It is that wonderful time of year—when students (mostly 2L’s) prepare their judicial clerkship applications—nailing down recommenders, preparing writing samples, perfecting resumes and drafting cover letters (no typos!). The market for clerkships is extremely competitive. It may be a good idea to look beyond the judges Utah if you are at all able to move for 1 to 2 years. Below are tips from two SJQ alums who did just that—Ryan White and Steven Anderson.
Steven Anderson, Law Clerk, Eighth Judicial District Business Court, Las Vegas, Nevada
1. Where are you working and what are you doing? I am working as a judicial law clerk at the 8th Judicial District’s Business Court in Las Vegas. As a clerk, I prepare the judge for her motion calendar, draft and check orders for accuracy, conduct legal research, and help attorneys with procedural and other questions.
2. When and how did you first make contact with your employer? My brother is an attorney in Las Vegas and he suggested I apply for an externship with the Judge during my 1L summer. I completed the externship and the next year I applied for a clerkship with her.
3. How did you get the job? The Judge was impressed with my work as an extern. As a consequence, she offered me the clerkship without even looking at my resume.
4. What kinds of things do you think helped you land your job? Experience in law school, something else? Besides doing good work as an extern, I tried to stay in contact with the Judge during my 2L yea. I ended up writing a paper on Business Courts and consulted with the judge several times throughout the process. Apparently, this impressed her because on several occasions attorneys with whom I had interviewed called the judge to inquire about me. She has mentioned my Business Court paper to each of them.
5. What tips do you have for students who are job seeking? Consider applying to state district courts. While the positions might not have the same “prestige” as other judicial clerkships, mine has been invaluable. I have learned the nuances to the local and Supreme Court rules, and I get to watch good and bad examples of lawyering for several hours each day. Also, I am on a first name basis with dozens of attorneys. This is helpful because I have been able to send my application materials to an attorney who knows who I am rather than sending the material to a faceless recruiting email address.
Also, I have learned how important it is to be pleasant and professional with each attorney I come in contact with. For example, an attorney called our department several times, asking for procedural “advice” on a case with an uncommon posture. I did not do anything extraordinary to help her—I was simply nice. A few months later, I was interviewing with a firm’s hiring attorney and he mentioned that I knew his wife. His wife, who worked at a different firm, was the attorney who had called me about her procedural problem. She told her husband that he had to be nice to me because I was always so helpful when she called. I had no idea that the two were married, but they had been talking about me before the interview. The hiring attorney called me the other day and made me an offer for employment. True story. Like Salt Lake, Las Vegas is a tight knit legal community and simply being a nice person can work wonders.
Ryan White, Law Clerk, Middle District of Pennsylvania
1. Where are you working and what are you doing? I am clerking for the Honorable Robert N. Opel, II who is a Bankruptcy Judge in the Middle District of Pennsylvania. Judge Opel’s chambers and most of his hearings are in Wilkes-Barre, but I do travel with the Judge to Harrisburg about three times a month for hearings which he holds there.
2. When and how did you first make contact with your employer? I applied to every open Bankruptcy clerkship listed in OSCAR. Judge Opel was the first Judge with whom I interviewed. When the position was offered, I said yes.
3. How did you get the job? I did everything that Amy Wildermuth and the PDO office recommended when applying for judicial clerkships. I spent hours making sure that everything about my resume and application were exactly as I wanted them to be. I had several people review what I had prepared to ensure that everything was in order. Working as a clerk now, I cannot emphasize how important that careful preparation was. I have now participated in the resume screening process for summer interns. The simplest errors can easily get a candidate tossed. I did as much research as I could about the Judge and the area (I had no previous contact with Pennsylvania) before my interview. I had a mock interview. I read everything that I could about the Judge and his background. On my flight out I read/scanned three years of the Judge’s published opinions. I was familiar with as much of the Judge’s background as I could be. The preparation paid off in the interview, but it was more important in giving me confidence that I could accept the position as a good fit for me when the offer did come.
4. What kinds of things do you think helped you land your job? Experience in law school, something else? I got the job because my resume read bankruptcy. Virtually everything on my resume indicated that I was ready to be a bankruptcy clerk. I did not go into law school with any familiarity with the field. During my first summer, I gained enough familiarity to know I was at least interested in bankruptcy law. I pursued that interest by interning through the judicial clinic with a Bankruptcy Judge. There I realized quite quickly that the field was a really good fit for me and my interests. I put all my eggs in one basket. That will not work for everyone, but it paid dividends for me. Diversifying your background can be great, but it also may say to an employer that you don’t know what you want. I knew what I wanted. I took every bankruptcy class that the law school offers, and I found a way to get clinic credit interning with the Standing Chapter 13 Trustee. I did bankruptcy directed research. I found a way to make each of those things appear on my resume. My resume read bankruptcy!
5. What tips do you have for students who are job seeking? Try to figure out early what it is that you really want to do and where you want to be 5 years out of school. Work methodically with a plan to get there. Be willing to work for free to get experience. Take an interest in helping other students find the opportunities they want. Think outside of the box and do things that other students won’t do or haven’t done before. To some extent, forget about your grades, everyone is trying to stand out with grades, only 10% or so can. Find something else that can make your resume stand out.