials, and deadlines for judges, law schools should play a more active role in encouraging judicial participation in existing or newly developed directories.
- Clerkship handbooks are valuable resources. The study found that, although the clerkship handbooks published by their career services offices are highly valued by those schools, 23% of law schools, mostly the smaller schools, do not publish a clerkship handbook. More schools might find this type of resource helpful.
- Web resources are underutilized. More than 71% of law schools reported that they do not have a section on their Web site for clerkship information; of those that did have this resource, most found it to be useful. Schools that do not wish to develop their own site can still benefit from a number of existing sites on the web. These web sites are continually growing and changing, but all schools should encourage among their students an exploration of the wide range of web resources available to them.
- Comments by clerks are an important resource. In expanding their library of resources, schools should not overlook the value to their students of collecting written feedback from alumni law clerks. More than half of the schools reported that they did not have this resource, but those that did regarded this information as valuable. Moreover, student and alumni respondents emphasized their need for particularized information from former law clerks as to the atmosphere in chambers, judicial style and their individual clerkship experiences.
- More outreach efforts to the students are needed to increase their awareness and attendance of clerkship programs and counseling. Although many of the law schools do provide a variety of clerkship programs, the student surveys indicate that many students either did not attend these types of programs or did not realize they were available. These data suggest that schools that offer these programs need to increase the promotion of such programs. Two types of programs that were highly rated by many student respondents were those covering introduction/overview of clerkships and mechanics of the application process. More such programs would be welcome.
- Intern/extern programs play an important role. The schools should strive for the development of more judicial internship/externship programs, which are regarded as beneficial to this process by those schools that have them. Internship or externship programs with local judges often provide an entrée into the world of judicial clerkships, as well as a valuable experience and enhancement to the law school education. The vast majority of law schools report having a formal internship/externship program, which most believe has positively affected the number of clerkship applications and, to a lesser extent, offers from the judges. Moreover, almost one-third of the law clerks and students who successfully applied for a clerkship had a summer or academic year judicial intern/externship.
- The applicant pool must become more diverse. Law schools should adopt as a priority encouraging more minority students to apply for judicial clerkships by offering more programs, resources, and counseling for these students.
- Some form of financial assistance or loan deferment from law schools is imperative. Such assistance might facilitate applications for those who could not apply due to the financial factor (salary differential and educational debt burden), thereby increasing the diversity of the applicant pool and law clerks and expanding the availability of clerkships to all who are otherwise qualified. There is no readily ascertainable reason why judicial clerkships, which are a form of public service, cannot be treated like other public interest jobs, evoking eligibility for financial assistance, loan forgiveness or deferral programs.
- Law schools should encourage more faculty involvement. Methods should be found to facilitate ways in which professors can interact more with students and increase their awareness of student writing. Faculty letters of recommendation are critical to the process and must be submitted to the judges on time. Schools should implement measures to facilitate the mechanics of the application process for their students, particularly in instituting follow-up efforts to improve the timeliness of the letters of recommendation from their faculty.
- Students are encouraged to find out more information about the judges. Using the growing availability of resources (see appendix), students should research the atmosphere and relationships in chambers, particularly through information from former law clerks. Since web sites are continually growing and changing, students should explore the many on-line resources that are available.
- Students should apply widely. They should remain open minded and flexible as to the types of courts and judges. There are many opportunities available for a valuable judicial clerkship. Students should not be discouraged by their lack of connections to a judge in applying for a clerkship, since the data demonstrate that only a small percentage of students and law clerks have such connections.
- Students should take advantage of all the resources offered by their law schools. They should work on developing their relationships with faculty though writing, class participation, and serving as research assistants so that they can enhance their law school experiences and obtain more meaningful faculty recommendations. Students should take advantage of the programs on judicial clerkships provided by their law schools (and ask for more, if needed).
