Declining A Clerkship/Does it always make sense to clerk?

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Declining A Clerkship/Does it always make sense to clerk?

Postby Anonymous User » Sun Aug 05, 2018 2:00 pm

I've been applying to (federal) clerkships since I knew clerkships were a thing, which was early 2L year. I've sent over 150 applications out with very limited success--I got one interview while I was still in law school. I applied all over the country, to flyover districts, courts in cities with populations of less than 10k, and so on. I'd read article after article about how great clerking was for like 95% of the people who clerked, and I enjoyed my own judicial internship experience, so I knew it was something I wanted to do prior to going to Biglaw.

Alas, it wasn't to be--I wasn't able to secure a clerkship before starting work. But I've kept applying, though not at the same pace, because clerking was still something I wanted to do and I believed would be valuable experience for later in my career. Plus, it'd look very good on the resume for future job applications. But I've been wondering recently if the benefits of clerking now are as significant as they were when I was about graduate law school.

For context, I graduated with honors from a T14 last year, which places me around the Top 25% of my class. I've been working for a year at a firm whose hours aren't crazy, provide solid opportunities for growth and development, and only have me on doc review for something like 10-20% of my time. Although there are things here and there that can be a little irritating at times, I enjoy my job and find it fulfilling. The firm is especially encouraging towards pro bono work (tho I wish they would count more of it for billable credit), and that is something I've been able to take advantage of and value a lot.

Recently, I was able to publish one of the papers I wrote in law school in a decently respected law review, and since then, in conjunction with my experience and law school rank/performance, my clerkship luck has changed--I've gotten interviews for 2 of the last 3 applications I sent in. I narrowly missed out on the job for the first one in a major city, and am waiting to hear back from on the second.

A conversation with the federal district judge during the second interview has had me thinking for some time. During the interview, the judge asked me if I'd done doc review for most of my first year, and I told him pretty much what I described above--that it had been fairly fulfilling, challenging work that really developed my writing and legal skills. At that point, the judge asked me "Are you sure you want to leave that for this?" He told me that though they did get a variety of civil cases, it was a fairly light docket where most cases settled and a substantial amount of the work would be dealing with prisoner litigation. He said that I should give some thought to whether the benefits of the clerkship would outweigh the benefits of continuing at my firm before accepting the offer to clerk, if it should be forthcoming. So that's what I've been weighing up the last couple of days. I've gone back and forth on the issue, so I'm hoping that opening this up to TLS will help me better weigh up my options prior to making a decision (if I am offered the job).

I know that if I was given the opportunity to clerk for a federal judge in the city I currently reside, or in a few other major cities, I would undoubtedly take it. And if I were to get a federal appellate clerkship anywhere, I would also take it. But is leaving my current job for a clerkship in a smaller district and light docket the right move? That's what I'm hoping y'all can help me with.

If more specifics are needed, let me know and I can PM you--I know the more specifics I provide the better the advice will be, but I'm also trying to avoid outing myself, so if additional details are needed PM is probably the way to go.

If you've read this far, I appreciate it, and thank you all for your thoughts.

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Re: Declining A Clerkship/Does it always make sense to clerk?

Postby Anonymous User » Sun Aug 05, 2018 2:43 pm

It sounds like you are trying to check a box off your resume for prestige purposes that is drilled into the student psyches by some, if not most, of T-14 clerkship placement offices, but don't actually know whether it's worth it and that if you don't do it something is wrong.

Clerking for a federal judge at any level in any jurisdiction is a great honor (check out OSCAR's statistics to see what a bloodbath the process is), but the job involves intensive research and writing in a small environment with varying amounts of contact between yourself, other chambers, and the public depending on what level you clerk at and how chummy clerks in other chambers are. Judges and career clerks themselves can also be distant and exhibit the same host of personality issues found in legal environments large and small, public and private. It also can include some administrative tasks (answering phones, organizing a courtroom/conference room, docketing, etc.) You'll get varying amounts of feedback on your writing and for the most part see average lawyering, and maybe 1 - 3 trials over the course of a year. Depending on how active your judge is and how extensive his/her clerkship network is, it may be easier to transfer markets or transition to government work, but that varies judge-by-judge. If this type of environment does not interest you in a term of service ranging from 12-48 months I would seriously reconsider. Personally, I loved my clerkships but I enjoyed the fundamental tasks of the job, didn't mind the isolation, and was content with the fact that my judge was limited in what he/she could do in going to bat for me.

