SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jun 10, 2014 4:15 pm

Tips on approaching the clerkship process if you have a fairly strong record (top 5% at HYS) but not a very strong record (top 1% at HYS)? I want to clerk, but I'm not taking the possibility of a SCOTUS clerkship too seriously. I know where I apply will come down to personal preferences, but I'm just curious as to what your strategy would be in that position (without revealing too much about yourself, of course)?

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jun 10, 2014 4:21 pm

Anonymous User wrote:Any thoughts on selling yourself or how to answer interview questions where you have demonstrated interest/expertise in fields besides constitutional law? I've published articles in a field pretty far away from constitutional law (one of the traditional state law fields).


Publishing good papers on any topic is good. It shows discipline, an ability to maintain a schedule, writing skill, writing practice, and intellectual curiosity. That they're on con law is just a bonus. The vast majority of the Court's docket isn't con law, and many of the in-the-know think the con law is some of the least intellectually disciplined work that federal courts do. I'd bet someone doing serious papers on statutory interpretation or sentencing law would get more respect than a paper on, I don't know, the takings clause, all considered.

In other words, I think your question has a mistaken premise: namely that a demonstrated interest in con law is a prerequisite to the position.

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jun 10, 2014 4:23 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:Any thoughts on selling yourself or how to answer interview questions where you have demonstrated interest/expertise in fields besides constitutional law? I've published articles in a field pretty far away from constitutional law (one of the traditional state law fields).


Publishing good papers on any topic is good. It shows discipline, an ability to maintain a schedule, writing skill, writing practice, and intellectual curiosity. That they're on con law is just a bonus. The vast majority of the Court's docket isn't con law, and many of the in-the-know think the con law is some of the least intellectually disciplined work that federal courts do. I'd bet someone doing serious papers on statutory interpretation or sentencing law would get more respect than a paper on, I don't know, the takings clause, all considered.

In other words, I think your question has a mistaken premise: namely that a demonstrated interest in con law is a prerequisite to the position.


Thanks for the response. Glad to hear my premise was off base.

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jun 10, 2014 4:25 pm

Anonymous User wrote:Tips on approaching the clerkship process if you have a fairly strong record (top 5% at HYS) but not a very strong record (top 1% at HYS)? I want to clerk, but I'm not taking the possibility of a SCOTUS clerkship too seriously. I know where I apply will come down to personal preferences, but I'm just curious as to what your strategy would be in that position (without revealing too much about yourself, of course)?


This is OP. I would blanket CADC, all feeders (placements >= 10), and the circuits I found geographically appealing. If I had some interest in academia I would also blanket CA2 and CA9, because the academy possesses the belief these are "better" circuits. (This is not shared in SCOTUS hiring generally, but SCOTUS isn't everything.) I might also blanket DDC and SDNY for good measure, especially if I didn't have a strong interest in appellate work.

If you aren't gung-ho on high-end appellate work or clerking for SCOTUS, a COA clerkship in a place you like living or the place you want to start your career is really all about the judge and location and not much else. Most judges are good, smart people who love their clerks -- not like, really, actually love -- and will help you as much as possible. Tiebreakers: I'd focus on younger judges (more years to become closer) and judges of your political party (this matters).
Last edited by Anonymous User on Tue Jun 10, 2014 4:25 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby Citizen Genet » Tue Jun 10, 2014 4:25 pm

Anonymous User wrote: I'd bet someone doing serious papers on statutory interpretation or sentencing law would get more respect than a paper on, I don't know, the takings clause, all considered.


Egregious anti-Will Baude trolling.

(But seriously, thanks for doing this.)

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jun 10, 2014 4:27 pm

Citizen Genet wrote:
Anonymous User wrote: I'd bet someone doing serious papers on statutory interpretation or sentencing law would get more respect than a paper on, I don't know, the takings clause, all considered.


Egregious anti-Will Baude trolling.

(But seriously, thanks for doing this.)


