Breaking Down Clerkships

GUEST BLOG Makenzie Way,
2L at the University of Pennsylvania Law School

Post-graduation clerkships are tough to get but professionally rewarding … meaning lots of law students apply for them! For those of you considering it, 2L is the ideal time to apply! But before you send out endless applications, let’s review the types available to you because they’re not all the same!

Federal Clerkships (aka the Ivy league of clerkships)

Part of what makes these clerkships so prestigious is the limited availability of clerk positions. If you can navigate the competitive application process and land yourself one of these clerkships you’ll resume will thank you.

As a federal clerk, you’re guaranteed to have a hectic caseload filled with interesting, and more importantly, well-publicized cases. Furthermore, the judge(s) you’ll work under have stellar reputations, meaning one good reference letter can go far in helping you secure your dream job.

Note: Non-US citizens, unfortunately, cannot clerk within the federal courts.

State Clerkships

While state clerkships aren’t as prestigious as the abovementioned federal ones, they still offer an amazing experience, and often still qualify you for post-competition entry bonuses within most big law firms. Another bonus of proceeding down the state clerkship path? There are more positions available, meaning you have a better shot at getting accepted in the state you most desire!

Note: Some states accept international student clerkship applications!

Specialty and/or International Clerkships

Some states and courts hire specialty clerks for specific departments (i.e. tax). These positions are generally extremely limited. So, if you’re interested you should contact your school career planning office early to determine whether any such positions are currently available.

For dual-citizens or international students, you can also apply for clerkships outside of the US. While such positions may not carry the same prestige that clerking for the US Supreme Court, they can still benefit your career; especially if you’re uncertain whether you’ll want to stay in the US indefinitely after graduation.

Importantly, not everyone immediately starts out by clerking in the Supreme Court. If you know you want the career benefits of a federal clerkship, you can begin with a state clerkship and work your way up through the rings. Not only will this give you the benefit of added networking and experience, but you’ll also become more familiar with the court system and what it takes to stand out as a federal clerkship applicant.