Interning in the chambers of a judge can be an interesting and rewarding summer job for a first-year law student. This memorandum explains what a judicial internship is and describes the process for obtaining one.
- I. What Is a Judicial Internship?
- II. To Whom Should I Apply?
- III. How Do I Apply?
- IV. How Do I Find Court Addresses?
- V. How Many Applications Should I Send?
- VI. Interviews
- VII. After the Interview/Offers
A judicial internship is an unpaid summer position in which a law student acts as a quasi-law clerk to a judge. Judges use interns in different ways, but many assign them tasks similar to those that their law clerks perform. As an intern, it is likely that you will attend judicial proceedings, hone your legal research and writing skills by crafting bench memos or even drafts of opinions, and have the opportunity to discuss legal issues with the judge and his law clerks. At the end of the summer, you probably will have authored a piece of legal writing that you can use as a writing sample (with the judge’s permission) as you apply for other jobs. You may be able to use the judge as a reference in future job searches. Additionally, you will be able to see firsthand what a judicial law clerk does, and may be able to use your experience as a judicial intern to obtain one of these prestigious appointments.
As a judicial internship usually is uncompensated, you may want to begin your job search with judges located in a place where you can live for free — perhaps your hometown. Do keep in mind, however, that interning in a new city may be a great way to establish ties and credibility in a market where you wish to apply next year or for permanent employment. The short term financial hit may be worth it for an investment in your future job prospects.
A federal district court (the trial level court in the federal system) is an excellent place to work for a summer. A typical federal district judge may have a few hundred cases on his or her docket. Most district judges have their clerks do some or all of the following things: talk with attorneys about case status; attend status and settlement meetings with the attorneys; attend hearings and trials; conduct legal research; prepare research memoranda for the judge; and write rough drafts of opinions and orders. As an intern, you are likely to participate in many of these activities. You will have the opportunity to see how real cases are managed; how motions are argued and decided; and how jury trials are lost and won. If you are interested in corporate work, do not overlook the federal bankruptcy courts, which offer a broad litigation experience in addition to subject matter exposure to a wide range of issues that interact with bankruptcy.
Federal courts of appeals often do not take interns. However, if you are able to find a federal appellate judge willing to hire you, this also can offer an interesting summer experience. The lives of appellate court clerks, and by extension, the interns, are usually less hustle-bustle and more cloistered than the lives of those working in district courts. You will not see trials as an intern for a U.S. Court of Appeals. Most U.S. Courts of Appeals do not hear appellate oral arguments over the summer, although you may get to work on cases that were argued earlier in the year. Appellate court clerks and interns typically read briefs, do legal research, write memoranda to the judge and write rough drafts of opinions. You may also have the opportunity to work on special projects, such as speeches or law review articles.
State supreme courts and courts of appeal often take one or more interns. If you are interested in an appellate experience but do not have a federal court of appeals opportunity in your geographic area, state supreme courts and courts of appeals are often great places to look for an internship. In addition to applying to individual judges and justices, you may also consider the central offices for these courts. Many have research units that are all too happy to accept summer help as they prepare for the fall court terms. A state appellate experience is especially advantageous for individuals who hope to do state-level policy work or state or local government, but will offer a solid research and writing experience for any student.
State trial court internships are ideal for students who are interested in practicing law in a specific community, and in particular students who may be interested in prosecution, public defense work, legal aid, or regional firm work (as opposed to a large, national firm). In addition, in some states, criminal, family law, probate, environmental law, tax and other categories of cases are handled only in certain courts, which can be an excellent learning ground for students interested in those areas of law.
The following materials have been developed for UVA students and are found at www.law.virginia.edu/clerkships. These lists can be a good starting place for creating a list of judges to whom you will apply:
- List of judges who graduated from the University of Virginia. This list includes not only judges who obtained their JD from UVA, but also those judges who received their LLM in the summer program for judges.
- List of judges who have hired UVA students as judicial interns.
- Lists of judges who have hired UVA students as clerks. Judges who have hired UVA clerks in the past may be inclined to hire UVA students as interns.
You should think about sending out applications in December or January of your first year. In an ideal world, you would send out letters to judges in your hometown in mid-December so that you could set up interviews when you are home over winter break. There is no need to add another burden to your load during finals; it is generally sufficient to write to judges over the winter break, after your first semester exams have ended (but ahead of the holidays, if possible). If you have a strong interest in a particular judge (this will not be the case for most applicants), or a particular market which has only a few judges in it, then you may consider sending your materials closer to December 1st. Some judges, particularly in areas such as Washington, D.C., prefer to see your grades before they hire. It is still a good idea to send an initial packet over winter break and update the materials once your first-semester transcript is complete.