This is OP. Most would-be academics don't understand arbitrage. Most would-be SCOTUS clerks don't either. Lawyers don't do arbitrage well. At first approximation, write a good paper on a topic nobody's thought about rather than one everyone's thought about and you have a much stronger chance of making an impression.

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jun 10, 2014 4:28 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:Any thoughts on selling yourself or how to answer interview questions where you have demonstrated interest/expertise in fields besides constitutional law? I've published articles in a field pretty far away from constitutional law (one of the traditional state law fields).


Publishing good papers on any topic is good. It shows discipline, an ability to maintain a schedule, writing skill, writing practice, and intellectual curiosity. That they're on con law is just a bonus. The vast majority of the Court's docket isn't con law, and many of the in-the-know think the con law is some of the least intellectually disciplined work that federal courts do. I'd bet someone doing serious papers on statutory interpretation or sentencing law would get more respect than a paper on, I don't know, the takings clause, all considered.

In other words, I think your question has a mistaken premise: namely that a demonstrated interest in con law is a prerequisite to the position.


Thanks for the response. Glad to hear my premise was off base.


This is OP. It is infinitely more helpful to demonstrate an understanding of, say, AEDPA than it is to have a novel theory of standing for a SCOTUS interview/application. People get this wrong almost every time.
Last edited by Anonymous User on Tue Jun 10, 2014 4:30 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jun 10, 2014 4:30 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:Any thoughts on selling yourself or how to answer interview questions where you have demonstrated interest/expertise in fields besides constitutional law? I've published articles in a field pretty far away from constitutional law (one of the traditional state law fields).


Publishing good papers on any topic is good. It shows discipline, an ability to maintain a schedule, writing skill, writing practice, and intellectual curiosity. That they're on con law is just a bonus. The vast majority of the Court's docket isn't con law, and many of the in-the-know think the con law is some of the least intellectually disciplined work that federal courts do. I'd bet someone doing serious papers on statutory interpretation or sentencing law would get more respect than a paper on, I don't know, the takings clause, all considered.

In other words, I think your question has a mistaken premise: namely that a demonstrated interest in con law is a prerequisite to the position.


Thanks for the response. Glad to hear my premise was off base.


It is infinitely more helpful to demonstrate an understanding of, say, AEDPA than it is to have a novel theory of standing for a SCOTUS interview/application. People get this wrong almost every time.


Well, think something that's a classic state law field as opposed to AEDPA, but yeah that's great to hear. And thank you again for taking so much time to answer these questions.

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby Doorkeeper » Tue Jun 10, 2014 4:30 pm

Citizen Genet wrote:
Anonymous User wrote: I'd bet someone doing serious papers on statutory interpretation or sentencing law would get more respect than a paper on, I don't know, the takings clause, all considered.


Egregious anti-Will Baude trolling.

(But seriously, thanks for doing this.)

lol'd hard at this.

I'm surprised by how much you're emphasizing ideology in the clerkship hiring process. Those advising me about clerking have made it sound like a CoA judge is an outlier for explicitly having ideological litmus tests for their clerks (I'm thinking O'Scannlain here as an example) and that most will reach across the spectrum regularly. I'm not surprised that you're saying this matter at SC level (even though it seems most SC judges do occasionally hire clerks from across the spectrum), but you seem to be pushing it farther down as well.
Last edited by Doorkeeper on Tue Jun 10, 2014 4:32 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jun 10, 2014 4:32 pm

This is OP. I understand, and I'm saying that con law is overrated in terms of importance for the Court. Now it's better to have a federal interest than a state one. But it's much more important to write good papers than mediocre ones. To give you a rough estimate, think it's worth, I don't know, 100 points to write a great paper on a federal topic, 80 points to write a great paper on a state law topic, and like, 40 points to write an alright paper on a federal topic.

That may be an overstatement. Maybe zero for a merely alright paper. The competition is fierce and many candidates have written plural publications.

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jun 10, 2014 4:34 pm

Do the justices, in hiring, care at all about diversity? (I use that term broadly to include women as well as racial/ethnic minorities.)

---> Thank you for your willingness to answer questions.

