In general there are three types of clerkship experiences:
- Trial Courts - Busy, fast-paced clerkship with much of your time spent in court observing trial lawyers in action. Time out of court spent researching and drafting memos, jury instructions, orders and draft opinions.
- Appellate Courts - Smaller number of cases with more in-depth opinions written. In-court time involves observing formal oral arguments. Out-of-court time involves reading the record below and briefs submitted on appeal; writing memos and proposed draft opinions.
- Specialty Courts - Courts of limited jurisdiction specializing in a particular type of case or controversy. Work may involve either trial or appellate work.
- United States Supreme Court: The nine Justices of the Supreme Court hire their clerks one to two years in advance. The retired justices also hire one clerk each. Clerks typically have obtained a previous clerkship most often in a distinguished Circuit Court. If you are interested in applying to the USSC, please see Applying to the Supreme Court of the United States.
- Circuit Courts: There are currently thirteen Circuit courts, eleven geographically defined Circuits, the D.C. Circuit, and the Federal Circuit located in D.C. Judges can sit anywhere within that geographic Circuit and may travel for oral arguments.
- District Courts: The federal trial courts, which try cases in all areas of federal jurisdiction not designated to a specialty court, are dispersed widely throughout the country.
- Bankruptcy Courts - District Courts refer all cases arising under the Bankruptcy Code to the Bankruptcy Court.
- The US Court of Federal Claims - This Court, which sits in Washington, DC, has jurisdiction of claims against the US. These often involve government contract cases, tax cases, Fifth Amendment taking claims, some patent claims, Native American cases, and government personnel cases.
- The Court of International Trade - This Court, which sits in New York City, has jurisdiction over cases concerning imports, their valuation, and their classification.
- Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit - This Court has jurisdiction over appeals from District Courts in cases involving patents and certain claims against the US, and from the US Court of Federal Claims, the Court of International Trade, the Court of Veterans Affairs, the Merit System Protection Board, the Patent and Trademark Office, boards hearing government contract cases, and some additional Article I agencies.
- The US Tax Court - This Court, which principally sits in Washington, DC but has a field office in Los Angeles and conducts trial sessions throughout the country’s major cities, has jurisdiction over controversies involving decisions of the Commissioner of Internal Revenue on income, estate, and gift taxes, with some additional jurisdiction in particularized tax matters.
- Administrative Law Judges: - Some Administrative Law Judges (“ALJs”) for various government agencies also hire law clerks. These positions can be rewarding for graduates with a defined interest in a particular area of practice. For a list of agencies whose ALJs hire clerks, please click here.
For links to these courts please click here.
- Magistrate Judges - The federal system has magistrate judges, appointed by the District Court, to handle certain tasks for that court, such as conducting preliminary hearings in criminal cases, trying misdemeanor cases, hearing discovery motions in civil actions, and trying civil actions when the parties consent. The responsibilities can vary widely by court. Many magistrate judges hire law clerks, and some of them are hard to distinguish from District Judges in terms either of ability or of the work they perform.
- Pro Se Clerkships - Most federal courts have a Pro Se office which assists poor litigants who are appearing without counsel. A Pro Se clerkship can be a valuable experience for someone considering public interest law who seeks inside experience with federal courts and contact with federal judges
Federal Clerkship Information
When entering your law grades into OSCAR, you will be asked for a GPA and the Grading System Description.
For the GPA field either put “n/a” or “Penn Law does not provide a GPA.” Please note that Penn Law’s Policy on Resume and Transcript Accuracy does not permit students to calculate a GPA.
Here is Grading System Description:
Law School courses beginning with Fall 2002 are graded on an alphabetic scale: A+, A, A-, B+, B, B-, C, F, and FNC. Beginning Fall 1995 through Spring 2002 courses are graded on the following alphabetic scale: A+, A, B+, B, B-, C, F, and FNC.
Legal Writing is graded Honors (H), Credit, or F. Honors in Legal Writing indicates superior ability. For classes through the class of 2012, it was awarded to 10% of the class. For the classes of 2013 on, it has been awarded to up to 30% of the class.
The unusual grade of Fail-No Credit (abbreviated FNC) may be given to a student who fails to complete the requirements of a course or who, in the written opinion of the instructor, evidences a lack of bona fide effort to complete the requirements of a course. This grade does not carry credit toward satisfying the student’s graduation requirements.
A course or co-curricular program which does not lend itself to the alphabetic system may be graded simply as Credit, Fail or Fail-No Credit (abbreviated CR, F and FNC).
The following grades are also used: I = Incomplete; W = Withdrew; NR = No grades reported for the course; GR = No grade reported for the student.
Law students taking courses in other divisions of the University receive grades on the other departments’ grading scale. Students are allowed a Pass/Fail option in these courses.
“SH” indicates “semester hours,” the credits the course bears.
