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Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Urged By Law School Deans, Federal Judges Revamp Clerk Hiring

National Law Journal, Urged by Law School Deans, Federal Judges Revamp Clerk Hiring:

Supported by a plea from more than 100 law school deans, an ad hoc group of federal appeals judges has reinstated a plan for recruiting future law clerks after their second year in law school, rather than basing the hires on first-year performance.

The new hiring plan, promulgated on Feb. 28, mirrors a policy that dated back to 2003 but collapsed in 2013 when fiercely competitive individual judges ignored the rules and pursued top first-year students for clerkships, some of whom went on to Supreme Court clerk positions. Former Ninth Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski famously flouted the earlier rules, once joking that he started recruiting clerks “at birth.”

“The clerkship process now begins immediately after our students’ first year,” the law deans wrote in a letter dated Sept. 17, 2017. “That change has altered the first-year experience, raised important distributional concerns, and undermined our faculties’ ability to provide judges with the information they need to make wise hiring choices.” The deans added, “The first year has never been without its stresses. But students worry more than ever before about grades, recommendations, and class rank.”

Under the new plan, for students who entered law school in 2017, “judges will not seek or accept formal or informal clerkship applications, seek or accept formal or informal recommendations, conduct formal or informal interviews, or make formal or informal offers before June 17, 2019.” Similarly, new students beginning law school in 2018 would be off-limits for judges until June, 2020.

Another part of the plan would curtail what have become known as “exploding offers”—now-or-never hiring offers by judges, aimed at preventing clerkship candidates from interviewing with other judges. “A judge who makes a clerkship offer will keep it open for at least 48 hours, during which time the applicant will be free to interview with other judges,” the new policy states. The new plan is a two-year pilot program.

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