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Clerkship Interviews

Possible Topics And Questions

Judges can ask you anything they want—they are judges. So prepare as much as you can, but be ready think on your feet. Brush up on current events and read about recent Supreme Court decisions. Although most questions are relatively straightforward, sometimes judges prefer asking complex legal questions. For example, one judge asked a clerkship applicant about his thoughts on judicial activism. “Ju…what?” the poor kid almost asked. Another judge questioned an interviewee about recent Supreme Court oral arguments and her predictions regarding the outcomes.

Be prepared to answer more traditional interview questions, as well. For example: “Why do you want to clerk for me?” “What are your reasons for applying for a clerkship here?” “Where do you see yourself in five years?” and “What are your strongest and weakest points?” When asking such questions, judges look for thoughtful answers that indicate that you are prepared, that you know what the job entails, and that you have realistic expectations about the job. Bluntness is not the best policy here! Do not answer the “why” question by saying (1) you want a resume booster; (2) you are applying because you do not know what you want to do yet; (3) the clerkship is your stepping stone to another position; or (4) you want an easy job because you are tired of billing hours. Whatever the question is, it gives you a clue as to what is really important to the judge, so listen carefully. Here are some good answers that can help you pass the test:

  • • “I want to clerk for you because you are a great mentor to your clerks.”
  • • “I want to clerk for you because I will have a chance to work on a certain type of cases.”
  • • “I have an interest in criminal work, and you allow your clerks to work on criminal cases.”
  • • “I want to work at a smaller court where I can interact more with other clerks.”
  • • “I want to be an appellate lawyer, and working with you will help me hone those skills.”

Steer clear from initiating discussions about politics and religion, but realize that they are fair game for a judge. Some judges like to hire clerks with certain political opinions, or those who can simply voice an opinion. So if you are asked these a question like this, do not dance around it; give a thoughtful and honest answer, and be prepared to defend your position. The judge will appreciate it more than an answer you think he or she wants to hear. At the same time, clerking requires an ability to keep an open mind, so be careful not to take an extreme position.

Finally, be prepared to address any weak spots on your resume. Whether it is the fact that you have never been published, your minor role on the journal, or that gap in your academic career, the judge is not going to miss it. In fact, his clerks will probably highlight it so that he or she remembers to ask you about it. Anticipate this question and figure out how to put a positive spin on your answer.

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