November 30, 2004
I Am Not a Bigot
November 30, 2004 02:39 PM
I just got an e-mail from Career Services, advertising a summer 2005 externship position with a United States District Court Judge. It requested that interested applicants send, along with resume and transcript, a less-than-10-page writing sample. Wondering what kind of writing sample would most appeal to the Judge, I looked him up online and discovered that he had been appointed by a Republican president. Could any past or present employees of judges shed light on whether one's political affiliation/ jurisprudential philosophy matters to them?
Also, whether they prefer writing samples that exhibit a lot of legal research and bluebook citation skill in the service of a dull question (such as The Memo), or writing samples that creatively engage an issue relevant to the judge's caseload. The Curmudgeon, speaking about clerkship applications, said, "A sample should be concise and should demonstrate your ability to dissect and analyze a difficult legal problem. A discursive, purely descriptive essay-style sample does not provide a judge with an opportunity to see what your work product will be like if you are hired." Good advice, but I'd like something more specific.
This may be useless, but YMMV. I definitely have heard of judges who use as an initial litmus test questions like "Is the Constitution a living document?" I understand that only one answer was considered correct. I can't imagine that is the norm, however.
Usually, it is possible to get in contact with a judge's clerks. They can offer the best advice, and you would be surprised at how frank many of them can be (virtually always with the approval of the judge, who wants a good fit with you).
I worked for a judge after my 1L year. I submitted my first semester memo, slightly cleaned up, for a writing sample. Most of the work I did that summer was write objective, not-necessarily-interesting memos, so it was appropriate. (Working for a judge was a fascinating experience and I strongly encourage it. But not every memo was interesting).
The judge's caseload will likely change between now and when you start working. Picking a topic from that will show that you can read a docket, but not much more. Plus, not every judge actually likes her current caseload, so it could just as easily work against you.
That's my take on the issue.
Of course, if you can contact the clerk, as Craig suggested, that would clear it all up.
1. It varies. For some judges it matters more than with others. But my guess is that your political affiliation will matter very little to most judges considering you for an externship (it might matter more if they were looking at you for a clerkship, since your contact with the judge would be so much greater). Caveat: if you are way out there and way outspoken about your politics, it might give a judge the willies about hiring you, even for an externship. Bottom line: I don't think most judges would be bothered by not having a chambers full of "yes-men," as long as they're convinced you'll do the job well and not try to inject your politics into your work product.
2. My advice is to use your best work, regardless. Judges know that law school writing assignments are often on dumb or dull subjects with no connection to what they do. I wouldn't use anything just because it has lots of great bluebooking. I would go with The Memo were I in your shoes, if that's the one that has solid legal analysis. It shows you can analyze a "dull" subject, a skill you can apply to subjects on the judge's caseload too. Good luck!
I clerked at a US District Court for a Clinton appointee and on a US Circuit Court for a Reagan appointee, and found the application/interview process similar for each. While I'm certainly not qualified to speak beyond my own experience, my general thought is that political affiliation is irrelevant in most cases except insofar as it relates to an applicant's ability to get along with a judge personally. I would speculate that this is more true on the trial than on the appellate level because of the greater degree to which the appellate confirmation process is politicized, but I can also point to numerous examples of supposed hard-line conservative feeder judges hiring avowedly liberal clerks. Keep in mind that the vast majority of the caseload on both levels is apolitical (mmm...ERISA litigation). Judges want clerks who can do thorough analysis and write well (and quickly); presumably, they also want to be able to stand that person's company in daily interactions. Bottom line: I wouldn't stress the politics unless you're applying to a Kozinski or a Sentelle.
As far as a specific recommendation for a writing sample, I'd use something like part of a moot court brief (i.e. dealing with only one of the three or four issues presented). My Court of Appeals judge would get pissed if I turned in a memo unnecessarily longer than 10 pages; brevity is good, as long as the issue in question is fully addressed! The only downside to the moot court briefs is that everyone submits them. I tend to think that the writing sample is just a check to make sure the applicant can draft a legal document by him/herself, and is much less important than the school/gpa/resume in getting to the interview itself.
Of course, this is all relevant to clerkship applications, and there might be different factors that come into play for summer internships. So I've just managed to eviscerate my entire post with regard to your question. ;)