Insider Tips from Judicial Clerks

Last week four Quinney alumni – and current judicial clerks – presented a panel discussion about their experiences as judicial clerks.  Listed below are tips, starting with the application process, from our panelists.  Our guest judicial clerks were:  Megan Houdeshel (clerk for Justice Jill Parrish, Utah Supreme Court), Chris Stout (clerk for Justice Matthew Durrant, Utah Supreme Court), Susie Hindley (career clerk for Judge Dale Kimball, U.S. District Court of Utah), and Mica McKinney (clerk for Judge Dee Benson, U.S. District Court of Utah).

1.  Apply early! Once the one judge begins accepting applications, other judges quickly follow.

2.  Research the judges before you apply, so that you are familiar with their decisions and political leanings.  Based on your research, you may choose to not apply to judges that you would feel uncomfortable working with based on their political persuasions.

3.  Don’t apply to a judge that you would not accept an offer from. Courtesy demands that you accept the first offer that you receive, so be prepared to accept an offer even during or very soon after the interview.

4.  Put your best effort into your résumé, make sure that it accurately reflects your experience, and limit it to one page.  Your cover letter should not be a recap of your résumé.  Cover letters should be short, typically two paragraphs maximum, and they should not be a “sales pitch.”

5.  Interviews are conversational. It is common for an applicant to be interviewed by both the current clerks and the judge, and they are looking for a personality fit.  (You wouldn’t have been asked to interview if you weren’t qualified.) This is one more reason to develop positive relationships with your fellow students.  A former classmate or teaching assistant who becomes a judicial clerk may be one of your interviewers!

6.  Judges read your writing sample. Submit your best work, and be prepared to discuss it.  A current 3L who will be doing a clerkship next year gives this advice:

“Be sure that your writing sample is top quality.  I was somewhat surprised that every judge or clerk I’d spoken to seemed to have read my writing sample. In fact, during one of my interviews the judge spent about 20 minutes grilling me about the substantive topic of my sample. Another said that he’d decided to interview me (and subsequently hire me) because of my writing sample. Also be sure to think about the political nature of your writing sample, you don’t want to send something out that might discourage a judge from interviewing you.  I hadn’t thought about this and send out a sample discussing a legal issue considered to be ‘conservative’ by many people. Interestingly, the only interviews I received were all with conservative judges.”

7.  Tips about specific judges: Judge Kimball has a history of hiring attorneys who have previously practiced as career clerks.  Judges Benson often hires clerks who have been in his classes; three current 3L’s who will be clerking for him did not apply in the conventional manner but were invited to clerk for him because he knew their work from his Evidence class.

8.  Firms often encourage you to do a judicial clerkship before you start working at their firm, especially larger firms.  The clerkship adds to the credentials you will bring:  improved writing skills and first-hand knowledge of judicial chambers and how the court system works.  Once you begin working at the firm, there may be a monetary bonus because of the clerkship.

9.  Doing a judicial clerkship often improves your future job prospects, and can be a great way to break into a new geographical market.

10.  Networking! Valuable relationships with your fellow clerks, your judge, and the attorneys you interact with in the courts result from doing a clerkship.