How Screwed Am I?

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Saami
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How Screwed Am I?

Post by Saami » Thu Jan 14, 2021 11:00 pm

Hello all! I'm planning on applying to clerkships soon-ish, but I'm at a point where I don't really know if I should bother. I'm a 3L at Columbia who has slightly above average grades (think a 3.5 GPA if Columbia officially calculated GPAs), and I was banking on this last year to improve my grades as best I could. Yet, I ended this semester with one A, three B+'s, and waiting on another grade (which will probably be an A- at best). Feeling pretty demoralized. The only things going for me is I'm on law review and I have three publications in various T14 law reviews. I'm anticipating pretty solid letters of recommendation too, though they won't be from celebrity professors lol. At this point, I recognize that I'm not the most desirable candidate, and so I'm prepared to apply broadly and pretty much ignore a judge's ideological leaning unless they've said/done some pretty detestable stuff (please tell me if this is the wrong move or if I'll get blacklisted for clerking for a Trump appointee, which my classmates seem to believe will happen). At this point, all I can do is try my hardest this last semester to maybe end law school on a high note, but I've truthfully never figured out how to do well on law school exams and I don't think it's gonna happen in three months. Let's say I maintain my record of getting a bunch of B+'s and a few A's/A-'s: Do you think I have any decent shot at federal clerkships? I'd ideally like to stay in the Northeast region due to family reasons, but as I said I'm pretty willing to apply broad if necessary.

Perhaps you're wondering why I'm asking such a basic question here. Well, let's just say Columbia's clerkship office isn't the strongest. Also, excuse me for such a rambling post; it's late and I'm tired.

Edit: I should also add that I have no clue yet what I'll be doing directly after law school. I'm currently interviewing to work under a state AG, so we'll see how that goes.

Story
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Re: How Screwed Am I?

Post by Story » Fri Jan 15, 2021 3:21 am

Apply broadly over the entire country if you really want to clerk. I know people with worse stats than yours who clerked. Apply for Magistrate judges, DJs, and COAs. Even apply for staff attorney positions at a circuit court.

If you really want to clerk, look at applying for state judges and justices too.

I would even think about applying for specialty courts like veterans appeals.

Even if your goal is an Art III clerkship, having an ARt. 1 clerkship or a State clerkship can help launch you to Art. III.

You never know what judge might like your application. I know a judge who has a quirky hobby (think something like ballroom dancing), and he will give an interview to any applicant who has ball room dancing as a hobby or interest. (So be sure to have an interests/hobbies section on your resume.)

And all you need is one field goal made. It doesn’t matter field goal attempts you have.

If you want to clerk, go apply!

And don’t rule out a judge if your only reason is the president who appointed that judge. I would err on the side of applying for all the judges you can.

Edit: You have no job lined up, so I’m assuming you also need a job too. So you’re probably doubly wanting to clerk—for the mere employment and for the clerking experience.
Last edited by Story on Fri Jan 15, 2021 10:31 am, edited 2 times in total.

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ezrafitz
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Re: How Screwed Am I?

Post by ezrafitz » Fri Jan 15, 2021 9:39 am

It would help to know if you have a specific type of clerkship you are looking for, and how long out you're willing to look. Story gave some good advice, but certain of it is more applicable depending on where you want to land.

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beep
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Re: How Screwed Am I?

Post by beep » Fri Jan 15, 2021 12:06 pm

Agree with story's advice. I wouldn't put all your eggs in the clerkship bucket, but it's not impossible. Apply broadly. Consider state supreme courts. If any of your recommenders might have a connection, try to work that.

On your question about whether you'll be blacklisted clerking for a Trump-appointed judge: you almost certainly won't, though of course there are legal jobs for which it would be a black mark (i.e.: if you really want to work for a liberal impact lit org or something). And some Trump appointees may ultimately prove to be bad judges such that having those particular judges on your resume could hurt in the long term (i.e.: it wouldn't surprise me if a handful end up gaining Manuel Real-esque reputations). But on the whole, a federal clerkship is a federal clerkship.

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BlendedUnicorn
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Re: How Screwed Am I?