You should send the judge a cover letter, a copy of your resume, and a writing sample, if you have one (all described more fully below). If your undergraduate transcript is one of your strong points, include it as well.
Some Important Points
- ALL APPLICATIONS SHOULD BE SENT BY U.S. POSTAL MAIL
- Please do not email chambers. Judge email addresses are considered private and should not be used.
- It is poor etiquette to call chambers at this point in the process. Judges have only a very small staff (generally a secretary and 1-3 clerks) and are not equipped to field a large number of phone calls from student applicants.
The type of cover letter that you send will vary depending on the type of judge to whom you are applying. In all cases, you should avoid summarizing what is already on your resume. Focus instead on why you have chosen the particular court (if it is not a court of general jurisdiction) or particular area of the country. Cover letters for judicial internships are generally shorter than those for firms or public service employers because you will not have the same kind of long-term interest in the job. Judges do tend to be extremely detail-oriented, however, so please be sure that the letter contains no mistakes of any kind. You will want to state in your cover letter that you do not yet have a law school transcript, but that you will provide one when it is available. Some sample cover letters are available on the Judicial Clerkships website.
You can use a similar resume format to that which is used to apply for jobs with firms. To the extent that you have choices to make about which skills to emphasize, research and writing are by far the most important abilities for judicial interns. Make sure that your bullets are concise, as this reflects your writing ability, and avoid overcrowding your resume with lots of non-relevant activities. As a general rule, judges prefer resumes that are more “readable” rather than ones that clump lots of activities together into long lists.
If you have a writing sample, you should enclose it with your cover letter and resume. Writing samples should generally be no more than 10-15 pages in length. Most students use a memo from Legal Research and Writing, if they have had sufficient time to edit it before mailing applications. While it is better to enclose a writing sample if you can, in no case should you send a sample that does not reflect your best, most polished writing. While judges may give some advantage to students who do include a memo, a piece of writing that contains typos, grammatical errors, or poor structure will be an automatic rejection. Do not worry if you do not have a legal writing sample ready when you send out your applications — it is perfectly fine to send out an application prior to exams, and then to fix up your writing sample afterwards to bring along with you to the interview. It is not advisable to “hold” your applications for any prolonged length of time in order to finish editing your writing sample (i.e., if you want to take a few days at the start of break to clean up your work, that is fine, but don’t hold off until January just so that you can include a sample).
Addresses for both federal and state judges can be found in a number of places. The most comprehensive reference is the Leadership Directory (“Yellow Book”), available via LawWeb. To reach this site, log-in to LawWeb and click on the “Student Services” tab. The Leadership Guide is the second-to-last link under the Library heading. You can search the guide by judge name or court name. Older copies of the Yellow Book are also available in hard copy form in the library reference room. The paper version of the guide is organized by court type and then alphabetically by state, which can be a good way to get an overview of the structure of the various court systems.
Addresses for federal judges are also available via the clerkships tab on Symplicity. Once you click on the tab, you will see an alphabetical list of all federal judges. You can use filters to sort the judges by court type, city, or state, or to search by judge name. Once you click on the judge’s name, the postal address for his or her chambers will appear in the upper right hand corner of the page. Please remember that Symplicity includes only federal judges, and you will need to look elsewhere for state judge addresses.
Individual court web sites are also a good source for addresses. For federal courts, there is a court locator, which can be found at http://www.uscourts.gov. For state courts, you can begin at the National Center for State Courts website (http://www.ncsc.org/), which has state-by-state links to all of the court systems (the link is located in the bottom right-hand corner of the page). These state-by-state websites are the sole place to find addresses for individual state trial courts, as those courts are too numerous to list on any one site.
Lastly, the Law School maintains its own database of judges (CLERQS). This database can be reached from the Judicial Clerkships website. This is probably the best place to get a combined list of all judges located in a particular city. Although every attempt is made to keep these addresses in CLERQS as up to date as possible, please make sure to double-check data against the court web-site. Please note that all hiring data in CLERQS is aimed at 2L clerkship candidates, so 1Ls using CLERQS should ignore any data not related to court addresses.
This number will vary greatly depending on both the type of courts to which you are applying and your geographic focus. If you are applying in a large market such as New York City, it is generally ok to limit yourself to a single court type. If your market is small, however, you should plan to apply broadly across types of courts. A pool of fewer than 20 judges is probably too small, and many students will apply to significantly more than that.
