An Open Letter to 2Ls: Clerkship Season

by Aaron Nielson — Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015@Aaron_L_Nielson

Dear 2Ls,

If you hope to clerk for a federal judge after graduation, pay careful attention. Some judges hire clerks during the first semester of the 2L year—or sometimes earlier. Others begin looking at applications after first semester grades are released and law review boards turn over; based on anecdotal information, this may be the largest cohort. And still others wait until summer or even later.

What does this mean for you? If you want to maximize your chances of clerking, and you aren’t yet ready to apply, you need to start preparing—right now. To be sure, more judges today than in the past hire law school graduates, so if you do not act now, you still will have an opportunity to apply to them later. But that is not true for all judges. So finish your writing sample (and it better be good); start arranging recommendation letters (this takes time—professors need notice)*; and polish your resume (including, if possible, listing next summer’s job). And remember that come December, your law school experience will change. You’ll be busy taking exams and some faculty members will be gone. Start today with an eye toward January.

(Why, you ask, are judges hiring when you are still 2Ls? Trust me, you don’t have time to worry about that question. After you have your clerkship lined up, then you can read these articles: The Future of Federal Law Clerk Hiring and Reflections on the End of the Federal Law Clerk Hiring Plan, as well as(many) others. The short answer is that experience and theory confirm that in a market like this, absent a cost-justified enforcement mechanism, it is impossible to regulate the timing of clerkship hiring, at least successfully. Your antitrust professor can explain why.)

Sincerely,

A Concerned Friend

* Hopefully you already found time to serve as a research assistant.

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About Aaron Nielson

Professor Nielson is an associate professor at Brigham Young University Law School, where he teaches and writes in the areas of administrative law, civil procedure, federal courts, and antitrust. He currently serves as a public member of the Administrative Conference of the United States, a federal agency that studies the administrative process and makes recommendations on ways to improve it. He also co-chairs the Rulemaking Committee of the American Bar Association’s Section of Administrative Law & Regulatory Practice. Previously he chaired the Section's Antitrust & Trade Regulation Committee. Before joining the academy, Professor Nielson was a partner in the Washington, D.C. office of Kirkland & Ellis LLP (where he remains of counsel). He also has served as a law clerk to Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr. of the U.S. Supreme Court, Judge Janice Rogers Brown of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, and Judge Jerry E. Smith of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Follow him on Twitter @Aaron_L_Nielson.

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