Post by BlendedUnicorn » Fri Jan 15, 2021 3:34 pm

beep wrote:
Fri Jan 15, 2021 12:06 pm
But on the whole, a federal clerkship is a federal clerkship.
I.e. a highly overrated and unnecessary rite of passage.

People will tell you that a clerkship is worth it because you learn things you wouldn’t pick up in practice but spend more than a month litigating and former clerks will have taken every opportunity to tell you everything they learned at every opportunity.

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Nony
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Re: How Screwed Am I?

Post by Nony » Fri Jan 15, 2021 3:38 pm

Someone sounds salty.

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beep
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Re: How Screwed Am I?

Post by beep » Fri Jan 15, 2021 4:02 pm

BlendedUnicorn wrote:
Fri Jan 15, 2021 3:34 pm
beep wrote:
Fri Jan 15, 2021 12:06 pm
But on the whole, a federal clerkship is a federal clerkship.
I.e. a highly overrated and unnecessary rite of passage.

People will tell you that a clerkship is worth it because you learn things you wouldn’t pick up in practice but spend more than a month litigating and former clerks will have taken every opportunity to tell you everything they learned at every opportunity.
I'm not sure this is the thread to get into the broader worth-it-ness of clerkships, but FWIW, I was only speaking in terms of the career benefit. Maybe it shouldn't be the resume gold star that it is, but I don't think you disagree that employers tend to view it that way, both in the private sector and otherwise (e.g. for AUSA gigs).

That said, I felt similarly to you before clerking and it was a better experience than even the most ardent pro-clerkship people I'd talked to. I loved almost every minute of it and learned a ton that I did not get from practicing (though my circumstances are perhaps different having practiced before clerking). Seeing how the sausage is made and what arguments persuade judges (and for clerks, whose position on a case is frequently dispositive, depending on the judge) is really, really valuable for litigators. I know there is a range of opinions on this and that not every clerkship is the great experience that people chalk it up to be, and I would encourage people (even OP, who may not be in a position to be picky) to do as much diligence as you can on a particular judge before agreeing to clerk for them.

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BlendedUnicorn
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Re: How Screwed Am I?

Post by BlendedUnicorn » Fri Jan 15, 2021 4:26 pm

I’m sure it’s helpful for some jobs and perhaps even essential for very certain career opportunities (that most clerks do not end up pursuing) but I think even that’s overstated. But I brought it up here because I want to push back against OP’s premise—they are not screwed if they don’t get a federal clerkship. They’ll still be above median Columbia grads who did law review (another scam) and will have ample opportunities to make it or not as litigators based on their luck/skill/network/hustle/etc...

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beep
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Re: How Screwed Am I?

Post by beep » Fri Jan 15, 2021 4:32 pm

Yea, I absolutely agree that OP's career prospects do not depend entirely on getting a federal clerkship. It could really help in this case, though, since they are a 3L without anything lined up for post-grad. I am curious what OP did 2L summer.

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Nony
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Re: How Screwed Am I?

Post by Nony » Fri Jan 15, 2021 5:24 pm

I agree, they’re not screwed job-wise if they don’t get a clerkship. There’s a difference though between “how screwed am I for getting a job/success if I don’t get a clerkship?” and “how screwed am I for getting a clerkship given that it’s something I want to do?” (I don’t think they’re necessarily screwed for the latter, either, but I think it’s a slightly different question than BU is addressing.)

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BlendedUnicorn
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Re: How Screwed Am I?

Post by BlendedUnicorn » Fri Jan 15, 2021 7:48 pm

beep wrote:
Fri Jan 15, 2021 4:32 pm
Yea, I absolutely agree that OP's career prospects do not depend entirely on getting a federal clerkship. It could really help in this case, though, since they are a 3L without anything lined up for post-grad. I am curious what OP did 2L summer.
Yeah, at this point eggs should be going into literally every basket.

Saami
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Re: How Screwed Am I?

