The Judiciary’s Federal Law Clerk Hiring Pilot Plan, which makes the judicial clerkship hiring process more transparent and uniform, has been extended for two years after getting good reviews from both law school deans and judges. The voluntary hiring plan will run through June 2022.
“The plan gives us the opportunity to see a larger universe of applicants and ensures that we are better able to evaluate them,” said Judge Merrick B. Garland, of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, who also sits on the committee that composed the hiring plan. “It also provides more equal opportunities for students whose parents are not white-collar professionals and hence do not have as good information about the value of clerking or the process of applying.”
Law clerks, who are often selected from the pool of talented law students and recent law school graduates, directly assist judges in legal matters, such as drafting motions and opinions.
The hiring process is done through the Online System for Clerkship Application and Review (OSCAR), which is an online database that enables candidates to upload applications and send them to all the judges they are interested in clerking for. All participating judges receive applications on the same day and are given a 24-hour window to review them before they can begin the interview process. The plan also delays the hiring of students for clerkships until after their second year of law school.
“By not beginning the hiring process until after a law student’s second year, we can effectively reduce the pressure that clerkship applications would add to the already pressured first year, and give students time to work with professors, write for law journals, and participate in other law school activities,” Garland said.
“That so many law school deans urged that judges participate in the plan is testament to its value,” said Judge Robert A. Katzmann, of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, who sits with Garland on the Ad Hoc Committee on Law Clerk Hiring. “Law school deans have told me that the plan has led to a more diverse pool of applicants and has helped level the playing field, especially as to those law students who enter law school without any background in the law and really shine in their second year of law school.”
Travel restrictions, stay-at-home orders, and the need to protect the safety of applicants during the COVID-19 pandemic led to almost universal adoption of remote audio and video conferencing services for interviewing candidates by judges participating in the pilot plan. Garland said these innovations will be tested further in future years of the pilot.
James C. Duff, director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, said the plan “has brought greater accessibility to the clerkship hiring process for both judges and applicants.” He added that, “The plan’s use of online applications and remote interviewing has proved essential in conducting clerkship hiring during the pandemic and will help reduce the travel costs that applicants incur with in-person interviewing well beyond the pandemic.”
The Ad Hoc Committee on Law Clerk Hiring, formed in 2017, is responsible for the voluntary hiring plan. Also serving on the committee, with Garland and Katzmann, are Judge David J. Barron, of the First Circuit, Chief Judge Sidney R. Thomas, of the Ninth Circuit, and Judge Diane P. Wood, of the Seventh Circuit.
Additional information about the hiring plan and future application forwarding dates are available on OSCAR.