- To whom should I speak, when, and what do I say?
Speak with your primary contact person. At most firms, that will be the recruiting coordinator. Raise the subject not immediately upon walking in the door, but in the beginning orientation period. The employer is likely to be introducing personnel issues then anyway, so you should be able to bring up clerkships naturally in that context if the employer does not bring up the topic first. Reaffirm your interest and commitment to your summer employer and indicate that you have been considering clerkship opportunities to bolster your credentials as an attorney. Your tone should be low-key and hopeful, rather than presumptuous. Here are some examples of how you can start the conversation:
To convey an accepted clerkship: “I want to let you know early on, for planning purposes, that I have accepted a one-year clerkship for 2021 with Judge X on the Y Court. I will do my best to prove myself to the office this summer with the hope of discussing employment possibilities for after the clerkship.”
To lay the groundwork for potential interviews: “I am applying for some judicial clerkships and understand some judges will want to conduct interviews over the summer. While my top priority is to do a good job here, I am hopeful that I might receive some clerkship interview invitations and be able to work them around my responsibilities here.”
- Will I jeopardize a permanent offer with my summer employer if I signal that I have accepted a clerkship or am interested in clerking?
Highly unlikely. The vast majority of legal employers recognize judicial clerkships as great, high-profile, respected opportunities to refine one’s skills. Law firms even typically provide clerkship bonuses and credit toward partnership for incoming attorneys who clerk before joining the firm. All that said, be aware that some employers will have a policy of not providing a permanent offer yet for after a clerkship and instead keeping in touch with you for further discussions later with no formal commitment yet on either side. See our webpage on Future Employment.
- Are there any exceptions to the general principle that employers support clerkships?
Yes. Clerkships that start not right after graduation but a year or two later can cause problems for employers in staffing new attorneys on appropriate projects. See our webpage on When to Clerk and tread more carefully.
Also, the smaller the office, the more difficult it may be for an employer to provide a permanent offer for after a clerkship rather than immediately after graduation. Knowing that the majority of HLS students work in larger firms during their 2L summers, much of our advice above and below is oriented in that direction. But if you are working for a smaller office, you may want to tread more carefully to determine the lay of the land before raising the subject.
- Will I indicate that I am not serious about staying in my summer employer's region if I have accepted a clerkship elsewhere or travel elsewhere for clerkship interviews?
No, not if you communicate your clerkship interest properly. Explain your goal as getting good experience to build your legal skills and your strategy as casting a wide net in a competitive process. If questioned, reaffirm your interest in the employer’s region the same way you did during your initial interviews.
- Can I get any help from my summer employer in my clerkship search?
Likely yes. Especially in a big office, many attorneys will have clerked or otherwise have connections with various judges. Don’t expect help on day one, but prove yourself to them by doing good work, and they may be motivated to use their connections in a valuable way as the summer progresses.
- Should I still leave for a clerkship interview if I become involved in a time-sensitive project that requires my presence in the office?
Scenarios like this require that you always communicate clearly and use your best judgment. First, see if there is any flexibility in scheduling the interview or conducting the interview by videoconference or telephone. Next, tactfully approach the supervising attorney to see if you can work on the project remotely or hand it off to another summer associate temporarily. In some cases you may need to forgo a clerkship interview in order to meet a deadline or fulfill your responsibilities to the summer employer.
Remember that the goal of most summer jobs is to secure a permanent offer or (in cases where the employer typically does not extend a permanent offer – for example, most public interest positions) at least to leave with superb references. Even if you ultimately decide not to accept an offer from your summer employer, having an offer in hand (or strong references) will enhance your marketability for future employment opportunities. Therefore, enthusiastically pursue clerkships but make professional choices to protect your reputation with your current employer.
- Should I do every clerkship interview I am offered?
You should be applying only to judges for whom you would like to work. If you are offered interviews and you are able to manage your current work responsibilities, then certainly try to interview with every judge who invites you, grouping together (as much as possible) in-person interviews that require travel. However, you do not necessarily have to go in person. Before resorting to turning down an interview, at least explore whether the judge is willing to conduct the interview by videoconference or telephone, which likely will be more common over the summer.
- When are clerkship interviews most likely to take place this summer?
With the new hiring plan date of June 16, 2020, for the Class of 2021 students, we believe there is likely to be a flurry of activity during that week and into the following week. Other judges will act more into July and August (although many judges tend to go on vacation in August). While you may want to take some vacation too, try to remain accessible through email and voicemail in case judges contact you for interviews.
- Will my summer employer think less of me if I am not successful in getting a clerkship?
No, assuming you have managed the relationship as described above and not burned any bridges. Employers realize the clerkship application process is very competitive and quirky, with highly qualified candidates striking out merely due to bad luck.
Keep in mind too if you have not secured a clerkship by the end of your summer job, your clerkship search should continue. Many good judges will hire through next fall and even into the spring. If you receive a permanent job offer from your summer employer, it will be just as important to walk the fine line of reaffirming your interest in the summer employer while providing updates about the status of your clerkship search. See our webpage on Handling Offer from Law Firm.
When communicating with your summer employer about clerkships, use the same good judgment that helped you gain admission to Harvard Law School and secure your summer job.