Some students erroneously believe that only federal clerkships are a valuable asset to a legal career. To the contrary, while different clerkships may be assigned a different prestige value, most employers value any type of clerkship experience on a résumé. This is because a clerkship provides new attorneys with an intense research and writing experience, as well as familiarizes them with the inner workings of the judicial system.
The question remains, how does one target judges or courts for their applications? Students are urged to consider the following factors:
Location: Like with any other legal employer, judges tend to look for clerks who have some tie to their local geographic region. Judges often hope to mentor a new attorney who will practice and get involved in the local legal community. Ties to a geographic locale may include family, friends or significant others in the area, a college or other school experience in the area, previous work experience, or even a visit that introduced you to the place you hoped to be your future home.
Competitiveness of Court: If your dream is to land a federal clerkship or an appellate court clerkship in a particular state, you may want to consider applying to less competitive jurisdictions in addition to the more competitive metropolitan areas that may be your first choice. The most competitive jurisdictions for clerkships are those in the Washington, DC, New York and Chicago areas (Fourth, Second, Seventh, DC and Federal Circuits). California is a close second (Ninth Circuit). Think about applying for federal clerkships in other areas, such as the Mid-West, Northeast and Southern states.
Similar Interests/Ideology: A little research will tell you where judges worked before taking the bench, what kinds of community activities judges have been involved in, and who appointed a particular judge (if not elected). All of this background may lead you to certain commonalities that you share with particular judges, and may give you an edge in the application process. For example, if you want to become a prosecutor, clerking for a judge that worked for the U.S. Attorney's Office may provide you with an ally in your post-clerkship job search. Your political preferences may also play a role as you target judges, but keep in mind that many judges will not make decisions along "party lines" as a member of the independent judiciary.
Personality: According to judges, personality is often a key factor in determining which candidate will become their next clerk. As with any other job, judges' personalities vary widely and you may prefer a certain personality type in your supervisors. The best resources for finding out information about judges are people who have dealt with them regularly: previous clerks, previous interns, or practitioners. See OCPD's Judicial Clerkship handout for a list of names.
Senior Judges: Some courts allow their judges to select "senior status" when they reach a certain age. These judges often do much of the same work as a regular judge, but sometimes their caseloads are reduced, or they've limited certain types of issues they deal with by choice. This is a wonderful clerkship experience that is often overlooked by graduating law students, thus oftentimes making them a less competitive option.