Judicial Clerkship Interviews

If you have landed an interview with a judge for a post-graduate clerkship, congratulations!  Now, you may be wondering how such an interview might differ from other types of interviews, and how you will prepare for it.  It is important to prepare carefully.  Clerkships can be difficult to snare, and in this economy, the market is even more competitive.  Below are some pointers.

  1. Keep in mind the purpose of the interview.  The judge’s primary purposes of a judicial clerkship interview will be similar to those of other legal employers:  the judge is looking for someone who is bright, mature, and capable of doing the assigned work.  She or he will also be looking for someone who will get along well with other clerks and staffers, has a sense of humor, and will be hard working.  Due to the close working relationship which a judge and clerk may enjoy, the judicial clerkship interview may feel a little more “personal” than other legal interviews—topics may include your family background, political persuasion, and any common (nonlegal) interests you share with the judge.  So, know your own interests, the last book you read, your favorite sports, and be prepared to discuss them.    
  2. Be professional and courteous not only in all communications with the judge, but with any other clerks and staffers.  Judges often rely heavily on their clerks and staff, and value their opinions.  In fact, clerks and staff may occasionally sit in on an interview.  Consider them to be an extension of the judge. If the other clerks and staff have a problem with you, the judge probably will too.
  3. When scheduling your interview, try to get information.  You may ask how much time you should plan, whether you will be meeting with persons other than the judge (i.e., other clerks), and whether you should bring any additional materials. 
  4. Prepare for your interview. Research the judge and her/his opinions, using Lexis and Westlaw.  You will see the type of cases the judge handles, know the judge a little better, and be more comfortable.  Talk to prior clerks.  Other clerks may help you understand the judge’s approach to interviewing and what the judge values in clerks—for example, you may be surprised to find that a judge values clerks with different political views, or from different geographical areas.  PDO can help you to find alums who have interviewed with Utah judges and some judges in other areas.  In addition to researching the judge, be sure to “research” yourself—review your resume, writing sample, and any law journal publications you have authored.  Be prepared to discuss any of them.     
  5. Dress professionally. Dress as if you were going to appear in court, even if you know the judge has a more relaxed dress code for her/his current clerks. 
  6. Think about questions you may be asked or may ask the judge. In addition to resume, publications, and personal interests, judges may question candidates on substantive legal issues.  These might include which of her/his opinions or articles you have read and what you thought of them, what your ‘judicial philosophy’ is, or what you think of a legal issue that has been in the news.  Do your best to think critically and clearly when answering these questions, and understand that no answer will be perfect.  Also, be prepared to answer questions regarding: why you want to clerk/for this judge/at this level (trial, appellate, administrative) in this location; your future plans for practicing law/life goals; law school courses, journal experience, clinics, other activities; how you have gained and developed research and writing skills; family commitments; ties to the area where the judge is located; and your ability to juggle tasks, deal with deadlines, work under stress.  You will also want to have questions for the judge.  These may come from your own research, or may arise naturally during the interview.  Common questions for judges include those dealing with the judge’s expectations of the clerk, divisions of labor amongst clerks and the judge, the way the judge reaches and drafts opinions, how the judge came to be on the bench, life as an attorney, and how they have enjoyed their time as a judge.  
  7. Understand how judicial clerkship offers and acceptances  are unique.  Unlike other legal job offers, it is widely-accepted and expected that if a judge with whom you have interviewed has made you an offer, you will simply accept that offer unless you have already accepted another offer from another judge.   In other words, don’t decline an offer for a clerkship—it is just not done.  If you feel you are in a very unusual circumstance and you must turn down an offer, you should consult with PDO first.  Understand that judges may make offers very quickly to candidates they want, including during the interview process.  Unlike other legal employers, judges will probably expect you to enthusiastically and immediately accept such an offer.  Some may kindly offer a short time period to consider their offer, perhaps as much as a week, but sometimes as little as 24 hours.  If you accept an offer from a judge, you should quickly withdraw all other judicial clerkship applications.