Career Services Office

Clerkship Application Procedures and Policies

The Application Process

To be successful in the judicial clerkship application process, you must plan ahead and adhere to specific timing guidelines. This is especially true for federal clerkships, as detailed later in this section.

When to Begin Researching Clerkship Options

Students should begin researching state clerkship options and judges during their second year of law school, and at the latest, during the following summer. There is no set or established timeframe to apply for state clerkships, and therefore early research can pay off. As for federal clerkships, specific and mandatory rules regulate the application process, which will be discussed in detail below. Still, early research of opportunities to clerk in the federal system can translate into well-framed applications for clerkships at the appropriate time.

Within the Symplicity document library, you will find spreadsheets for conducting research. These spreadsheets contain information about alumni who have clerked and alumni on the bench. You will also find a current list of Illinois Circuit Court judges, Illinois Appellate and Supreme Court Justices and a list of current federal judges.

Where to Apply

Outstanding clerkship opportunities are available all over the country and at all levels of both the state and federal systems. The application process, however, can be extremely competitive. For example, unless your credentials are excellent, you run a serious risk of disappointment if you limit yourself exclusively to Federal judges in Chicago.

Unfortunately, applicants tend to concentrate their efforts in relatively few cities. There is more opportunity if you are able and willing to apply to areas other than Chicago, Los Angeles, and the major East Coast cities (e.g., New York, Washington, Boston). Therefore, be realistic if you want to try to secure a judicial clerkship. If possible, consider the South, and the Plains, in addition to the major legal markets. John Marshall students have been successful over the years in obtaining clerkships in such far away locales as Hawaii and the Northern Mariana Islands. Do not apply to a city you are unwilling to move to, however. If a federal judge extends you a job offer, for example, it is not appropriate for you to turn it down. Keep this in mind when you are applying for opportunities.

How many applications should I complete?

You may apply to as many judges as you wish. If you are creating federal clerkship applications, keep in mind that the Career Services Office will only mail up to 200 paper applications for each student applicant. As mentioned above, you should never apply for a clerkship that you would not accept if offered to you. A student must make his or her decision regarding where to apply based on a variety of factors, including professional and intellectual interests, geographical preferences, and career and personal plans.

When to Apply — Federal

The John Marshall Law School fully supports and adheres to the Federal Judicial Law Clerk Hiring Plan for 2012 ( This plan sets forth the timing of applications, interview schedules, and offer dates for eligible federal judicial law clerks. Perhaps most importantly, this plan prohibits law students from submitting applications to federal judges prior to the Tuesday following the Labor Day holiday of their third or final year of law school.

In keeping with this plan, The John Marshall Law School and its faculty will discourage the mailing of federal clerkship applications prior to August 31st, 2012. Further, the law school will not process or release official transcripts and will discourage faculty from formally promoting a law student’s application in any way, through recommendation letters, telephone calls or otherwise, prior to the day after Labor Day.

The specific dates for the Federal Judicial Law Clerk Hiring Plan for 2012, which apply to federal District Court judges, Magistrate judges, and Bankruptcy judges, are as follows:

Tuesday, September 4, 2012 (12:00 p.m. Noon EDT)
First date when applications may be received from third-year applicants

Friday, September 7, 2012 (12:00 p.m. Noon EDT)
First date and time when judges may contact third-year applicants to schedule interviews

Thursday, September 13, 2012 (10:00 a.m. EDT)
First day and time to interview and make offers

A cover letter, resume, writing sample, transcript (law school, undergraduate and other) and two to three letters of recommendation should be sent to each judge you apply to. Refer to OSCAR (Online System for Clerkship Application and Review) for more information on whether individual judges are hiring and their specific requirements ( After judges have reviewed application materials, they will typically schedule a personal interview with a select group of potential clerks. The judge will likely make his or her decision shortly after the interview.

Once a student has passed the application date threshold (day after Labor Day), they may continue to apply for federal clerkships throughout the year and after they graduate.

When to Apply — State Courts

State Supreme and Appellate Courts

There is no set timeline for state court hiring. Judges often hire when there is need. Some judges have career clerks (clerks who are not on a set term) and some have term clerks (set term of 1 or 2 years). Some judges have a mixture of both term and career clerks. Some judges prefer to hire new graduates or newly licensed attorneys. If you do plan to apply for a state court clerkship, you should make it a point to get to know current clerks and extern for judges/justices while you are in law school. Networking can play a big role in obtaining a state court clerkship. In addition, you can find information about state court clerkship hiring from a document in the Symplicity Document library called “Judicial Clerkship Guide By State.” This document provides application information and deadlines for most state courts.

