In the last decade or so, most judges conducted their hiring for clerkships approximately two school years in advance. Thus, most law students applied sometime in their second year of law school for clerkships that would begin immediately after they graduated. Each year, the process crept earlier and earlier into students' second year as judges competed with each other for the strongest applicants. In 2001, some judges started reviewing applications in August for clerkships that would not begin until the fall of 2003! This schedule was bad for everyone. Second-year students interviewed with judges at the same time they interviewed with firms for summer jobs and judges had little information to consider beyond grades from students' first year.
Federal Hiring Guidelines
In the spring of 2002, several federal judges took the initiative to shift the hiring cycle significantly – to start it only one year in advance of the beginning of the clerkship. Under the Federal Law Clerk Hiring Plan, most law students would apply in the fall of their third year for clerkships that would begin immediately after graduation. The Plan has broad support within the judiciary, and also is strongly supported by law schools nationwide, so that for clerkships beginning in 2012, hiring will start only one year in advance (i.e., hiring in the fall of 2011 for clerkships beginning in 2012). (Get details about this schedule.)
Under this clerkship hiring plan, the regular hiring cycle for 2012 clerkships will begin with the mailing of applications and recommendations in the summer/fall of 2011. More specifically, federal judges complying with the Federal Law Clerk Hiring Plan will accept application materials beginning on the Tuesday after Labor Day (which in the fall of 2011 is Tuesday, September 6).
Judges Who Are Not Following the Hiring Plan
A few federal judges have publicly announced that they will not comply with the Plan. The best way to determine who these judges are is to check the OSCAR system. If any judge anticipates accepting applications prior to September 6, 2011, he or she may post that information on OSCAR.
The Law School's Policy with Respect to Applying to Judges Who Are Not Following the New Hiring Plan
The Law School's Student Career Opportunities Committee believes that delaying the judicial clerkship interview season until the beginning of students' third year benefits both students and judges. It has, therefore, asked faculty and academic staff, as a general matter, to discourage students from applying for clerkships or seeking letters of recommendation until the beginning of their third year.
For the small minority of judges who will continue the practice of interviewing second-year students, however, the Committee believes that – in order not to disadvantage second-year students with respect to clerkships with these judges – faculty and academic staff should feel free to make discretionary, case-by-case exceptions to the general guidelines stated above.
Many law schools have adopted policies similar to, or even more restrictive than, the Law School's policy with respect to the hiring plan. Many of these law schools have posted their policies on the D.C. Circuit web site. You can view these policies at www.cadc.uscourts.gov/Lawclerk/Law_Schools/law_schools.asp.