Preparing for the Clerkship Interview

| By: Susan Good

With clerkship application season in full swing, it’s time to think about the potential next step: The Interview. This brief overview is meant to give you some perspective on what to expect in the clerkship interview process. It also reinforces the golden rule that you should only apply to a judge for whom you would want to clerk.

Scheduling the Interview:
Judges typically contact between six to a dozen applicants out of the hundreds of applications they receive. You may hear from judges at any time after you submit your application. Be prepared to travel at a moment’s notice to meet with judges in person. Generally, the administrative assistant will call to schedule an interview. If you receive a message, call back promptly. Avoid trying to strategically schedule interviews (i.e., scheduling a judge later hoping your “top choice” calls). When scheduling your interview, do not miss the opportunity to gather information from the clerk or secretary. Remember to ask:

  • Expected length of the interview
  • General format
  • Other people with whom you will be meeting

Without overstepping, use your lawyering skills here and ask open-ended questions such that the answers may provide insightinto the interview style (see more on style under interview preparation). And remember: Everyone you deal with in the judge’s chambers can be an important ally!

Interview Preparation and Research:
Gather more information on the format, style and substance of the interview. This can vary greatly. Some judges take a rigorous tack, grilling you on the substantive law, while others take a more casual approach. Talk to former clerks, people who have interviewed with the judge, a research librarian, and see data collected by the Law Review and the Career Services Office (CSO).

As with any interview, you should be intimately familiar with, and prepared to discuss at length, every detail contained in your written application materials.

Undergo a second round of research. You should also know plenty of information about the judge with whom you are interviewing, including having read many of the judge’s opinions prior to your interview. Read the Almanac of the Federal Judiciary for that judge. Do a LEXIS or WESTLAW search of the most recent cases decided by this judge. (See a research librarian if you need assistance.) Consult news media resources for any recent news on the judge or his/her initial appointment or election to office. Read the clerkship handbooks available in the CSO to get a flavor of the atmosphere, ethics and protocol in a judge’s chambers, as well as some general tasks of a law clerk. Read up on blogs like lawclerkaddict.com for demographic information. (See “Top Clerkship Research Resources”).

Bring with you a packet of all the information you have gathered on the judge. Also include your own materials, any new grades, activities or honors received, an additional writing sample along with a list of references and their contact information. Contact your references to tell them of your upcoming interview and your desire to clerk for the judge.

Interview Content:
There is no standard format. The length may range from 15 minutes to several hours. The judge will almost certainly be looking for personality and fit. Unlike a law firm interview, practically anything could come up in an interview. The dialogue could include anything from your law school courses to your political leanings to news events or important legal precedents. Demonstrate that you have read the judge’s opinions, even if the judge doesn’t bring them up. Be prepared for the questions a judge may ask and have plenty of questions for the judge ready.

Offers may occur on the spot or soon after the interview. Usually the judge will call you personally to make the offer. Do not keep judges waiting for your acceptance or denial. Go into the interview prepared to accept if you are made an offer.

Withdrawing Applications:
If you do receive and accept an offer, you must send a letter to all of the other judges to whom you’ve applied withdrawing your applications. If, for some reason, you decide you do not want to clerk for a particular judge, you should withdraw your application.

Check out this list of “Top Clerkship Research Resources” available in print through the Career Services Office, Notre Dame Law Library, and online. For more information or assistance using any of these resources, please see the Career Services Office or a research librarian today!

-Ellen Burns