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Clerkship Application Materials

There are five essential elements for the clerkship application: a cover letter, a resume, your most recent transcript, two or three letters of recommendation, and a writing sample.

Cover Letter

It is not uncommon for a judge to receive numerous clerkship applications and to delegate the initial screening to someone on the staff, often a current law clerk. Therefore, your cover letter should be no more than one page long.

The introductory paragraph should be short and state that you are currently a student at The John Marshall Law School. You may want to include information that sets you apart from the other candidates. Such information can include a geographic location that you share with the judge, like your hometown or the city you attended school in. If the judge is a John Marshall alum, you may want to draw that connection in your first paragraph as well. Also, be sure to address the judge correctly, using the term “Judge” or “Justice,” as appropriate.

The second paragraph should explain your work experiences, externship experiences and any activities you participate in or honors you have received at John Marshall. You should also use this paragraph to focus on your research and writing exposure and experience. Judges are particularly interested in hiring strong writers.

The third paragraph should concisely state your interest and qualifications for the position and why you should be considered. The closing paragraph should identify the requested materials that you have enclosed, and if and when you are available for an interview. You might communicate that you can plan to be in the area, or even that you already have a trip to the area arranged at a particular time.


Your resume should be one page. It should highlight, when possible, judicial externship experiences, law review, moot court, trial advocacy or other honors and activities. A resume that shows commitment to public service is also helpful. Be conservative, but include any information that could be useful such as publications, community service, interests or activities. Please consult your Career Counselor for resume review.


At this time, transcripts need to be typed into OSCAR by hand. You may obtain a transcript from the Registrar’s Office.

Letters of Recommendation

Two or three letters are needed. A powerful recommendation is an important component of the clerkship application. Although many judges prefer letters from professors, letters from employers with whom you have had substantial legal work experience also can be very helpful. You should choose your recommenders on the basis of how well they know you and your work. If you achieved the highest grade in one of your classes, but you did not know the professor very well, you might consider asking another professor who knows your work product better to write you a letter of recommendation. Letters that address your analytical skills, research and writing skills and your ability to apply your legal knowledge in a practical setting are best.

The Career Services Office will assist with processing faculty letters of recommendation, both in paper form and through OSCAR. You should contact faculty members as soon as possible if you would like them to write letters for you.

If you want to use recommendation letters from people who are not John Marshall faculty, the CSO will not process them. You should let these recommenders know early that you would like them to write a letter on your behalf. They will be responsible for uploading their letters to OSCAR.

If an outside recommender writes you a letter of recommendation, and you intend to include that letter in a paper application packet, you must ask your recommender to place the letter in a sealed envelope. You must turn the sealed envelopes in with the rest of your paper application materials.

Writing Samples

Writing samples are a very important component of the clerkship application since most judges hire strong writers as clerks. Invest time in developing a good writing sample. Ask your writing professors to look over your sample, or work with the Writing Center to improve your document. Make sure your writing sample is legible, grammatically sound and that its spelling is flawless (do not rely on Spell-Check!).

Make clear the purpose for which the piece was written in a separate cover letter attached to the sample. You can use a law review article, a moot court brief, a course paper, or a memorandum from a summer clerkship. Any legal piece will do as long as it shows you can write, attack a problem, and think logically. If you wish to use a document that you wrote for an employer, you must first obtain permission from the employer and redact all names and other confidential information. If you have worked as a judicial extern, you may not use any work you prepared for your judge unless you receive permission from the judge. Even if the judge gives you permission, you should indicate that what you are submitting is a draft of what you submitted to the judge.

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John Marshall’s Judicial Clerkship Application Plan

Now/before leaving for summer 1. Familiarize yourself with the federal clerkship application process.

2. Ask John Marshall faculty members for recommendation letters and complete Faculty Recommendation Letter Request Form.
June 28 Deadline to submit Faculty Recommendation Letter Request Form
Now/August 13 Start compiling federal clerkship application materials, including cover letter, resume, writing sample, transcripts, etc.
July 27 Deadline for faculty to submit recommendation letters (in electronic form) to CSO
July 27 Deadlines:

1. Submit Excel spreadsheet to CSO containing names of all judges you’re applying to, with a designation of OSCAR/non-OSCAR for each judge

2. Open applications for each individual judge in OSCAR.
August 13 Deadline to deliver to CSO completed application packets containing: Cover letters, resumes, writing samples, transcripts and any other requested application materials
August 31 Applications mailed to judges
September 4 Judges may begin receiving applications OSCAR applications released to judges
September 7 Judges may begin scheduling interviews
September 13 Judges may begin conducting interviews

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