Judges accept applications in one of three ways: via the online system OSCAR used by many federal judges; by mail; or via email. Some state courts also have online application systems. To find resources for researching judges, click here.
Typically, to apply for clerkships, you will need to prepare or obtain the following materials:
- a short, well written cover letter
- law transcript
- a concise, interesting, and sophisticated writing sample
- in some cases, your college transcript
- letters of recommendation
Specifics about each of these are below.
Many judges like to see a detailed cover letter that shows you have thought carefully about why you are applying to them. For other judges, a detailed cover letter is viewed as a writing sample. Keep in mind that detailed does not mean longer than one page. Highlight a few key points - ties to the area, particular skills you bring and reasons why you want to clerk for that particular judge. Be sure to include the names of and contact information for your recommenders in case the judge wants to contact them.
Here are several samples of cover letters:
- Short letter - if you have no details to add
- Bad letter example
- Detailed letter - background
- Detailed letter - courses
- Detailed letter - geography
- Detailed letter - research and writing background
For a template of the mail merge fields to use with your Symplicity created judge list, click here .
- Keep it simple. Use a traditional format and font, such as Times New Roman or Arial.
- Have sufficient margins and white space to make it easy to read, at least 3/4 of an inch.
- The font size should be no smaller than 11.
- Your resume can be more than one page but does not have to be.
- Put dates on the right, not the left. You want the more important part of the entry, i.e. employer name, position held, to be the first thing read.
- Emphasize any writing you’ve done, e.g. journal work, a research paper, an undergraduate thesis.
- List honors one under another as opposed to stringing them separated by semi-colons.
- Membership on any journal which was the subject of the writing competition is an honor, not an activity. Put your journal position at the top.
- In your job descriptions, highlight research and writing and specify the legal issues you have worked on.
- Include community service. Judges are public servants and appreciate applicants who give back to their community.
- Put in an “Interests” section. Be specific. They often spark conversation at an interview.
Unofficial copies are expected. Although OSCAR now allows you to upload an official version of your transcript, there have been issues due to watermarks or encryption so we recommend you create your own version from Penn-in-Touch or use the attached template. If you choose the latter, consider omitting course numbers and listing courses which are ungraded or co-curricular after your graded courses. You can also list the semesters in reverse chronological order. Be sure to include the full names of your professors whom the judges may know. Do not list a GPA - it’s against law school policy to do so. Also get a copy of your undergraduate transcript which some judges request. If your college grades were particularly strong, you may wish to include your undergraduate transcript even if it is not requested. Again, it may be helpful to create your own version of your undergraduate transcript to avoid issues with OSCAR.
Most judges ask for one writing sample but a few do ask for two. Choose something that is interesting and shows your skill at analyzing a complex legal issue. Circuit court judges may prefer to read a lengthier, more academic work (e.g., a journal comment or paper), while district court judges may be more interested in seeing a brief or a detailed memo.
Keep in mind these tips:
- Work produced for another judge: Remember, the judge, not you, is the author of an opinion. Do not send a final opinion that you helped draft for a judge as your work product. If you would like to submit work you produced in chambers, get the judge’s approval then include a cover sheet which states that you have permission to use it as a writing sample.
- Work produced for a client: Get your employer’s permission before using work produced for a client as a writing sample. Delete any names, titles and case numbers to preserve confidentiality in a way that enhances, rather than impedes, clear reading of the redacted text (for example, use “Company X” instead of blacking names out).
- Long writing samples: You may want to send a longer work (e.g., a comment) with a note explaining that a reading of pages 10 to 20 will give a good sample of your writing ability. Alternatively, you may excerpt a longer piece and include an introductory note.
Obtaining recommendation letters from professors and employers who know you and your abilities is a vital part of the clerkship process. We recommend students obtain three recommendation letters, typically two from faculty members and a third from a work reference.
Keys to getting a good recommendation from professors:
- Avail yourself of opportunities to get to know them. Go to office hours.
- Volunteer in class.
- Take more than one class with a professor.
- Take a small seminar.
- Work as a research assistant.
- Stay in touch after you have completed a course.
- Ask “Do you think you know me well enough?”It will serves as an indirect way of finding out whether the professor thinks you would get a better letter from someone else.
Help your professor by providing:
- A resume
- A transcript
- A preliminary judge list or thoughts on what courts you plan to apply to
- What geographic regions are of interest to you
- Why you are interested in clerking and how that fits into your hoped for career path
- What qualities would make you a good clerk
- Other information about your background which might be useful to raise in the recommendation
Stay in touch with your recommenders:
- Consult them about judge selection.
- Seek their advice on the type of writing sample you should use.
- Let them know of any interviews you arrange before the interview and see if they have any information about the judges.
- Let them know how things turn out.
- If you have had significant contact with your professor since she or he wrote the recommendation, please ask the professor to update it.
Faculty Letters (including all adjuncts and visiting professors):
OCS handles the formatting, uploading, emailing and printing of all faculty letters. It’s important that you list the names of your recommenders on the Clerkship Registration page in Symplicity. OCS will email all faculty recommenders you’ve identified there and ask that they send their letters to email@example.com . You do not have to remind professors of any deadlines.
OCS is willing to process outside recommendation letters, include them with your faculty letters in your paper applications and upload them to your OSCAR applications. If you would like us to handle these letters, please have your outside recommenders send to firstname.lastname@example.org a signed PDF on letterhead addressed to “Your Honor”, “Dear Judge” or “Dear Honorable Sir or Madam” along with an email giving OCS permission to send it out.