Does it always make sense to clerk?

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FridayNightLights
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Does it always make sense to clerk?

Post by FridayNightLights » Sun Aug 05, 2018 9:52 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, 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.

lawman84
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Re: Does it always make sense to clerk?

Post by lawman84 » Sun Aug 05, 2018 10:05 pm

No, I don't think it always make sense to clerk. If you don't feel that you're going to get a worthwhile experience, don't do it. I can tell you that my clerkship experience has been fantastic, but I know others who didn't have great experiences. It depends so much on the judge.

notlegaladvice
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Re: Does it always make sense to clerk?

Post by notlegaladvice » Mon Aug 06, 2018 12:00 am

Agree with the above.

Do you know whether you'd have a job waiting for you when you got back? (Would you want to go back?) It might be nice to have a really easy job for a year, hopefully get a good mentor, and get a resume boost at the same time. That said, my gut reaction was that it seems like you have a good thing going. After reading your post three times, I'm inclined to say that if it were me, I'd stay put and keep sending targeted applications. But I really have no idea.

Keep us posted on whether an offer comes through.

e. On second thought, did the judge seem like s/he wanted to hear from you again before deciding whether to give you an offer? Have you followed up and thanked him/her for the interview?

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MJB
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Re: Does it always make sense to clerk?

Post by MJB » Mon Aug 06, 2018 10:09 am

I agree as well. Clerking can be valuable for lots of reasons, but for most people the biggest plus is the chance to get a ton of substantive research and writing experience early on. With respect to this particular judge (district?), it sounds like you're probably better off where you already are.

nygrrrl
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Re: Does it always make sense to clerk?

Post by nygrrrl » Wed Aug 08, 2018 4:01 pm

Also agreeing with the posters above. I absolutely love clerking but I had specific reasons for taking this position and making the trade-off of leaving firm life. Echoing notlegal, maybe the thing to do is sit tight and focus on targeted applications.

lolwat
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Re: Does it always make sense to clerk?

Post by lolwat » Thu Aug 09, 2018 8:43 am

Do you know whether you'd have a job waiting for you when you got back? (Would you want to go back?) It might be nice to have a really easy job for a year, hopefully get a good mentor, and get a resume boost at the same time. That said, my gut reaction was that it seems like you have a good thing going.
I agree with these considerations above.

It sounds like you really want to clerk, though, and it's just this particular offer--in a different district with a lighter caseload--that's giving you pause. I think the value of a clerkship on your resume (rather than the practical experience) has been sort of understated in the responses generally. If you're planning on staying where you are forever, then that's kind of moot. But you're already basically saying you want to clerk. In that sense, what your substantive experience is at a clerkship doesn't matter quite as much. It sounds like this judge would be a good person to work for, and the hours are pretty nice, and you may not be taking quite a big of a hit on pay if it's in a low COL area.

FridayNightLights
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Re: Does it always make sense to clerk?

Post by FridayNightLights » Sat Aug 11, 2018 11:51 pm

lolwat wrote:
Thu Aug 09, 2018 8:43 am
Do you know whether you'd have a job waiting for you when you got back? (Would you want to go back?) It might be nice to have a really easy job for a year, hopefully get a good mentor, and get a resume boost at the same time. That said, my gut reaction was that it seems like you have a good thing going.
I agree with these considerations above.

It sounds like you really want to clerk, though, and it's just this particular offer--in a different district with a lighter caseload--that's giving you pause. I think the value of a clerkship on your resume (rather than the practical experience) has been sort of understated in the responses generally. If you're planning on staying where you are forever, then that's kind of moot. But you're already basically saying you want to clerk. In that sense, what your substantive experience is at a clerkship doesn't matter quite as much. It sounds like this judge would be a good person to work for, and the hours are pretty nice, and you may not be taking quite a big of a hit on pay if it's in a low COL area.
I ended up taking the job. The hit on pay is pretty big, but I've been waiting for this opportunity forever, and I think after getting over my cold feet I realized this is something I didn't want to pass up on. It's actually in the district I've always wanted to do my clerkship, just a left further out than ideal, but I'll manage the marginal extra driving distance.

Thank you all for your help and advice. I'm excited for the year to come.

lawman84
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Re: Does it always make sense to clerk?

Post by lawman84 » Sun Aug 12, 2018 1:11 am

From the sound of it, it should be a pretty chill job. Nothing wrong with a year of a chill job as a lawyer. And I'm sure you'll learn plenty during your time.

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MJB
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Re: Does it always make sense to clerk?

Post by MJB » Sun Aug 12, 2018 10:57 am

Wouldn’t blame you at all. A bird in the hand etc.

Anon Clerk

Re: Does it always make sense to clerk?

Post by Anon Clerk » Sun Aug 12, 2018 6:57 pm

Congratulations! I think you'll really like your experience -- the judge sounds great since he was so candid with you in the interview.

I am in a similar district -- and moved a few states away for the job. Even though most of the civil docket doesn't make it to trial, I've still been pretty happy with the caseload -- lots of interesting constitutional litigation and big $$$ suits. Even though the prison lit docket is definitely a pain sometimes.

lolwat
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Re: Does it always make sense to clerk?

Post by lolwat » Mon Aug 13, 2018 10:50 am

Congrats!

I think you'll find some of it to be a pain (e.g., prisoner litigation), but some people find those to be fun anyway. We didn't have tons of prisoner litigation and so actually there was at least one clerk who found those somewhat of an interesting break from the usual civil docket. And even if the civil cases mostly settle or whatever, you'll be doing pretty substantive stuff on them (motions to dismiss / summary judgment opinions/orders, sometimes on interesting legal issues) so they should keep you interested for a little while. Plus the work is sufficiently different than being at a firm. (By the end of the year, you'll also probably feel like a year is enough, but that's also perfect.)

By the way, maybe it was just me, but most trials are overrated, especially on the clerking side. They're nice to see for short amounts of time but longer ones are just a pain in the ass and can drag on and on with boring ass experts and poor lawyering.

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