Assistant Dean of Student Services, UCI Law
This past fall UCI Law once again surprised the national legal market. A large percentage of UCI Law students were offered prestigious post-graduate judicial clerkships. Over a quarter of the inaugural graduating class will be clerking for federal bankruptcy, district, and circuit court judges, and one state supreme court judge. Based on the latest figures available, UCI Law will rank third in the country among top 20 law schools, just behind Yale and Stanford, in the percentage of students entering Article III clerkships after graduation.
Remarkably, we have created a “culture of clerkships” from the very start of this law school. We encourage students to explore judicial externships in the summer and during the academic year to experience the myriad benefits of working in chambers. We maximize the opportunities for students to interact with judges at social functions, through the Speakers Bureau, and in co-curricular activities. Our faculty engages extensively with students both in the classroom and outside of it, which greatly enhances the student experience and contributes to the content of letters of recommendation.
Our clerkship success is the result of two factors: (1) interesting and talented students aided by faculty and administrators with a deep knowledge of the bench and (2) a strong commitment to assisting students applying for these coveted positions. Faculty letters of recommendation are crucial to a candidate’s success; the quality of the letters is in large part a function of the merits of and how well an instructor knows the student. UCI Law’s small class size and ample opportunities to engage in pro bono practice and institution building, to serve in leadership positions and as faculty research assistants, and to participate in Law Review, Moot Court, and Mock Trial, has served its students well. In addition, our Career Development Office provides crucial one-on-one counseling on the application process as well as detailed cover letter and resume review. We help every student who wishes to try and obtain a clerkship.
We are firmly committed to supporting and growing our clerkship program. Our “Nuts & Bolts” program on March 27 will introduce the 2Ls to the mechanics of applying for clerkships. All 2Ls are encouraged to apply and all applicants will receive extensive and personalized assistance from the CDO. The vast majority of the more than 3,000 federal bankruptcy, district and circuit court judges hire “On Plan.” Applications to On Plan judges are governed by a national timetable that begins the first Tuesday after Labor Day in September. The CDO works throughout the summer with 2Ls to finalize their submissions. Students are also encouraged to explore the thousands of state court clerkships throughout the country (alas, California judges hire permanent staff attorneys and there is no program for new graduates in this state). Deadlines for state court clerkships vary; students should check the CDO’s online subscription to the Vermont Guide to State Court Judicial Clerkships.
A few judges hire “Off Plan.” The overwhelming majority of these judges require a minimum of one year’s postgraduate experience. A small fraction of Off Plan judges consider 2Ls who meet the judge’s self-imposed, rigorous hiring criteria. UCI Law assists students who satisfy an Off- Plan judge’s requirements to maximize clerkship success. The clear trend, however, is for federal judges to stick to The Plan or, if Off Plan, to limit hires to experienced attorneys. To put this in perspective, two-thirds of UCI’s 3L interviews last year took place On Plan; another 10% were conducted in the week prior to The Plan when a handful of judges decided to get a “head start” on the process. In short, 75% of the interviews obtained by UCI Law’s 3Ls were immediately prior to or after The Plan went into effect.
Students interested in a clerkship should:
Engage in pro bono practice. Several judges last year mentioned how highly they value volunteer legal work.
Form strong relationships with faculty. Judges generally prefer letters of recommendation from academics rather than supervising attorneys. Meet with your instructors and give them the opportunity to get to know you through office hours, co-curricular projects, or serving as a research assistant. Most judges request three letter of recommendation. Letters typically address the student’s academic and analytical ability; extracurricular, leadership and institution building activities; and personal characteristics that would make the student a welcome addition to the small community in chambers.
Show interest in a particular field. Bankruptcy judges in particular are interested in students who have externed for a bankruptcy judge, worked in the U.S. Trustee’s Office, and/or taken classes in bankruptcy and related areas of law.
Write, write, write. Judges prefer writing samples that apply facts to the law over academic-style (Law Review) writing. Many do, however, like to see that a student has participated in Law Review, and they look favorably on published legal papers and winning entries in legal writing competitions. A few judges require two writing samples, so be sure you have polished a second paper If your only writing sample is from your 1L Lawyering Skills class, you should take the time to review and edit it (including updating citation style) as befits a more seasoned law student before you submit it.
Keep up your grades. Judges do review transcripts. Some judges (particularly those who are Off Plan) hire only students with top grades; others are more forgiving, especially if the student shows an upward trend or acknowledged writing talent. Last year students with a full range of grades were interviewed and received offers.
We hope there is as much enthusiasm for applying for clerkships this year as last. We are genuinely looking forward to another busy clerkship season and much success for our student applicants.