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jun 10, 2014 4:37 pm

Doorkeeper wrote:
Citizen Genet wrote:
Anonymous User wrote: I'd bet someone doing serious papers on statutory interpretation or sentencing law would get more respect than a paper on, I don't know, the takings clause, all considered.


Egregious anti-Will Baude trolling.

(But seriously, thanks for doing this.)

lol'd hard at this.

I'm surprised by how much you're emphasizing ideology in the clerkship hiring process. Those advising me about clerking have made it sound like a CoA judge is an outlier for explicitly having ideological litmus tests for their clerks (I'm thinking O'Scannlain here as an example) and that most will reach across the spectrum regularly. I'm not surprised that you're saying this matter at SC level (even though it seems most SC judges do occasionally hire clerks from across the spectrum), but you seem to be pushing it farther down as well.


This is OP.

It matters much more at the SCOTUS level than the COA level, but it still matters for many feeders. Many. There are some feeders that just go for best all-around athletes, e.g. Kavanaugh. But O'Scannlain cares, Garland, Posner, Tatel, Sentelle, Boudin, Reinhardt, Kozinski, Pryor, Gorsuch, Easterbrook, Jones, Ginsburg, Tymkovich care, in fact, much of CADC cares, Wilkinson sort of cares... many, many of the "name-brand" judges care. A lot. It may not fit exactly with left/right politics, but they care. Shouldn't they? Granted, maybe 80-90 don't care. The vast majority don't care! But if you weighted the votes by SCOTUS clerk placement, yes, a vast supermajority care.

That said, SCOTUS isn't everything. Most COA judges do not care that much. It's just nice to know you're on the same side as your judge as a matter of worldview, if you can help it.

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby Citizen Genet » Tue Jun 10, 2014 4:39 pm

Since we're beating this horse, let me ask you to take another swing. When you say a "good paper," you are referring to quality of analysis. An obscure topic that's written about well is fine, right?

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jun 10, 2014 4:40 pm

If you can answer these sort of questions, what would you say is the biggest mistake applicants/interviewees make? On the flip side, is there anything that is particularly impressive or helpful to a person's candidacy or otherwise made them stand out?

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jun 10, 2014 4:41 pm

Anonymous User wrote:Do the justices, in hiring, care at all about diversity? (I use that term broadly to include women as well as racial/ethnic minorities.)

---> Thank you for your willingness to answer questions.


This is OP.

This is a hard question to answer because the truth will sound a little like polemic. I hope I've bought enough credibility by being here that my answer will be taken at face value.

The fact is that SCOTUS draws its pool from the best of the best out of the COA clerks, and not much else. That pool is overwhelmingly white-ish and male. The very very best candidates are overwhelmingly white, or at least not URM, think 85%+, and about 3/4 male. I think that the Justices rarely care about identity traits in hiring: they really want the best candidates from the available pool.

One could raise a number of possible rejoinders re: COA clerk hiring. I am not interested in that discussion even a little bit, either to support or critique the current hiring model. The fact is that the COA clerk pool is overwhelmingly "non-diverse," to use a euphemism. So that's who gets hired. My observations suggest this is not an irrational outcome.

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jun 10, 2014 4:44 pm

Citizen Genet wrote:Since we're beating this horse, let me ask you to take another swing. When you say a "good paper," you are referring to quality of analysis. An obscure topic that's written about well is fine, right?


This is OP.

Quality of writing matters much more than quality of topic, which matters, but mostly matters in as much as no one should read your topic and go: "who cares about this nonsense?"

Many academic articles fail this test, FYI.

When I say "good paper," I mean "paper that has a properly narrow scope and executes well, through clear writing, a well-defined methodology, and honest analysis." What most people would think of as "good writing."

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jun 10, 2014 4:48 pm

Anonymous User wrote:If you can answer these sort of questions, what would you say is the biggest mistake applicants/interviewees make? On the flip side, is there anything that is particularly impressive or helpful to a person's candidacy or otherwise made them stand out?


