by Samantha Cohen (L’18)
On Friday, November 13, the Career Development Office hosted four judges in the Moot Courtroom for an insightful and informative program in the Judicial Clerkship Series, featuring Hon. Henry E. Hudson and Hon. John A. Gibney, Jr. from the Eastern District of Virginia, Hon. Randolph A. Beales from the Virginia Court of Appeals, and Hon. Beverly W. Snukals from the 13th Judicial Circuit Court in Richmond.
The judges reflected on their personal and professional preferences from many years of collective experience, and shared profoundly helpful tips as to how law students should go about obtaining a judicial clerkship or internship. Together, the judges emphasized the importance of showing strength in each stage of the application process; before, during and after the interview.
Before the interview
Think carefully about where you want to practice before you submit your applications. Apply early, submit a strong cover letter and perfect your resume. In the judicial clerkship application process, be strategic about your references, as letters of recommendation from professors are weighed very heavily by the judges, as well as letters from someone the judge personally knows. One judge went as far as to say that “he doesn’t pay much mind to letters of recommendation from people he doesn’t know.”
Submitting a strong writing sample with absolutely no typographical errors is a must. Judges are looking for strong writers who are direct and to the point, write in plain English, do not use the passive voice, and include smart transitions. Each judge reiterated the importance of a strong academic record – the stronger, the better. Put ample time in to prepare for the interview and take it very seriously. Final tips: Bring questions of your own to the interview, research the judge and their cases, and be fully prepared to answer questions about the law.
During the interview
The interview begins the moment you walk into the courthouse. Each judge echoed the role of their assistant as the gatekeeper; do not treat this lightly. The first interview is with the assistant and the second is with the judge, really. In the interview, set the tone with a firm handshake and strong eye contact. Be yourself and demonstrate that you have care and empathy. Non-academic life before law school is very important as well; judges want you to demonstrate your ability to get along well with others by drawing on past professional experiences.
Law school is not the same as the real world, and judges are looking for students who have well-rounded interests and hobbies that extend beyond the walls of the law school. Final tips: Do not wear perfume or cologne, do not try to over-impress the judge, and be prepared to say why you want to be a law clerk or judicial intern.
After the interview
Sending a handwritten thank you note is a great way of standing out with “a touch of class and sign of grace.” While an email is better than nothing, each judge insisted that there is nothing like a handwritten thank you note. The judges emphasized that it is all right to follow up with occasional emails after sending the handwritten note, but please do not email them every day.
The judges drove the point home that “the more you do, and the earlier you do it, the better.” The learning curve is steep, you will learn how to research and write very quickly and become comfortable advocating and debating the issues with the judge. Final tips: If you receive a call with an offer for a judicial clerkship or internship, do what the Career Development Office says and accept the offer on the spot. It is disrespectful and discouraged to ask the judge for a day, even an hour, to think about it. After participating in this Judicial Clerkship Series program, it is clear these are not opportunities we as law students can afford to miss.
Thank you again to the judges who participated in this Judicial Clerkship Series. To my classmates, be sure to mark your calendars for the next CDO sponsored Judicial Clerkship Series program: Why You Should Apply for a Bankruptcy Clerkship on Friday, Feb. 19 at 12:00 p.m. in Room 114. Register via Symplicity.