Some Additional Food-for Thought

Unless the judge or staff specifically indicated that he/she was accepting of a clerkship applicant declining an extended offer, if you are unsure you want to clerk for that particular judge in that geographic area, proper etiquette is to withdraw immediately following the interview and, honestly, not to accept interview offers where, after contemplation, you would have any doubts about accepting an offer. Those doubts really should be assessed prior to the point of application. The judge, and in some cases chambers' staff, can do a lot of behind-the-scenes legwork talking through whether you are the optimal candidate whose personality will mesh with everyone. It's not a plug-and-play hiring decision like OCI or 3L hiring that you may be accustomed to. I can only speak to the two chambers I clerked in, but in both there was an underlying assumption that if the judge extended an offer it was accepted - maybe not on the spot- but within 24-48 hours afterwards. It was taken as unprofessional and inconsiderate to decline at that point because of the intimate nature of the position - the judge really wants to work with you and believes it will be an optimal experience for everyone. So, a rejection is taken just as personally and reneging after accepting (beyond a personal health or family issue) would be taken even worse and probably result in some negative feelings towards you, your firm, and law school.

If you would clerk for a dj or mj only in your current city - only apply to those judges. Unless your firm would allow you to come back, moving to a major city that's out of market may not benefit you beyond making it easier to transition into that market. The vast vast majority of djs and mjs have the greatest "pull" in their immediate districts and those immediately surrounding them, but beyond that not so much. If you would clerk for a COA judge in any location then canvass every circuit so you do not have any doubts.

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Re: Declining A Clerkship/Does it always make sense to clerk?

Postby Anonymous User » Sun Aug 05, 2018 3:22 pm

I think the judge was doing you a favor in being very open about what the experience is like in their chambers, and maybe giving you the chance to withdraw before making an offer. (As an aside: I don't think rejecting an offer is always as dire as the anon above suggests; it's very judge-specific. Both judges I clerked for gave me a month to consider the offer with turning it down being a real possibility, largely based on some personal circumstances, but they were very humane/normal about it.)

Anyway, what the judge suggested is definitely something to consider. They may be more from an era when it was standard to clerk straight out and people didn't really do it after getting some experience, so the idea of giving up your job at the firm/moving/etc. just doesn't quite compute. It is certainly often more disruptive that way, and I can see a judge being anxious about having someone give up that kind of stuff for the job.

I think the big question is why you want to clerk - is it going to help you with a future employment goal, like going to government? Or all the partners at your firm have clerked? Or do you want to do it purely for the value of the experience itself? Because if you have a job you like at a good firm, even you don't end up staying there forever, if you want to stay in the private sector or go in-house, getting more firm experience might, in the long run, be more helpful.

I really enjoyed clerking and think it was great experience, but I didn't interrupt a job to do it, and ended up taking a job that I wouldn't have been able to get without the clerkship. So it's really a question of your personal priorities, I think. (I know that's not super helpful, sorry.)

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Re: Declining A Clerkship/Does it always make sense to clerk?

Postby Anonymous User » Sun Aug 05, 2018 3:25 pm

Anonymous User wrote:It sounds like you are trying to check a box off your resume for prestige purposes that is drilled into the student psyches by some, if not most, of T-14 clerkship placement offices, but don't actually know whether it's worth it and that if you don't do it something is wrong.

