Clerking for a judge is a unique legal experience. It offers an insider’s view of the judicial process, including how judges make decisions and interpret the law. Clerks read briefs, hear arguments, write memoranda, and make recommendations about how issues and cases ought to be resolved. In the process, they gain invaluable experience with legal substance and procedure. Clerks are part of small, productive legal teams where collaboration and exchange are valued; work on challenging and topical legal issues; and benefit from the supervision of an experienced jurist. Employers appreciate the clerkship experience precisely because of the insights, skills, and attributes they afford our graduates. Some public interest fellowship programs and government employers give special consideration to clerks, and private law firms often credit former clerks with seniority commensurate with the years spent clerking and may even pay a clerkship bonus.
Duke Law is deeply committed to supporting its students and graduates who wish to clerk. This commitment—from the Dean to the faculty to the tremendously effective Clerkship Office—has consistently yielded extraordinary results at all levels. For example, from 2010 to 2013:
- 6 Duke Law graduates clerked on the United States Supreme Court
- 66 Duke Law graduates clerked on the United States Courts of Appeals
- 72 Duke Law graduates clerked on the United Stated District Courts
- 16 Duke Law graduates clerked on other federal courts
- 45 Duke Law graduates clerked on the State courts
As former Duke University President Terry Sanford said, Duke is a place of “outrageous ambition.” And so we are never satisfied. Our goal over the next few years is to increase clerkships at all levels, including in the state courts where most common law is made and applied, and thus where our graduates—from those who will practice law in the states to those who are interested in the development of the common law as an intellectual pursuit—will gain both tremendous experience and advantage.
The clerkship hiring schedule largely depends on the court and the judge. Most federal judges and courts tend to hire earlier in the year than most state court judges, and some entire federal circuits hire earlier than other federal circuits.
The Law School’s clerkship application process is designed to be flexible and effective for our students and graduates. As such, it reflects and responds to the judges’ and courts’ own hiring schedules, which vary widely. For example, some judges begin hiring in October, others begin in January, and still others wait until summer. The Law School works with all students to identify clerkships in which they are interested and for which they are competitive, and processes applications accordingly. The result is that each student develops an application schedule tailored to his or her interests and qualifications.
Judges do not consider students until after their first year is complete and some judges require at least three semesters of grades. Because of this, the Law School’s clerkship process is focused on students who have completed their first year. At the same time, what students do in their first year is critical to their prospects going forward. The Law School strongly recommends that 1L students who are interested in clerking focus on their work and grades, develop relationships with their faculty who could eventually recommend their candidacies, and attend the Career Center’s general information sessions on clerkships.
Students in their second and third years who are interested in clerking must attend the Career Center’s general information sessions, let the Director of Clerkships Programs know of their interest, and follow the clerkship application process described in the next tab.
Finally, Duke Law also supports its alumni who are interested in clerking. Interested alumni should contact the Director of Clerkship Programs and follow the clerkship application process set out below.
The clerkship application process is explained in detail in the Career Center’s general information sessions. These sessions take place in the fall and spring semesters and are open to all Duke Law students. Visit the Career Center’s program schedule.
The process requires interested students to follow these steps:
- Attend the Career Center’s general clerkship information sessions.
- After you have received your 1L grades, notify the Director of Clerkship Programs of your interest in clerking.
- Identify and meet with professors who might be willing to provide you with a clerkship recommendation letter. You will need three recommendation letters.
- Establish an account on Symplicity, the Law School’s internal clerkship system. Complete Symplicity’s requirements for information and documents.
- Establish an account on OSCAR, the federal courts’ external clerkship application system. Complete OSCAR’s requirements for information and documents.
- Keep in touch with the Director of Clerkship Programs about the progress of your applications.
Because the application process is a team effort which includes the student or graduate, his or her faculty, and the Director of Clerkship Programs, throughout the process students are advised to continue to work and consult with their faculty mentors and recommenders who themselves will be working closely with the Director of Clerkship Programs.