Post by Saami » Fri Jan 15, 2021 8:40 pm

Hey, thank you all for the advice thus far! I didn't include my goals because it's a little complicated and unclear at the moment. My long-term goal is academia (long shot, I know), which is why I'm interested in doing a federal clerkship. I've heard from all professors/aspiring professors with whom I've discussed legal academia that clerkships, while not necessary anymore to enter the profession, can be an excellent opportunity as one shapes their path into the law teaching market. In the next half-decade or so, though, I'm trying to work on litigation that directly or tangentially deals with legal issues about which I'm writing. And obviously (though correct me if I'm wrong), clerking provide invaluable experiences for those interested in litigation (at least, that's what I've gathered externing on the Second Circuit). With all this said, I should clarify that when I said "screwed" I meant am I screwed as far as getting a clerkship, not am I screwed in general lol. I know that clerking isn't necessary for what I want to do, but I think it'd be a great opportunity regardless. And I know it's too late to apply for one starting this year; I'm looking to work for a year or two before clerking.

Somebody above said I should be open to state supreme court clerkships. Are those easier to get than district court clerkships? I assumed they'd be more competitive.

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Nony
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Re: How Screwed Am I?

Post by Nony » Fri Jan 15, 2021 9:58 pm

It depends a little on the state/district - it's probably tougher to get the NY Appeals Court (or whatever they call their highest court, weirdos) than, say, a district court located in a really small town in the south or the Dakotas or something, because more people want to be in NY (but then, those district court judges might prefer someone with some connection to the area, too). But generally state supreme courts are considered easier to get than district courts. There's a (fairly dumb/arbitrary) perception that federal law is more complex/prestigious than state law (and of course biglaw firms tend to appear in federal court more than state, and a lot of social justice-y impact litigation kind of stuff also implicates federal statutes).

I think SSCs are still great places to work, with the caveat that as with any clerkship, it depends on the judge. In terms of employment, they're most helpful for the state in which they're located, for obvious reasons (that's the law you get to know best, and that's where your judge likely has the most connections), but in terms of learning experiences, you'll write a lot and do a lot of legal analysis and you get the fun of working on matters of first impression. The intellectual focus in district courts and federal courts of appeals is almost entirely on applying well-established law to the facts in front of you, which is fun, but pondering what the law should be when it's not clear is a different kind of fun (at least, if you're not BU). The other thing is that doing one clerkship makes it a lot easier to go on and do a second, so if you really wanted a federal clerkship, but didn't get one right away, doing a SSC makes you a more attractive candidate.

Also, there are judges who really favor people with work experience, so taking a year or two before clerking will make you a better candidate all on its own.

Saami
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Re: How Screwed Am I?

Post by Saami » Sat Jan 16, 2021 4:43 pm

Nony wrote:
Fri Jan 15, 2021 9:58 pm
But generally state supreme courts are considered easier to get than district courts.
That really blows my mind, but I'm also happy to hear! Clerking on a court of last resort sounds like an awesome experience, regardless of state v. federal. I have a friend who will be clerking on the Hawaii Supreme Court, and I'm a bit jealous of him.

If I may ask a somewhat related question, since I've already made this thread. It concerns my course selection for this final semester, and while I was planning on asking my clerkship office this stuff, they've ghosted me for two weeks now: Would it look bad to only take one black letter law course this final semester? I'm currently registered for Advanced Admin (which is basically just Admin here), Corporations, a philosophical First Amendment course, and a seminar on election law. However, I would really like to drop Advanced Admin because the professor gives notoriously difficult exams. On the one hand, I would replace it with a course that I'm really interested in (about global constitutionalism), and that I'd likely do well in since the grade is based on an essay, which is my strength. On the other hand, my only black letter would be Corporations, and also since I got a B+ in LegReg I'd be forfeiting an opportunity to potentially redeem myself and prove that I'm well-versed in admin law. I know this stuff is all judge-specific, but I'm interested to hear what might generally be the right move. I have a few more days to decide my schedule. If it means anything, the black letter law courses I've taken up to this point in addition to my 1L classes are: Federal Courts, Criminal Adjudication, Political Process Law, International Law, Evidence, Labor Law, Antitrust, LegReg, and Advanced Con Law.

