Judicial Clerkship Guide: Compiling Application Materials

Judicial Clerkship Guide: Compiling Application Materials

This section of the Clerkship Manual discusses application materials. To download a full copy of the Clerkship Manual, click here.

VI. Compiling Application Materials

A. Cover Letter

General Advice: The cover letter should be short and sweet. MAKE SURE it contains no mistakes of any kind. A typo or a missing punctuation mark will likely cause your application to go straight into the reject pile.

Geographic information: If you are applying to a region where you have a particular connection, this is the place to highlight that tie. This should be done in three sentences or less. Often, it can be accomplished in one sentence. Only do this if your connection is strong. For example, don’t mention that your second cousin lives in the state.

Reason for applying to a specific court/judge: If it is not obvious why you are applying to a particular court, explain briefly why you are applying. It goes without saying why you would apply to state supreme, federal appellate and district courts. For other courts, it is often good to explain why you believe you are a good fit, either because of your subject-matter interest or because of ties to the state (see above).

Recommenders: Provide names of your recommenders in your cover letter in the form, “letters of recommendation from Professors X, Y and Z are enclosed.” If you have cleared it with a recommender, you may mention that that person would be happy to speak to the judge and give the recommender’s phone number. Do not do this unless you have cleared it with your recommender.

Other information: Provide other information if it is both true and relevant. If you plan to practice in the judge’s city, you may say you strongly expect to practice there (only if this is true!). If you are applying to a limited geographic area because of family commitments, you may mention this fact. If a judge is your first choice, you may say so along with the reason why.

B. Resume

Format: Generally, your resume should be no more than one page. (A two-page resume may be appropriate in individual cases, especially for those with prior professional experience.) Make sure that the font is not tiny and is readable. You may use the same resume format that you use to apply for jobs. Judges may be traditional so it is best to avoid artsy layouts.

Writing experience: Writing is an important part of most clerkships so if you have won any writing prizes, are working on a student note, or have journal experience, make sure to highlight it.

Currentness: Make sure your resume is updated to reflect any upcoming employment or recent internships/externships. If you include a prospective job, there is no need to include a descriptor since you have not yet done the work.

C. Writing Sample

Required: Most judges require a writing sample and some will require two. Send a writing sample unless a judge specifically requests otherwise.

Your best work: The most important feature of a writing sample is that it be flawless (including the citations) and well-written. It is less important what type of work it is. When choosing among options for writing samples, keep in mind that judges generally prefer to see work that shows legal reasoning and analysis. If you use something you prepared for a class, you can—and in fact should—edit it further to make sure it is your very best work.

No more than 15 pages: As a general rule, do not submit a sample that is more than 15 pages. This often means that you will excerpt 8-15 continuous pages from a longer piece. Since some judges require a shorter writing sample—often no more than ten pages—it is essential that applicants look up each judge’s specific requirements.

Cover Page: Every writing sample should have its own cover page that provides a brief description of the background facts of the writing sample, the document’s use when you drafted it, a brief a statement ensuring it is your own work, and a statement that you obtained permission to use it as a writing sample. This cover page should match your resume and cover letter in format and style.

Self-edited: Some judges require that the writing sample be edited only by you. Make sure you comply with that directive. All students should consider indicating on the cover page of the writing sample that it is unedited and represents their own work product (only if this is true!).

Work done for an employer: It is crucial that you receive permission from your employer before using this work as a writing sample. It is your responsibility to redact any information that is confidential or client-sensitive. Make sure to indicate on the cover page that you are submitting it with permission from your employer.

D. Transcript

Required: All federal judges and most state judges require a law school transcript. Unless otherwise instructed, you should include this with your application.

Unofficial: For most applications, your unofficial law school transcript is acceptable. Official transcripts become unreadable when photocopied, so unless an official transcript is required, use an unofficial transcript instead of photocopies of an official transcript.

Undergraduate: Some judges also require an undergraduate transcript. Make sure to note this and request these transcripts in advance. It may take your undergraduate institution some time to mail you your transcript.

E. Letters of Recommendation

How many: Most judges require three letters of recommendation. At least two of these letters should typically come from full-time law school faculty members.

Who to ask: In deciding which professors to ask, think both about the grades you received in the class and about how well the professor knows you. The most effective letters of recommendation for clerkships are very detailed and include in-depth discussion of your abilities in legal writing and analysis. The best letters are generally longer than for other jobs (often 3-4 pages in length). A professor who knows you better—either because you spoke more in class, went to office hours, or had some other interactions—but in whose class you received a lower grade, may be able to write a stronger recommendation than a professor in whose class you received an “A” but who had no other interaction with you. If you have questions about which recommenders to approach, please discuss this with your clerkship advisor.

Non-faculty: As a general rule, recommendations from non-faculty are less helpful than those from faculty members. There are obvious exceptions to this, for example, if the person has a personal relationship with the judge to which you are applying or can write a very detailed letter of recommendation. A partner in a law firm who has worked with many recent graduates or students and is willing to say that you stand out may also be able to write a helpful letter. Be aware that non-faculty members are often unfamiliar with the rigorous deadlines of the clerkship process.

Information for recommenders: It is your responsibility to give your recommenders the information they need to write a good letter. When you meet with the recommender, bring your transcript, resume, and any other information that he or she might find useful in composing a letter about you. If you wrote a paper in the professor’s class, give him or her another copy. Recommenders may ask you to provide other information that will be particularly helpful to them—make sure you do this as soon as possible. You should also be prepared to discuss which courts you plan to apply to and why.

Faculty limits on letters: Some faculty members may limit the number of letters they will write for you or they may agree to write to some judges/courts but not others. Some professors, for instance, will not recommend more than one student to the same judge. This makes it essential that you come prepared with your potential judge list and that you are ready to talk that list over with your recommender well in advance.

Process: For federal judges accepting applications through OSCAR, your letters will be sent electronically together with your application. For judges accepting only paper applications, your letters should be included in the application packet. You will need to contact faculty support staff members to make arrangements to pick up your prepared letters of recommendation in time to mail them as part of your application packet.

In some cases, recommenders will prefer to send recommendations directly to judges. If that is the case, applicants must ensure that their basic application materials precede the letters and indicate the contact information for reach recommender.