For your Spring 2020 grades, please use this language:
The Law School adopted a mandatory Credit/Fail grading system for full-semester courses in Spring 2020 in response to the COVID-19 crisis.
Obtaining a Supreme Court clerkship requires impeccable academic credentials, a clerkship at the Circuit Court level, usually with a “feeder” judge, and networking with people with ties to the Court both at the law school and in the legal community.
Interested applicants should comply with the following:
- Meet with the Supreme Court clerkship advisor, Prof. Christopher Yoo, early in their 2L year if not before to assess the viability of their candidacy.
- Meet regularly with the Supreme Court clerkship advisor thereafter to discuss strategy on course selection and networking.
- Absent exceptional circumstances, candidates should typically not apply to the Court until they have spent enough time during their clerkship to have the support of their Circuit Court judge. In most cases, the optimal time for most students to begin applying is after or toward the end of their circuit court clerkship.
- The state court systems vary for each of the 50 states. The trial courts are sometimes defined jurisdictionally:
- Civil cases
- Criminal cases
- Family matters
- Chancery courts hearing corporate matters
Appellate courts, too, can have specialized jurisdiction; in Pennsylvania, for example, the Commonwealth Court is an intermediate appellate court with jurisdiction over appeals of administrative orders and trials, while the Superior Court hears appeals of other civil matters as well as criminal and family matters.
State court systems vary in the method of judicial selection. In many states, judges are elected; in others, they are appointed by the Governor or some other elected official. State trial court caseloads are typically much greater than in the federal system.
Many excellent clerkship opportunities are available in state court systems. Many states’ highest level appellate courts are equal to the federal courts in the quality of work produced and the esteem in which the judges are held. The Delaware Chancery Court is particularly prestigious for transactional lawyers. State court clerkships can also introduce you to a legal community you might like to join and help you to develop contacts there.
State Court Clerkships
- The Vermont Guide to State Court Clerkships (username sugar password maple)
- Courts’ websites (found in the Vermont Guide)
- National Center for State Courts
- OCS’s Judicial Clerkship Newsletter (emailed to the clerkship listserv)
Information for the 2022 term will be posted as it becomes available.
- AK Courts
- CA Los Angeles Superior Court
- CA San Francisco Superior Court 2020 Term (apply by February 21, 2020, 4:00 pm PST)
- CT Supreme Court 2022 Term (applications accepted April 26, 2021 to May 28, 2021, 3:00 pm - subject to change due to the Covid-19 pandemic)
- CT Appellate Ct 2022 Term (apply by May 28, 2021, 3;00 pm.)
- DC Court of Appeals (District of Columbia’s highest court)
- DE Chancery Court
- DE Supreme Court (clerkship link at bottom of court’s webpage)
- DE Family Court deadline September 10, 2021, 4:00 pm
- DE Superior Court
- FL Supreme Court
- MA Supreme Judicial Court 2022 Term (apply when you have spring 2021 grades)
- MA Appeals Court 2022 Term (apply between August 1 and August 31, 2021)
- MD Courts
- ME Courts (deadline line August 6, 2021, 4:00 pm)
- NJ Courts
- NY Court of Appeals (state’s highest court)
- NH Supreme Court
- NH Superior Court
- RI Trial Courts 2022 Term (paper application must be postmarked by August 13, 2021)
- TX Supreme Court
- VT Supreme Court 2021 Term (rolling)
- VT Trial Courts 2021 Term (apply by May 15, 2021)
Check Symplicity for other state trial court postings.
Both federal and state courts often have “staff attorneys.” For example, the staff attorneys might research an area that has been presented to the court over and over again. The staff attorneys may be assigned to a particular judge as an auxiliary clerk on a complex matter. They may do research on administrative matters that could improve procedures for the court. A common responsibility of staff attorneys is to pre-screen pro se complaints, often filed by prisoners, to determine if they are meritorious.
Staff attorney positions offer very “clerk-like” experiences and should not be overlooked. Job postings for staff attorney positions can now be found on OSCAR.
- U.S. Tax Court
- U. S Court of Federal Claims (general info)
- U. S. Court of International Trade
- U. S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces
- U. S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims
- Native American Tribal Courts
- DOJ’s Executive Office for Immigration Review
- Interested in immigration law? The Executive Office of Immigration Review hires 33 law clerks through the DOJ Honors Program.
- Please note that this clerkship does not preserve your eligibility for a Skadden Fellowship.
- Federal Administrative Law Judges
- International Court of Justice
- International Criminal Court
- Caribbean Court of Justice
- Supreme Court of Israel
- Although these clerkships are unpaid, clerks can apply for funding to the University’s Gruss Fund. Please contact Chris Fritton for details.
- NCSC International
- Yale Law School Guide to Opportunities with International Tribunals and Foreign Courts
- Chancery Courts
- Business/Tax Courts
- Courts of Criminal Appeal
- Water Courts
- Environmental Courts