Story
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Re: How Screwed Am I?

Post by Story » Sat Jan 16, 2021 10:56 pm

Yep. That’s just how it is, like it or not. Fed clerking will almost always carry more prestige. There are times when a state appeals judge takes up the offer to be appointed as a federal district judge. I know I have seen even a few SSC justices become fed DJs.

There are exceptions. Some SSC justices are very well-known and reputable, and having a clerkship from them could be seen as equivalent of a generic Fed clerkship.

If you take your intended course load, what would the split be between black letter courses and seminars/clinics for 2L and 3L?

Just based on what you told me, I think you can take those intended classes for your last semester.

Saami
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Re: How Screwed Am I?

Post by Saami » Sat Jan 16, 2021 11:03 pm

Story wrote:
Sat Jan 16, 2021 10:56 pm
If you take your intended course load, what would the split be between black letter courses and seminars/clinics for 2L and 3L?
It's tough to answer because I don't know where classes like "Human Rights" and "Law and the Internet Society" fit, which were lectures but not seminars. Including this semester's seminar, I'll have only taken two seminars during my 2L/3L year. I did one externship my 2L year and will be doing one this semester. I've basically taken 2 or 3 black letter law classes each semester since I began 2L. So, you think I'm good to only take one this semester, or should I stick with Advanced Admin? I'll be asking my academic advisers for their thoughts, but it's good to get others' opinions on this.

Story
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Re: How Screwed Am I?

Post by Story » Sun Jan 17, 2021 2:41 am

Based on what you told me, I think you are good to take the intended classes this semester. I think you’ve done enough black-letter curved classes. Do whatever you’re interested in or is chill.

NotAtNYU
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Re: How Screwed Am I?

Post by NotAtNYU » Sun Jan 17, 2021 3:15 pm

Story wrote:
Sat Jan 16, 2021 10:56 pm

There are exceptions. Some SSC justices are very well-known and reputable, and having a clerkship from them could be seen as equivalent of a generic Fed clerkship.
This is true. Be sure to research the individual justice. E.g., Justice Lee in Utah or formerly Justice Willett in TX. Plenty of great justices. Their reputations probably go farther in the state that their court is in, of course.

Saami
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Re: How Screwed Am I?

Post by Saami » Sun Jan 17, 2021 9:35 pm

Thanks all! Looking forward to looking into SSC justices. Also, I dropped Advanced Admin. My academic adviser told me that if I get rejected from a clerkship, it won't be because of missing one particular course on my transcript. That perspective really helped.

Story
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Re: How Screwed Am I?

Post by Story » Sun Jan 17, 2021 10:00 pm

Glad to hear it, OP. Good luck!

Saami
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Re: How Screwed Am I?

Post by Saami » Tue May 25, 2021 9:55 am

Update: I ended my last semester pretty strong, with three A's, one A-, and one B+. My self-calculated overall GPA is about 3.55 and I have received Stone twice now (2L and 3L year). I spoke with my clerkship office, and they said I might be potentially competitive in the less competitive circuits; my advisor told me to apply to the 3rd Circuit because I have geographic ties. That still doesn't seem right to me, though. I have okay grades, but good enough to clerk on a federal circuit court? Any thoughts? I just don't want to waste my time if it's not possible.

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Re: How Screwed Am I?

Post by BlendedUnicorn » Tue May 25, 2021 10:08 am

Saami wrote:
Tue May 25, 2021 9:55 am
Update: I ended my last semester pretty strong, with three A's, one A-, and one B+. My self-calculated overall GPA is about 3.55 and I have received Stone twice now (2L and 3L year). I spoke with my clerkship office, and they said I might be potentially competitive in the less competitive circuits; my advisor told me to apply to the 3rd Circuit because I have geographic ties. That still doesn't seem right to me, though. I have okay grades, but good enough to clerk on a federal circuit court? Any thoughts? I just don't want to waste my time if it's not possible.
I tend to be in camp clerkship are way overrated, but even if it’s a long shot it’s definitely worth the time. I don’t thunk it’s impossible by any means with those grades.

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