The Catholic University of America

Office of Career and Professional Development

 

Judicial Internships vs. Judicial Clerkships

Judicial Internships
Judicial internships are volunteer positions, and provide an important opportunity to learn more about the judicial world before graduation. Often, judicial internships can lead to clerkships after graduation.

Judicial Clerkships
Among the most prestigious employment opportunities, clerkships provide new attorneys with the rare opportunity to observe the judicial decision-making process from a judge’s perspective. Usually lasting one or two years, clerkships provide a way to learn about effective advocacy, broaden one’s understanding of procedural issues, and gain exposure to a wide array of legal practice areas. Additionally, their significant legal knowledge and insider’s view of the court system make judicial clerks especially attractive candidates to prospective employers. A judicial clerk’s main duties include legal research, writing bench memoranda, drafting orders and opinions, proofreading and cite checking, communicating with counsel, and assisting the judge during courtroom proceedings.
 
  • Judicial Internships

    A judicial internship is a full or part time positon in a particular judge's chambers. An internship can take place during the summer or during the academic year. Judges in courts all over the country -- federal and state, trial and appellate -- hire judicial interns.
     
    Interning in a judge's chambers will provide you with a great deal of research and writing experience, as well as an opportunity to see first-hand how a courtroom works and how judicial decisions are made. Judicial internships can lead to great recommendations from judges for post-graduate judicial clerkships. The responsibilities assigned to a judicial intern will vary depending on the type of court and the caseload of the judge.
     

    Duties of a trial court intern may include reviewing motions, researching the applicable law, and drafting memoranda to assist the judge with his or her decisions. A trial court intern may also attend motion hearings or trials, interact with attorneys, parties and witnesses, and assist with the research and drafting of the judge's opinions.

    Duties of an appellate court intern may include reviewing case records, researching the applicable law, and drafting memoranda to assist the judge with his or her decisions. An appellate intern may also attend oral arguments and assist with the research and drafting of the judge's opinions.

     
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    Judicial Clerkships - Where to Apply?

    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.
     
    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.
     
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    • Clerkship Applications: General Information

      Generally, an application packet will include the following materials:
       
      1. Cover Letter. Your cover letter should be well-written and thoughtful, two to three paragraphs in length, and must explain why you want a clerkship or are applying to this particular judge/court.
       
      2. Résumé. Your résumé should be professional, have no typographical errors, and emphasize your research and writing experience, analytical skills, interest in the courtroom or judicial procedure, and ties to the jurisdiction.
       
      3. Writing Sample. Your writing sample should be either a scholarly article you have written for a law journal or a law school course, or a sample you wrote for an employer. It should also be your original work (not something edited by a supervisor or professor) and it should be short (no more than 10 pages).
       
      4. Transcript. For electronic applications, create a PDF version of your transcript, and for hard copy applications, include a photocopy of your official transcript. If you know your grades for the most recent semester but are not yet included on your transcript, type an addendum and submit that with your transcript.
       
      5. Letters of Recommendation/List of References. Generally, you should have three letters chosen among law professors and legal employers. Each letter of recommendation must be personally addressed to each judge, and try to make the process as easy as possible for your recommenders by providing the list of judges electronically. Letters of recommendations can be mailed separately to each judge by each of your recommenders, or you can offer to collect the letters and submit them with your application packages.
       
      If a judge asks for a list of references, list them on a one-page document in the format of your résumé, and include your references’ names, their titles, phone numbers and email addresses.
       
      Follow-up Letter. If you have any accomplishments to report after your clerkship applications are mailed, such as your selection to a journal editorial position or a moot court win, you should update your application immediately with a very short letter to each judge announcing the recent accomplishment.
       
      NOTE: For a directory of judges, please log in to the TWEN page of “Judicial Clerkships.” Also please find the “Judicial Clerkship Handout” on the above mentioned TWEN page.
       
       

      Federal Clerkship Applications

      The application process for judicial clerks is decentralized, so you must apply to each individual judge. Federal judges accept applications in one of two ways:
       
      (1) hard copy applications sent via U.S. mail; or
      (2) electronically through the Online System for Clerkship Application and Review (OSCAR), http://oscar.uscourts.gov/. (The vast majority of applications for federal judges are done electronically through OSCAR).
       
      OSCAR Judges: OSCAR allows you to personalize both cover letters and letters of recommendation. For more information regarding OSCAR, please see http://oscar.uscourts.gov/.
      Non-OSCAR Judges: Judges not registered through OSCAR prefer to receive their applications in hard copy via U.S. mail. To determine what each judge requires in terms of an application, you may need to call the individual chambers.
      NOTE FOR FEDERAL APPLICATIONS: The Administrative Office of the United States Courts has requested that certain precautions be taken by law student applicants and references to ensure that clerkship-related materials can be easily distinguished from other types of court correspondence. When applying for federal clerkships, you should mark "APPLICATION" in large letters on all transmittal envelopes. Individuals writing recommendation letters are similarly asked to label their envelopes "RECOMMENDATION."
       

      State Court Clerkship Applications

      Whether the application process is decentralized or not, depends on the individual state court. To determine each state's process, students are encouraged to do the following:
       
      1) OCPD has application requirements for Washington DC, Virginia and Maryland state judges. Please check “Judicial Clerkship” page of TWEN or stop by OCPD;
      2) Check the specific state court's website; or
      3) Call the individual judge's chambers.
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        • Judicial Interviews

          Overview
          If you are offered an interview, be prepared to schedule the earliest available interview appointment with the judge. Many judges hire clerks on a "rolling basis," meaning that if a judge likes the first three applicants he or she interviews, the judge would often much rather extend an offer to one of those applicants than interview every other candidate on the list.
           
          Keep in mind that a clerkship with a judge involves a close working relationship. Personal chemistry between employer and employee is usually far more important in this setting than in other employment settings.
           
          The interview itself can last anywhere from 15 minutes to two hours. Often the current clerk or administrative assistant is included in the interview process. Remember that they are interviewing you, too. Treat everyone you meet at the courthouse as if they have the power to deny you an offer - because they may.
           
          Preparing for the Interview
          Know your judge! There is nothing worse than being asked about a judge's recent decisions or particular cases in which he or she has been involved and not being prepared to discuss these items. A judge wants to know that you did not randomly select him or her. Here are a few suggestions for researching judges:
          • Begin by doing an online search for judge's most recent cases and decisions. The Leadership Directory or LEXIS are particularly helpful for finding information beyond court opinions. Another option is to use newspaper web sites to search for recent articles about judges; a case or opinion may have made the local news.
          • Check courts' web sites; many contain biographical information about judges, as well as recent court opinions and articles.
          • Talk to people who may know the judge and/or court; professors, attorneys at your place of work, OCPD Career Advisors, classmates, CUA alumni, family members, friends may also fit this bill.
          • Contact previous law clerks who worked for the judge to obtain further insight into what the clerkship would be like. OCPD has a Judicial Clerkship handout which includes a current list of current and past law clerks in federal and state courts nationwide. In addition, OCPD maintains a list of alumni who have clerked who are willing to do a mock interview with you.
           


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Office of Career and Professional Development

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Phone: 202-319-5132 
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jobs@law.edu

Career & Professional Development Staff