Judicial clerkships allow young lawyers the opportunity to work closely with a judge for a year or two after graduation, providing valuable insight into the judicial process and exposure to numerous areas of the law. Clerkships are available in federal and state courts, at both the appellate and trial level.
What Do Judicial Clerks Do?
Basically, a judicial clerk does what the judge does. A clerk for an appellate court judge will spend a great deal of time researching and writing, often writing the first draft of opinions. Clerks at the trial court assist the judge in managing all phases of litigation, including motion practice, discovery issues, settlement conferences, jury selection, and conduct of trials.
Considering a Judicial Clerkship?
When considering a judicial clerkship, keep in mind that there are many different types of judges who hire clerks, and consider the wide range of opportunities available from various courts.
- U.S. Supreme Court (candidates for the ultimate clerkship have already completed a clerkship at a federal appellate court)
- U.S. Court of Appeals
- U.S. District Courts (including Magistrates)
- State Supreme Courts
- State Appellate Courts
- State Trial Courts
- Special Federal Courts (Bankruptcy Court; Tax Court; Veteran Appeals; Court of Federal Claims; International Trade; Immigration)
- Staff attorney positions
Finding a Judicial Clerkship
A large part of finding a judicial clerkship is doing the research. Procedures and timing can vary for each judge to whom you may want to apply, so it is important that you prepare yourself well in advance for the application process.
If you are considering a federal clerkship, please note that as of May 2, 2008, the Federal Law Clerk Information System (FLCIS) merged with the Online System for Clerkship Application and Review (OSCAR). To view the OSCAR website, please visit https://oscar.uscourts.gov.
If you are considering a clerkship in Missouri courts, please visit http://www.courts.mo.gov. From this site, you can gather information on the Supreme Court, appellate court, and circuit court judges. If you are considering state clerkships outside of Missouri, please visit the official state website of the state(s) that interest you.
If you would like to discuss the clerkship process, please feel free to stop by Room 103. We can also connect you to alumni who have served as judicial clerks. Please also feel free to discuss judicial clerkships with Professor Douglas Abrams, Chair of the School of Law’s Judicial Clerkship Committee, or any member of that committee.
Other Important Web Research Links
- National Court Sites Map
- Current Federal Judiciary Vacancies
- Future Federal Judiciary Vacancies
- Recent Judicial Confirmations
When Should You Apply?
While there are general guidelines for the timing of applications, keep in mind that each judge hires according to his or her own schedule. It is critical that you determine the application deadlines for the particular judges to whom you want to apply.
For Federal Clerkships
OSCAR provides an easily searchable list of federal judges and application information. Many federal judges prefer to receive application materials electronically via the OSCAR system. However, some judges prefer to receive mailed applications. Please visit OSCAR, https://oscar.uscourts.gov, to determine the particular application method each judge prefers. Please note that for judges opting to receive applications through OSCAR, all applications will be released to all judges on the same day (typically right after Labor Day).
Please note that students using OSCAR will need to create a student profile. A student profile must be created before a student can continue with letters of recommendation and other application procedures.
For State Clerkships
State judges do not participate in OSCAR, and hiring timelines vary from judge to judge. In Missouri, it is not unusual for some Supreme Court judges to interview students during the second semester of the 2L year. However, some Supreme Court judges will wait until the 3L year to interview candidates. For this reason, it is best to send an application packet to each Missouri Supreme Court judge during January of the 2L year.
If a judge indicates that he or she will wait until fall to interview students, feel free to send an updated cover letter, resume, and transcript to the judge(s) the summer before the 3L year. If you are interested in applying for clerkships with Missouri appellate judges or the circuit judges of Jackson County (16th Judicial Circuit), send an application packet to each judge in August before the 3L year.
If you are considering clerkships in other state courts, contact those courts over the semester break of the 2L year and ask about their hiring processes and deadlines.
What Materials Should You Send?
In general, a judicial clerkship application package includes the following:
If you are applying to a judge outside of OSCAR and need to mail your documents, your cover letter, resume, and transcript should all be sent in one packet. Letters of recommendation may also be mailed in that packet; however, each should be in a separate, sealed envelope and placed inside the larger packet of materials. Recommenders may also send letters separately to the court; if this is the case, please make sure your cover letter clearly states something to the effect of “My recommenders are mailing their recommendation letters directly to the court.” Please follow all directions that the judges or courts have established for their application processes.
Interviews and Offers
Clerks work very closely with their judges and judicial staff. For this reason, the judge will use the interview as a means to see who you are as a person and how personalities will blend in the office. The judge will also likely ask about items on your resume, the nature of your writing sample and the research you put into it, and your reasons for pursuing a judicial clerkship.
If you would like to schedule a practice interview with your Career Development Team, please stop by Room 103. We would be happy to help you go over some standard interview questions that may be asked.
If you are interested in clerking for a specialized court (such as the tax and bankruptcy courts), you may consider contacting faculty members who teach and/or write in that area. Moreover, a number of the MU Law faculty served as judicial clerks and would be happy to share their experiences with you.