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Clerkship Interviews

Make Your Application Stand Out

When hundreds of applications flood the chambers in the fall, opening and reading them can be quite overwhelming for judges and clerks, which is why some applications never receive the attention they deserve. Here is what you can do to make your application stand out.

First, if mail your application, organize your materials logically. After a cover letter, the first thing the judge (or his or her clerks) will look for is a resume. Next, they will reach for a transcript. Place your writing sample and references at the back of the packet. If you are applying through the online application system (OSCAR), these materials will be sorted automatically.

Second, keep your cover letter concise. Beware of long, one-sentence paragraphs with grammatical errors and unnecessary information. But “concise” does not mean “dry.” If there is something in your background that may help the judge relate to your application, briefly recite that fact in your cover letter.

Do not sound self-centered, deprecatory, or beggarly, and do not write an autobiography. Instead, explain briefly why you want to clerk for this particular judge. Avoid introductory paragraphs such as these:

“I am not the editor-in-chief of the Harvard Law Review or even number one in my class; nonetheless, I ask that you accept this letter as a conformation of my promise to you that, if given the opportunity, I will be the hardest working law clerk that has ever served in your chambers.”

“Approximately two years before the date of this letter my wife, my son and I moved from Jackson, Mississippi to Atlanta, Georgia so that I could attend law school there. I am writing to you in hopes of obtaining a clerkship position as I believe the position will further my pursuit of learning the practice of law and having a successful legal career.”

Third, proofread your materials very carefully. Typos and punctuation errors are rarely, if ever, forgiven.

Fourth, always include a transcript, and list your class standing and GPA in your resume (unless it is really low). Clerks and judges are often too busy to sort through pages and pages of applications in an effort to locate this information. Very often, a resume that omits a GPA automatically goes into the rejection pile.

Fifth, do whatever you can to ensure that your letters of recommendation are included in your packet rather than mailed separately. Keep in mind that recommendations can break the tie between two equally strong candidates. Ask your recommenders to avoid boilerplate language and to personalize the letters by mentioning your strengths, personality traits, and strong writing skills.

Sixth, make sure your writing sample is short. Excerpts are fine, as long as you provide the context to set them up; oversized law review articles, articles in a published form, and samples that have clearly been edited, are unacceptable.

Byron, a former clerk, once came across a writing sample that sent him into a stupor. The student used an appellate brief purportedly filed with the U.S. Supreme Court as her writing sample! Clearly this wasn't the student's original work, and her application went straight to the rejection pile.

Finally, unless instructed to do so, do not fax your application, do not mail it multiple times, do not e-mail it to the chambers, and do not call the chambers indiscriminately. They will likely turn down your application simply out of annoyance or fear that you are unbalanced. Persistent inquiry, which shows determination, is one thing; harassment and obnoxiousness is another.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesLaw Job InterviewsClerkship Interviews - Make Your Application Stand Out, Calling The Chambers, Timing, Preparing For A Clerkship Interview