It is generally advisable to apply to all the judges of a particular type, or several types, in the city in which you want to work. It is absolutely ok to apply to multiple judges in the same courthouse – the judges expect you to do so. In fact, barring a specific reason not to apply to a given judge, it can be seen as an insult to pick-and-choose which judges you apply to within a courthouse.
Interviews may include one session with the judge and another session with one or more of the judge’s current law clerks. On the whole, interviews for judicial internships are conversational in nature. Judges want you to feel at ease in their chambers and often ask lighthearted questions about your family or schooling. In general, you should not expect to be grilled on substantive law. Even though the interview may feel low key, the judge is still assessing you. You should arrive at all judicial interviews will prepared and professionally dressed.
To prepare for the interview, you should read some of the opinions that the judge has written and have a sense of the judge’s style and outlook. You also should know the basics: when the judge went on the bench, who appointed him or her, and other biographical information that is available on the court website. For additional information, you may want to check out the Almanac of the Federal Judiciary, which provides biographies and lawyers’ evaluations of federal judges. This is often the best source for getting a quick overview of a judge, but keep in mind that any single source has its inevitable biases. It is often helpful to talk to someone who has previously clerked or interned for the judge so that you can have a better sense of what the interview will be like.
In addition to learning about the judge, you should give some thought to what you will say about yourself. You should, of course, be prepared to talk about anything on your resume, the substance of your writing sample, and about any course you have taken in law school. It is important that you be willing and eager to engage in a substantive conversation about law when invited to do so in an interview. The appropriate response to a question about how you liked a particular course is not that the professor was “good” or “funny,” but rather some statement that is suggestive of what you might have learned in the course. Most judges do not expect you to have exhaustive substantive knowledge of any area of the law, but they do expect you to be able to use analytical skills to conduct an intelligent conversation about legal issues.
You should also be prepared to answer some basic questions about your career ambitions, such as “Why did you go to law school?” and “Why do you want this job?” You do not need to have a concrete idea of what you want to do long term, but you should be able to offer up some sense of your areas of interest and what you hope to learn over the summer. You should also prepare a list of questions that you would like to ask the judge or clerks. Some obvious ones:
- What sorts of work do you have your interns do?
- Would I have the opportunity to watch courtroom proceedings?
- Would I have the opportunity to write rough drafts of opinions?
Bring extra copies of your resume, writing sample, and transcript (if available) with you. Also have a list of references, in case the judge asks for them. This list should include the reference’s name, address, and phone number. Be sure to ask for permission to use someone as a reference, and to give out that person’s phone number, before including him or her on your list.
Be sure to send thank-you notes to the judge and anyone else who interviewed you. You should send these notes within a day of completing the interview. Paper notes are best, but email may be used if you believe that the judge has a short turnaround time on his or her hiring decision.
Although you are not required to accept an internship offer, most judges will expect you to say yes unless you have a compelling reason not to do so. You should not apply for a judicial internship if you are not fairly certain you would take it if offered. While practices vary from district to district, please be aware that in some parts of the country law students are instructed that they MUST accept an offer if made. Judges in these districts, therefore, consider your acceptance mandatory. This is the case in federal courts in both the District of New Jersey and the Northern District of Illinois. If you are not sure of the etiquette of a particular district, it is appropriate to ask at the time that you are offered an interview.
If you accept an offer to intern, your decision is final. It is extremely bad form for you to renege on the acceptance. If you accept an offer to be an intern, you should withdraw your pending applications with both other judges and all employers of other types (including firms and public service employers). For chambers that have not been in touch with you, the standard procedure is simply to write a letter withdrawing your application. For judges with whom you have interviewed (or with whom you are scheduled to interview) but who have not yet gotten back to you with their decisions, you must immediately call their chambers, say how honored you were to have been considered, but report that you must withdraw your applications because you have accepted another offer. For other types of employers, follow the guidance laid out by the Office of Career Services and Public Service Center.
Many judges are amenable to students “splitting” their summer between chambers and another employer. It is perfectly acceptable to inquire with a judge whether he or she is willing to do so, but you must be prepared to accept the judge’s decision on the matter. It is inappropriate to withdraw your acceptance just because a judge is unwilling to accommodate a request for a split summer, so you may wish to inquire about this before you agree to the internship if it is something that is important to you. Please keep in mind the professional nature of this position; if you do propose a split summer, you should not offer a judge less than half of the available summer (generally no less than 6 weeks).
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