An Open Letter to 1Ls
Last fall I wrote a letter to your 2L colleagues. Now I’m going to write to you. Here’s the bottom line: If you want to clerk, the next few months are important. Many judges are waiting until applicants have their third or even fourth semester of grades. (Indeed, some judges prefer to interview law school graduates, who will have six semesters of grades.) But some judges are hiring over the 1L/2L summer and many judges are hiring during the fall of the 2L year. This is a fact.
What does this mean for you? Well, like I told the 2Ls, if you want to maximize your chances of clerking, you need to start preparing. The most important thing you can do right now is do well on your upcoming exams. With clerkship hiring moving up, your 1L grades are even more important. So do well! (If you don’t do well, of course, all is not lost. But your path will be easier if you do well.)
Come application season, however, you will need to have done more than just aced your exams. You will need a writing sample. If the best writing sample you have is your 1L moot court brief or Legal Writing memo, then that’s what you will have to go with. But it would be better if you had something more substantial. This is a problem because it’s hard to prepare a writing sample during the 1L/2L summer. Here is some friendly advice. Think about what you are interested in and have a conversation with someone on the faculty before you leave for the summer. Likewise, if possible, once you get to know the folks at your summer job, ask them about interesting questions they have stumbled across in their field.
You also need to think about recommendation letters. The best letters come from faculty members who know you well. If you have any time this summer that isn’t allocated to your summer job and writing sample, see if you can do research for a professor. Yet don’t overcommit. You don’t want to do a poor job for your summer employer or one of your professors. But don’t lose sight of the fact that a strong letter (or two) from the faculty is very important in the hiring process.
If you wait until next year to start thinking about clerking, it may be too late.*
A Concerned Friend
* Let me repeat something I said in my earlier letter: “Why, you ask, are judges hiring when you are still 2Ls? Trust me, you don’t have time to worry about that question. After you have your clerkship lined up, then you can read these articles: The Future of Federal Law Clerk Hiring and Reflections on the End of the Federal Law Clerk Hiring Plan, as well as (many) others.”