- Almost one-third of the law clerks indicated that in retrospect they would have done something differently in the application process. As general advice to students from the alumni respondents, their substantive narratives revealed that many of them would have applied to more judges or more widely across the courts, applied sooner or started the application process earlier, built stronger recommendations from the faculty, pursued the clerkship more aggressively through phone calls to chambers, and/or researched more to try to obtain additional information about the judicial ideology and the atmosphere of different judges' chambers, particularly by talking to former clerks.
Selected Resources as of September 2000
This site was developed to provide access to web sites maintained by courts nationwide and offers links to both state and federal court sites.
The official site of the Administrative Office of the Courts, this site offers links to other federal sites and will be the home of a database that will contain information supplied by federal judges regarding their law clerk hiring schedules and application criteria, along with possible other features accessible by the law schools and judges.
This site, now under construction, will provide a central source of information and advice for law schools and students on judicial clerkships, as well as a forum for law clerks.
- Many law school web sites on judicial clerkship resources are also available and may be found through a browser search for information on judicial clerkships.
- The NALP Federal and State Judicial Clerkship Directory, available in print and on-line through the LEXIS® services, offers detailed information on judges' hiring criteria and practices. Judges may list in the directory at no charge by contacting the NALP office (202-667-1666).
- Directory of Minority Judges of the United States, Chicago: American Bar Association, Judicial Division, Task Force on Minorities in the Judiciary
- Almanac of the Federal Judiciary, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Aspen Law and Business. Available on line through WESTLAW ®.
- BNA's Directory of State and Federal Courts, Judges, and Clerks. Washington, DC: The Bureau of National Affairs.
- Federal-State Court Directory. Washington, DC: WANT Publishing Co. Available on line through http://www.courts.com/.
- Guide to State Judicial Clerkship Procedures. Vermont Law School.
This study is the result of a growing awareness of the importance of judicial clerkships in the career paths of lawyers and critical concerns about the ways in which those clerkships are obtained and the diversity of the people who are obtaining them. A wide range of individuals from many organizations share these concerns and contributed significantly to the production of this report. The National Association for Law Placement (NALP) is grateful to the following people for their contributions.
William G. Paul, 1999-2000 President of the American Bar Association, was one of the moving forces behind the concept of this study. His Presidential initiative on increasing diversity in the legal profession corresponds to one of NALP’s primary mission goals and his encouragement made this partnership possible. Luke Bierman, Special Assistant to the President, was particularly helpful and is due sincere thanks.
Gihan Fernando, Assistant Dean for Student Services at Cornell Law School and NALP’s liaison to the ABA’s Judicial Administration Division, played a critical role in connecting the mutual interests of NALP and the ABA in this area for which NALP is grateful.
Sincere thanks are extended to the Advisory Committee of NALP members with expertise in the field of judicial clerkships who provided much needed advice on the development and implementation of the survey instruments. The members included:
- Jacquelyn Burt, Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law
- Robert Kaplan, William and Mary School of Law
- Gihan Fernando, Cornell Law School
- Shelley Levine, New York University School of Law
- Lori Nelson, University of California at Berkeley (Boalt Hall) School of Law
Implementation of a study of this magnitude would not have been possible without the NALP Staff, especially Director of Research Judy Collins, who oversaw all of the data compilations and analyses, and Operations Manager Carla Ward, who handled the distribution and collection of thousands of survey instruments. Deputy Director Julie Hamre provided overall coordination and administration of myriad details.
Special appreciation is extended to Debra Strauss, formerly Director of Judicial Clerkship Counseling and Programs at Yale Law School, who was employed as the Project Director and author of the study. A former law clerk herself, her commitment and expertise turned the study from a good idea into a valuable product and provides the opportunity for NALP to render a service to all stakeholders in the clerkship arena.
Finally, and most importantly, NALP is grateful to the career services professionals, law students, and law clerks who contributed information and comments to this study. Thousands of people took the time to complete the surveys and most added thoughtful comments about the clerkship process and the value of the experience. They are the true experts in this field and deserve the credit for so capably supporting this national study.
Paula A. Patton
National Association for Law Placement and the NALP Foundation for Research & Education