Clerking for a federal judge at any level in any jurisdiction is a great honor (check out OSCAR's statistics to see what a bloodbath the process is), but the job involves intensive research and writing in a small environment with varying amounts of contact between yourself, other chambers, and the public depending on what level you clerk at and how chummy clerks in other chambers are. Judges and career clerks themselves can also be distant and exhibit the same host of personality issues found in legal environments large and small, public and private. It also can include some administrative tasks (answering phones, organizing a courtroom/conference room, docketing, etc.) You'll get varying amounts of feedback on your writing and for the most part see average lawyering, and maybe 1 - 3 trials over the course of a year. Depending on how active your judge is and how extensive his/her clerkship network is, it may be easier to transfer markets or transition to government work, but that varies judge-by-judge. If this type of environment does not interest you in a term of service ranging from 12-48 months I would seriously reconsider. Personally, I loved my clerkships but I enjoyed the fundamental tasks of the job, didn't mind the isolation, and was content with the fact that my judge was limited in what he/she could do in going to bat for me.


First of all, thanks for taking the time to share all of this with me, it is much appreciated.

I am definitely well aware of how difficult it is to get a clerkship--like I said, I've had over 100 no-answers or rejections. And I talked at length with the outgoing clerk and career clerk about the work environment--not a problem for me. I'm a fairly social person by nature but able to function just fine in a small work environment with some degree of isolation. My primary concern is that I may be passing up on an important stage of development at a good firm for a clerkship that may not have the same degree of benefit, as the judge indicated. But I completely understand the viewpoint that all clerkships are helpful, formative experiences that should not necessarily be weighed up based on how extensive your judge's contacts are or active your judge is.

Anonymous User wrote:
Some Additional Food-for Thought

Unless the judge or staff specifically indicated that he/she was accepting of a clerkship applicant declining an extended offer, if you are unsure you want to clerk for that particular judge in that geographic area, proper etiquette is to withdraw immediately following the interview and, honestly, not to accept interview offers where, after contemplation, you would have any doubts about accepting an offer. Those doubts really should be assessed prior to the point of application. The judge, and in some cases chambers' staff, can do a lot of behind-the-scenes legwork talking through whether you are the optimal candidate whose personality will mesh with everyone. It's not a plug-and-play hiring decision like OCI or 3L hiring that you may be accustomed to. I can only speak to the two chambers I clerked in, but in both there was an underlying assumption that if the judge extended an offer it was accepted - maybe not on the spot- but within 24-48 hours afterwards. It was taken as unprofessional and inconsiderate to decline at that point because of the intimate nature of the position - the judge really wants to work with you and believes it will be an optimal experience for everyone. So, a rejection is taken just as personally and reneging after accepting (beyond a personal health or family issue) would be taken even worse and probably result in some negative feelings towards you, your firm, and law school.

If you would clerk for a dj or mj only in your current city - only apply to those judges. Unless your firm would allow you to come back, moving to a major city that's out of market may not benefit you beyond making it easier to transition into that market. The vast vast majority of djs and mjs have the greatest "pull" in their immediate districts and those immediately surrounding them, but beyond that not so much. If you would clerk for a COA judge in any location then canvass every circuit so you do not have any doubts.


Definitely, understand this and it is the mentality I typically have when applying for clerkships. It was the mentality I had applying for this clerkship as well. I am only considering not accepting b/c 1) the judge opened the door to it being okay to do so, and 2) I was surprised by how light the docket and limited the judge's activity was, and worried, as he indicated might be the case, that the benefit might not be there vis a vis my current work experiences. I am confident that the judge would understand if I declined, considering he himself told me I should consider if clerking would be more valuable than continuing with my firm.

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Re: Declining A Clerkship/Does it always make sense to clerk?

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Aug 07, 2018 5:08 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:It sounds like you are trying to check a box off your resume for prestige purposes that is drilled into the student psyches by some, if not most, of T-14 clerkship placement offices, but don't actually know whether it's worth it and that if you don't do it something is wrong.

Clerking for a federal judge at any level in any jurisdiction is a great honor (check out OSCAR's statistics to see what a bloodbath the process is), but the job involves intensive research and writing in a small environment with varying amounts of contact between yourself, other chambers, and the public depending on what level you clerk at and how chummy clerks in other chambers are. Judges and career clerks themselves can also be distant and exhibit the same host of personality issues found in legal environments large and small, public and private. It also can include some administrative tasks (answering phones, organizing a courtroom/conference room, docketing, etc.) You'll get varying amounts of feedback on your writing and for the most part see average lawyering, and maybe 1 - 3 trials over the course of a year. Depending on how active your judge is and how extensive his/her clerkship network is, it may be easier to transfer markets or transition to government work, but that varies judge-by-judge. If this type of environment does not interest you in a term of service ranging from 12-48 months I would seriously reconsider. Personally, I loved my clerkships but I enjoyed the fundamental tasks of the job, didn't mind the isolation, and was content with the fact that my judge was limited in what he/she could do in going to bat for me.


