Judicial Clerkships

What is a Clerkship?

Judicial clerkships may be a one or two-year term with a judge usually following law school graduation.  Duties of law clerks may vary by judge, but generally include research and writing on legal issues pending before the judge, drafting legal opinions, assisting with the management of schedules for individual cases and overall dockets, and acting as a liason between the judge and attorneys.

Who Hires Law Clerks?

Federal district and appellate court judges hire clerks, as do most federal magistrate judges and bankruptcy judges. To find out more, visit https://oscar.uscourts.gov/, which is the centralized resource for federal law clerk hiring.  Federal clerkship hiring begins in September of your 3L year.

Most state court appellate judges hire law clerks. In some states, trial court judges hire clerks as well.  Hiring processes and timelines vary by state.  Vermont Law School maintains a guide with information on state courts’ hiring processes, which is available in the Documents section.

Approximately thirty federal agencies use Administrative Law Judges, who hire law clerks or staff attorneys to conduct legal research, draft opinons and orders, etc., in conjunction with their quasi-judicial functions. There is no centralized system for ALJ law clerk hiring. Some agencies post openings on usajobs, some hire through the DOJ Honors program, some attend job fairs, and some have a direct application process.  Our office has put together a database of information on ALJ law clerk hiring, which is available in the Documents section.

The U.S. Department of Justice –  Office of the Chief Immigration Judge (OCIJ) hires law clerks each year through the Attorney General’s Honors Program to conduct legal research and draft memoranda and judicial opinions for the nation’s Immigration Judges. Immigration Judges are responsible for conducting formal court proceedings, and act independently in deciding the matters before them. In a typical removal proceeding, the Immigration Judge may decide whether an alien is deportable or inadmissible under the law, then may consider whether that alien may avoid forced removal by accepting voluntary departure or by qualifying for asylum, cancellation of removal, adjustment status, protection under the United Nations Convention Against Torture, or other forms of relief.

Why Pursue a Clerkship?

First, clerkships provide a unique experience with an insight into the litigation process (particularly trial court clerkships). Second, clerkships tend to significantly enhance future job prospects (reflecting the value that employers place on the experience that clerkships provide). Third, in many if not most instances, the judge for whom you clerk becomes a mentor – and recommender – to whom you can turn for advice and support throughout your career.

Judicial clerks get an inside view of how a judge makes decisions and how the courtroom operates.  Clerking builds confidence by de-mystifying the courtroom process: every day you’ll be making your case before the judge.  You’ll also get the opportunity to hone your analytical, research, writing, and communications skills free from billable hour pressure, with guidance from accomplished professionals. A clerkship affords you the opportunity to gain insight into what good lawyers do well, not to mention pitfalls to avoid.  Finally, this experience brings added value to your future employers. Law firm colleagues may have cases before your judge, and will seek insight from you into his or her decision-making, what type of arguments may influence the judge, etc.

Clerkship Resources

  • Our office sponsors a program each year in the Spring semester, where you’ll have an opportunity to learn more about the application process, hear from current clerks about their experiences, and hear directly from judges about their hiring criteria.  We also maintain a listserv for students interested in clerkships, which is used to distribute general information about clerkships, application deadline reminders, information about specific judges seeking applications, etc.  To join the judicial clerkship listserv, contact Francie Scott at scottfs@wfu.edu.
  • If you are considering a clerkship, your starting point should be our annual Federal & State Judicial Clerkship Handbook, available in the Documents section.  This handbook is updated annually and includes information about the application process, sample cover letters, timelines and key deadlines, and details on judicial clerkships held by Wake Forest graduates.
  • OSCAR is the central online resource for federal law clerk and appellate court staff attorney hiring.
  • Vermont Law School maintains an annual Guide to State Judicial Clerkships, available in the Documents section
  • NALP has published “Insight and Inside Info for State Court Clerkships,” along with additional resources, on its Judicial Clerkships page

Additional Online Resources: