Congratulations! You have a judicial clerkship interview. You studied hard, earned good grades, wrote a stellar judicial clerkship cover letter, and submitted an application that rose to the top of a very large pile. Now what? How do you land that coveted clerkship? These tips will help you stand out for all the right reasons:
Schedule Your Interview Quickly
The interview starts before you walk into chambers. In fact, it begins on the first communication to you seeking to schedule an interview. Every judge seeks responsiveness and enthusiasm in a prospective clerk. Demonstrate those qualities during your first interaction by answering/returning the initial phone call or email promptly.
In addition, schedule your interview for the soonest possible time. The interview process can become tedious for the interviewer. By interviewing early in the process, interviewer fatigue can be avoided. Better yet, if you perform well, you become the standard against which all subsequent candidates are judged – an enviable position.
Scrub Your Social Media
If you haven’t already done this, do it now. The safest bet may be to only allow contacts of your choosing to view your profile – not the world at large. Alternatively, consider deleting any controversial, immature, and/or inappropriate posts and pictures before diligent current clerks and inquiring judges search for you.
Do Your Research
Set aside time to research the judge you will be interviewing with. In doing your research, use all channels available to you.
Proactively block off time to do your due diligence. This is not research you do on your phone while you sit in the parking lot waiting for your interview. Put aside the time. Remember, failing to prepare is preparing to fail.
First, do a Lexis or Westlaw search. Read some recent opinions – precedential or published, if available. Focus on opinions of consequence or significance. No need to read every opinion ever written, but a few representative and/or notable cases are worthy of your time.
Second, conduct the so-called “google” search. Look for news stories or professional profiles of the judge. Try to identify notable issues or causes the judge was involved in as a jurist, lawyer, or private citizen.
Third, talk with any of your own contacts who may have a connection – a current law clerk; a professor who has a relationship; a former law partner. Those conversations will help you get a feel for not just the judge you will interview with, but the person (not to mention the possibility of a well-timed recommendation).
Dress conservatively. Dark colored suits. White or blue shirts. Red, blue, or gold/yellow ties. Seems easy enough, but you’d be surprised.
Budget sufficient travel time. My recommendation: Get there early. Go find a coffee shop, then go back to chambers five minutes before you interview. Do NOT be late. Again, simple advice.
Be physically prepared. Come with sufficient copies of your resume, writing sample, and transcript. Also, come with a pen and pad to take any important notes (e.g., names of current clerks) or follow up items. The notepad isn’t for taking extensive notes, but only for reminders or follow-up tasks.
Use Flattery (Just Don't Overdo It)
You like to be flattered, right? All people do. And judges – like you and I – are people. Flattery works. Compliment them on a recent published opinion. Note that you were impressed with their efforts on a given litigation or matter when they were an attorney. Don’t be heavy handed, but appropriately inserting a compliment (or two) into the conversation will go a long way.
Keep It Personal
If you were called to interview with a judge, rest assured you are qualified. The interview is not about your qualifications, but about your personality. Are you a fit?
Being a judicial law clerk is likely the most intimate legal job you will ever have. You will work in chambers with the judge, an administrative assistant, and possibly co-clerks forty-plus hours per week for a full year. One unspoken question dominates: do I want to have lunch with this candidate every day for the next year?
So, try to keep the conversation personal. What makes you unique and interesting? What do you do in your spare time that is interesting? Are you involved in your community? Demonstrate the breadth of your personality and uniqueness.
But, it’s not just about you. Be distinctly aware of the surroundings. What decorations, memorabilia, or photographs does the judge have displayed in chambers?
One acquaintance of mine was twenty minutes into an unremarkable clerkship interview when she noticed a picture of a fairly unique purebred dog that she too also owned. She brought it up. Forty minutes later (mostly talking about dogs), she was offered the job.
Questions are a two-way street. First, you need to be able to answer questions posed to you. Before the interview, consider any tough questions you may be asked and prepare talking points. Is there a gap in your resume? Do you have a stellar grade point average, but are not on a journal? You’ll get tough questions. Your mission is to appropriately handle those tough questions and either dispose of them or turn them into a positive narrative.
For example, do you have an outlier bad grade? If it is not representative of your abilities and you have a good relationship with your professor, maybe approach that professor and secure a letter that indicates that the grade on the final was not indicative of your performance over the course of the semester.
Second, have questions to ask. You researched the judge’s background. Ask about what was interesting? Not only will it get the judge talking about his favorite topic – himself – but it will also demonstrate that you researched, while extending and deepening the conversation.
Also, feel free to ask questions about the clerkship. But don’t ask self-serving questions like, “Is weekend work required?” Instead, ask about expectations of clerks and what qualities are sought?
Interact with Staff
Do NOT underestimate the influence of the judge’s administrative assistants and current clerks. They know the judge better than just about anyone not related by blood. Be polite and courteous. If anyone can deep-six your chances, it is current staff.
There is an old saw to: “Be yourself, unless you’re a jerk. Then be someone else.” It’s a time-honored adage for a reason. It’s right. Be yourself. Authenticity rings true. This interview is not a qualifications contest; it is largely a personality test. Be authentic.
But, in being yourself, be your best self. Be sure to have appropriate posture, maintain eye contact during the conversation. Have a firm handshake. Again, all simple rules to follow, but you’d be surprised at how often they are disregarded.
Reach Out After the Interview
Your interview didn’t begin when you entered chambers. And it doesn’t end when you exit.
Follow up. Go home and THAT NIGHT send a handwritten note to the judge and to the clerks you interviewed with. Personalize them and focus on a topic of conversation that was unique or memorable. Don’t be generic.
And don’t underestimate the value of this follow up. Many interviewees don’t follow up at all. Some send generic, vanilla email notes which often come across impersonal and unmemorable. Again, this is a personality test and the personal, intimate nature of a handwritten note will resonate, while demonstrating a willingness to exceed expectations.