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March 08, 2016 Articles

JIOP Alumni Advice: Tips on Securing a Judicial Clerkship

JIOP alumni share tips on standing out among the many judicial clerkship applicants.

By Cheryl Turner

Several of our JIOP alumni have served as judicial clerks in chambers across the country. Here are their tips on securing a judicial clerkship:

Douglas E. Hewlett Jr.

2011 JIOP Alum

Judicial Clerk for Judge K. Michael Moore of the Southern District of Florida

"(1) Apply widely. Many students are likely to apply only to judges in the state in which they attended law school. However, this strategy may limit a candidate to only the most competitive districts in the country. It's a good idea to apply across the country.

(2) Apply with a targeted strategy. Sending out a hundred applications all across the country may not be helpful if the candidate does not target his or her applications. For instance, it may be helpful to target judges in your home state (not where you attended law school); judges who are alumni of your law school, as well as judges who are alumni of your undergraduate institution or even high school; judges who share the same interests; or judges who have a demonstrated hiring tendency.

(3) Stand out. Almost all clerkship applicants are highly qualified and have very impressive résumés, so it helps to show (either in your cover letter or résumé) something that you believe makes you particularly well-qualified (such as achieving the highest grade in your legal writing class) or something that makes you more interesting than the next person (college athletics, military service, overcoming hardship, etc.)."

Janice Victoria Arellano

2012 JIOP Alum

Judicial Clerk for Judge Kevin M. Shanahan, J.S.C., of the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division

"Whether applying for a clerkship in federal or state court, you should learn as much as you can about the judge and the particular position before submitting your application. Do not rely on mail merge, and if you do, tailor your application to the specific district, division, or judge. In your cover letter, express the reasons why you want to clerk for the one- or two-year term and what particular skills you will bring to the clerkship. Highlighting your writing skills (whether on a journal, as a research assistant, or in publications) is a given, but also highlighting your personality goes a long way. Try to show in your cover letter that you are more than just a legal researcher and writer and that you also have interests outside of the law. In my experience, judges want to see a well-rounded individual, a life-long learner, someone who can withstand constructive feedback, and most importantly someone with whom they can work in chambers every day."

Victoria Nsikak

2010 JIOP Alum

Judicial Clerk for Judge Renee Harris Toliver of the Northern District of Texas

"Take advantage of opportunities to improve your legal writing skills. Join a law review or get something published in a law journal. Network and attend events where judges are present for better name-to-face recognition. Maintain contact with friends who have clerked and can recommend you."

Philip Person

2009 JIOP Alum

Judicial Clerk for Chief Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange of the Western District of Oklahoma

"Besides the obvious advice of doing well in school, I would say network and make your connections early. The legal community is not as large as one may think. A strong recommendation from someone the judge knows will likely result in your application being given serious consideration."

Julius J. Nam

2010 JIOP Alum

Judicial Clerk for Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym of the Central District of California, Judge Virginia A. Phillips of the Central District of California, and Judge Arthur L. Alarcón of the Ninth Circuit

"Develop strong positive relationships with professors and employers. Also, develop strong positive relationships with your classmates and coworkers. Your classmates and coworkers who are working as law clerks can become your resources, references, advocates, and interviewers."

Adaeze Teme

2012 JIOP Alum

Judicial Clerk for Judge Bethany G. Hicks of the Arizona Superior Court of Maricopa County

"As law students, we are all aware of the pedigree needed for a great clerkship, namely good grades. However, this is not everything. Your work ethic, attention to detail, and overall demeanor are equally a strong depiction and reflection of who you are. Present your best foot forward and go the extra mile—it matters and the judge notices. The fact that a judge is interested in you should tell you that your pedigree suits him or her, but in order for the judge to hire and keep you, show him or her you—be personable, tenacious, assertive, but humble."

Aura Lichtenberg

2009 JIOP Alum

Judicial Clerk for Judge Richard J. Elrod of Cook County Law Division and Judge Ann Collins-Dole of Cook County Domestic Violence Division

"During JIOP, I wrote as many legal memorandums as I could and took any and every legal research assignment that was available to me. Two JIOP students were hired my year, and I wrote six memos over six weeks compared to the other JIOP student who wrote two memos over six weeks. It was my best experience in learning how to write for a judge, what a judge looks for when deciding a case, and the kinds of cases a judge wants to read. I tried to figure out how the judges really thought and analyzed each case. I emphasized my writing experience for each clerkship interview I had after that and, subsequently, for my law clerk jobs during law school and my associate position now."

Christopher Lopez-Loftis

2012 JIOP Alum

Judicial Clerk for Judge Kenneth M. Hoyt of the Southern District of Texas

"One should methodically develop a plan early for applying for clerkship opportunities. Most judges select their law clerks a year or so in advance of the term start date, so apply early. Of course, good grades, law review or law journal experience, and a solid legal writing sample should be an essential part of the equation. But the intangibles are what set a candidate apart from the applicant pool. Judges receive thousands of applications from very competitive applicants for only a few positions. One way to differentiate yourself from other candidates is to cultivate relationships with the judge and his or her staff. That way, if you are a desirable candidate, your application can be placed at the top of the list for consideration. A great way to do this is by completing internships with a judge's chambers as a law student. This will give you the unique opportunity to make an impression on the judge, gain intimate knowledge of the court system, and gain insight on his or her clerkship application process. Law clerks are relied upon to make important decisions on behalf of the judge, so judges seek candidates that they can trust. As a result, it is pertinent that a potential candidate for a clerkship demonstrates that he or she is trustworthy and capable of doing the job.

Another pertinent part to the equation is legal experience. Law school provides great opportunities to gain valuable legal experience that will make one more marketable. Diversifying your experience is never a bad idea because one common variable about most legal jobs is legal research and writing. The more experience you gain, the more likely you will get opportunities to hone in on your legal research and writing ability, which is essential to the role of a law clerk."

Keywords: litigation, Judicial Intern Opportunity Program, JIOP, judicial clerkship, application

Cheryl Turner – March 8, 2016