This is OP. I can answer this.

Biggest mistake: acting like you deserve or already have the job. Many of the best candidates on paper have already been crowned in their heads. They act like it. It comes off. It is repulsive. Most SCOTUS clerks know that there were five other candidates that were every bit as gilded as they were that never got in the door for every one of them. This usually imparts some temporary humility. Hell, it's why I'm here, answering questions. If you avoid acting like that guy, you'll avoid most of the big pitfalls.

Particularly impressive? A professor saying "this is the single best student I've ever had." That works well. Same with a judge. But those are easy and obvious. What's "particularly impressive" varies by justice and even by clerk pool. But I'd say that anything that would strike you as impressive for a law student would count. Are you quadrilingual? Did you play the cello in a major city's Philharmonic? Can you read Ovid in the original Latin? These are all pretty damn impressive. (I've known clerks that have done all of these.)

It's hard to say what grabs someone's eye.

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby Doorkeeper » Tue Jun 10, 2014 4:50 pm

Have you been constantly turning your head over your shoulders today in order to see if your fellow clerks have noticed that you're on TLS?

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jun 10, 2014 4:55 pm

Doorkeeper wrote:Have you been constantly turning your head over your shoulders today in order to see if your fellow clerks have noticed that you're on TLS?


This is OP. I am not answering questions designed to flush out if I'm a current clerk. Please don't ask things designed to figure out my identity, or this whole thing ends.

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby Doorkeeper » Tue Jun 10, 2014 5:29 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Doorkeeper wrote:Have you been constantly turning your head over your shoulders today in order to see if your fellow clerks have noticed that you're on TLS?


This is OP. I am not answering questions designed to flush out if I'm a current clerk. Please don't ask things designed to figure out my identity, or this whole thing ends.

I totally meant it as a joke, but I understand your concern!

The image of a clerk sitting in chambers looking over his shoulders to hide his constant TLS refreshing was really funny for me to imagine.
Last edited by Doorkeeper on Tue Jun 10, 2014 5:30 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jun 10, 2014 5:30 pm

Doorkeeper wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:
Doorkeeper wrote:Have you been constantly turning your head over your shoulders today in order to see if your fellow clerks have noticed that you're on TLS?


This is OP. I am not answering questions designed to flush out if I'm a current clerk. Please don't ask things designed to figure out my identity, or this whole thing ends.

I totally meant it as a joke, but I understand your concern!

The image of a clerk sitting in chambers looking over his shoulders to hide a TLS addiction was really funny for me to imagine.


This is OP. To be fair, that's a pretty funny image.

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jun 10, 2014 5:53 pm

Thanks for doing this.

Can you comment at all on the chances of landing a clerkship with a feeder judge without accepting an offer to summer at a top firm? Assume the reason is geographical preference for a smaller market. For instance, is summering at a top DC firm pretty much necessary to land a DC COA clerkship? Really don't want to work in a major market, but my grades give me an outside shot at some of the more selective judges and I don't want to kill my chances.

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jun 10, 2014 6:03 pm

Anonymous User wrote:Thanks for doing this.

Can you comment at all on the chances of landing a clerkship with a feeder judge without accepting an offer to summer at a top firm? Assume the reason is geographical preference for a smaller market. For instance, is summering at a top DC firm pretty much necessary to land a DC COA clerkship? Really don't want to work in a major market, but my grades give me an outside shot at some of the more selective judges and I don't want to kill my chances.


This is OP. Grades, LR, recommendations are what matter. I do not believe most judges care where you summered unless they had a relationship with the firm. No one pretends that people apply for CADC clerkships because they like DC.

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby Bumi » Tue Jun 10, 2014 6:09 pm

How frequently do you see SCOTUS clerks who also clerked for an Article I or state judge prior to a COA clerkship?

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jun 10, 2014 6:17 pm

Bumi wrote:How frequently do you see SCOTUS clerks who also clerked for an Article I or state judge prior to a COA clerkship?


This is OP. It is extremely rare (maybe two or three a decade), but not unheard of.



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