Applying for Judicial Internships

This past semester I had to begin thinking about how I’d spend my 2019 summer. I’m a 1L, so the goal for the first summer is simply to gain some exposure to practical legal work. Opportunities to do so include interning at a law firm, working with in-house counsel at a business, finding a government position, or working with clerks and a judge as a judicial intern. Most of the staff and student mentors I’ve worked with at BU told me not to stress about finding a summer job until February through April. Students secure positions before that, but many employers consider first semester grades, and those don’t come out until some time in January. If you want to apply for a judicial internship, however, you have to get things rolling early.

gavelA judicial internship involves working closely with a judge and her or his full-time clerks. Responsibilities can include researching issues, drafting legal memoranda, and briefing staff on relevant matters. Apparently your role can vary greatly depending on the judge you work with. Some, for instance, allow interns to write portions of opinions. Others do all of their writing themselves and conceive of interns more as pupils to educate rather than staff to rely on. A federal judge I spoke with last semester told me that most other federal judges take one to three judicial interns on each summer, and that state level judges might take more. Depending on what kind of judge you work for will determine what type of work you do, so it’s important to understand how different level of courts operate before applying (i.e. a state trial court working a case through for the first time with be concerned with different matters than a federal appellate court reviewing a trial that already took place.

Per NALP (National Association for Law Placement) standards, “Prospective employers and first-year law students, however, should not initiate contact with one another…before December 1.” While reaching out to a firm or company right away might not give you much of an edge (though I’m sure there are arguments that it can), I was strongly encouraged to get out applications on December 1st so that they would arrive in judge’s chambers as soon as possible. From what I understand, there is no HR department that handles the hiring of judicial interns. Judges (more likely their clerks) will examine applications as they arrive and reach out to promising candidates. The federal judge I spoke with mentioned weighing first semester grades heavily when deciding whom to interview, but that not all judges do. Further, the judge offered that more than anything, strong candidates would have evidence of clear and robust communication skills in their resume and cover letter. I asked about the effect of having work experience as opposed to being straight out of college, and the judge simply said that it all came down to whether the work experience was relevant, i.e. that a lab scientist might have excellent professional credentials, but that a straight-A English or history major right out of college might have more obviously relevant skills. As an English major myself and a former English teacher, this news heartened me (though I haven’t gotten my grades back yet, and those are important to the vetting process regardless of working background).

The application process itself was simple, but the organizational tasks it involved were time consuming. Everyone who gave me foldersadvice emphasized how important details were (though in any job application you want to make certain you cross the ts and dot the is). The applications require a resume, cover letter, and writing sample, all properly addressed and formatted. The resume was easy. BU Law’s career office was incredibly helpful with revising it and getting it down to a single page. I also had two older students offer to help me with revising my materials (the students here are very giving of their time). After formatting, printing, and assembling everything, I printed out individualized address labels for each judge and bought postage ahead of time (the post offices can be slow in person and I didn’t want to risk not getting my envelopes out on time.

I applied to around thirty judges, mostly federal. It is hard to know whether all of the judges you apply to work with are accepting applications, but I figured it was worth it to send out more rather than fewer. I was impressed (though a bit disheartened!) when the first two emails from judges’ chambers I received were thank-yous informing me that the judge was not seeking any interns for the coming summer. Still, it was nice to hear back anything at all.

Since then I’ve received one more letter from a judge turning me down, but I’ll post again next semester about what follows! If this route doesn’t work out, I’ve been assured there are many more opportunities to get real experience. Best to stay positive and consider all my possibilities!

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