The Quickly Unraveling Clerkship Market
posted by Dave Hoffman
It’s not surprising, but it is a little sad, to report that the judicial clerkship hiring plan is on its last legs. The plan, as you may recall, organized hiring of clerks by prohibiting schools from sending materials before a certain date (the day after Labor day) and asking judges not to call to schedule and then hold interviews for a week and change (this year, September 13 and 16th, respectively). As anyone who studies these kinds of systems knows, a few defectors can put tremendous pressure on the rest, especially when no one is actually governed by law. This unfortunate unraveling market syndrome results from a lack of will by the federal judges to centralize and control hiring, and possibly from the untimely death of the hiring plan’s originator, Third Circuit Judge Eddie Becker. This year, three pieces of evidence suggest that the dam is about to burst:
1) Certain law schools submitted applications in the summer but haven’t -as far as I can tell- been punished with the blacklisting that the plan appears to contemplate. I’ve heard rumors (and I’d love to be corrected) that Vanderbilt and Michigan, among others, are on that early-submitting-school list. [Update: individuals from Vandy and Michigan have both denied that their respective schools violate the plan by organizing submissions through their central offices, and believe that any packets sent before last week might have been put together by individual students. They report that other institutions do submit school-sponsored packets over the summer. Readers: help us name names.]
2) Certain circuits -the 4th in particular- simply decided to opt out of the plan altogether, and have largely finished hiring.
3) Many, many federal judges have quietly opted out, by soliciting resumes directly, making calls when they please, or, more commonly, by hiring lawyers from practice rather than students. Because lawyer hiring doesn’t have to happen on the plan’s schedule, judges can effectively poach from an active secondary market. It’s also the case that the clerks they get from practice are probably on balance better than the ones they’d get from law school. And it permits judges to avoid the ridiculously time consuming task of sorting through thousands of resumes — a logistic problem that they aren’t staffed to handle. But in time when law school graduates are desperate for jobs, the trend is grim.
These trends combine to suggest that hiring plan can’t last. Schools are in a bind. If they comply with the plan, they risk harming their students, as the increasingly limited clerk positions go to applicants from non-conforming schools who submitted “early”. But if they deviate, the remaining judges who still feel strongly that the plan is a good policy may blacklist them. The result is that law schools probably can no longer be counted on to support the hiring plan, since it is not serving their collective interest. The result: 2010′s hiring season will be the last in which the hiring plan has any particular force in disciplining the clerkship market.
I’d love to hear what you think about this dire picture.
(Image Source: Computational Legal Studies)