First of all, thanks for taking the time to share all of this with me, it is much appreciated.

I am definitely well aware of how difficult it is to get a clerkship--like I said, I've had over 100 no-answers or rejections. And I talked at length with the outgoing clerk and career clerk about the work environment--not a problem for me. I'm a fairly social person by nature but able to function just fine in a small work environment with some degree of isolation. My primary concern is that I may be passing up on an important stage of development at a good firm for a clerkship that may not have the same degree of benefit, as the judge indicated. But I completely understand the viewpoint that all clerkships are helpful, formative experiences that should not necessarily be weighed up based on how extensive your judge's contacts are or active your judge is.

Anonymous User wrote:
Some Additional Food-for Thought

Unless the judge or staff specifically indicated that he/she was accepting of a clerkship applicant declining an extended offer, if you are unsure you want to clerk for that particular judge in that geographic area, proper etiquette is to withdraw immediately following the interview and, honestly, not to accept interview offers where, after contemplation, you would have any doubts about accepting an offer. Those doubts really should be assessed prior to the point of application. The judge, and in some cases chambers' staff, can do a lot of behind-the-scenes legwork talking through whether you are the optimal candidate whose personality will mesh with everyone. It's not a plug-and-play hiring decision like OCI or 3L hiring that you may be accustomed to. I can only speak to the two chambers I clerked in, but in both there was an underlying assumption that if the judge extended an offer it was accepted - maybe not on the spot- but within 24-48 hours afterwards. It was taken as unprofessional and inconsiderate to decline at that point because of the intimate nature of the position - the judge really wants to work with you and believes it will be an optimal experience for everyone. So, a rejection is taken just as personally and reneging after accepting (beyond a personal health or family issue) would be taken even worse and probably result in some negative feelings towards you, your firm, and law school.

If you would clerk for a dj or mj only in your current city - only apply to those judges. Unless your firm would allow you to come back, moving to a major city that's out of market may not benefit you beyond making it easier to transition into that market. The vast vast majority of djs and mjs have the greatest "pull" in their immediate districts and those immediately surrounding them, but beyond that not so much. If you would clerk for a COA judge in any location then canvass every circuit so you do not have any doubts.


Definitely, understand this and it is the mentality I typically have when applying for clerkships. It was the mentality I had applying for this clerkship as well. I am only considering not accepting b/c 1) the judge opened the door to it being okay to do so, and 2) I was surprised by how light the docket and limited the judge's activity was, and worried, as he indicated might be the case, that the benefit might not be there vis a vis my current work experiences. I am confident that the judge would understand if I declined, considering he himself told me I should consider if clerking would be more valuable than continuing with my firm.



I clerked after gaining pretty substantial experience after 2.5 years of biglaw, with little to no doc review and really substantive work. I think it's been worth it. Although our docket isn't light, the job is a 9-5, which, to be honest is the best part. But aside from having a chance to work a 9-5, I learned a lot. At the district court level, you just get to see a ton of filings. After seeing so many filings, you really learn big picture procedure, and also learn what works and does not work during motion practice. I sort of figured out what is and is not persuasive just being the one having to decide the papers. I think there are certain small things you can pick up that make clerking really valuable. I don't know if you need a year to pick it up, but it's definitely been worthwhile for me.

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Re: Declining A Clerkship/Does it always make sense to clerk?

Postby Anonymous User » Sat Aug 11, 2018 11:54 pm

OP here. Thank y'all for your advice, it really is very much appreciated. After reflecting for a bit, I ended up taking the job; I've wanted to clerk forever and hopefully biglaw will still be there after I clerk. I'm excited for the year to come.



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