Frequently Asked Questions
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (FAQs)
(Updated June 18, 2012)
- Dates and Deadlines
- The Hiring Plan
- Letters of Recommendation and Faculty Support
- The Application
What are the relevant dates for submitting an application to the Federal Courts?
2012 Federal Law Clerk Hiring Plan: Critical Dates
- First date and time when applications may be received/accessed by judges:
Tuesday, September 4, 2012 (12:00 noon EDT)
- First date and time when judges may contact applicants to schedule interviews:
Friday, September 7, 2012 (12:00 noon EDT)
- First date and time when interviews may be held and offers made:
Thursday, September 13, 2012 (10:00 a.m. EDT)
See the 2012 Federal Law Clerk Hiring Plan for more details.
Does the Law Clerk Hiring Date apply to state courts as well as federal courts?
No. Many state courts have decided to follow the federal system, but many do not. Please see the Career Services Website for the link to The Vermont Law School Guide to state clerkships.
What is OSCAR?
The Online System for Clerkship Application and Review (OSCAR) is a system that will permit applicants to file their federal clerkship application materials online and designate those judges to whom they wish to apply. Federal judges and staff will be able to read, sort and manage applications on line.
Last year, over 1,564 federal judges posted 1,048 clerkship openings through OSCAR. Some listed judges may choose to accept paper applications. Each judge will make his or her own determination.
How do I use the OSCAR system?
Access OSCAR at https://oscar.uscourts.gov and complete the on-line applicant registration for new users.
Where can I find the 2012 Federal Law Clerk Hiring Plan?
Online, on OSCAR: https://oscar.uscourts.gov/drupal/content/federal-law-clerk-hiring-plan
Do the provisions of the Law Clerk Hiring Plan apply to law graduates as well as students?
No. The Hiring Plan does not cover applicants who have graduated from Law School. Judges may interview and hire law school graduates at any time.
Do all Federal judges follow the Hiring Plan?
How can I tell if a Federal Judge is or is not following the Hiring Plan?
Research. You can check their descriptions on the OSCAR site. See for example the language in the listing by Judge Jerry Smith in Texas.
Why are judges on OSCAR accepting applications now? Are they not following the Hiring Plan?
The way OSCAR is set up, the opening date for applications is automatically set on whatever date the chambers posts the position, and there is no way for chambers to change that opening date to a date in the future. The fact that someone is listed as accepting applications now does not mean that he or she is ignoring the Hiring Plan. Student applications will not be released until September. Third-year students should assume that a judge is following the Hiring Plan unless the listing indicates otherwise. Some judges may seek applications earlier than September from graduates and practicing attorneys. If the posting closes before September and the judge is only accepting application through OSCAR, then you may assume the judge only wants applications from alumni.
How do I get the faculty recommendation letters from the Faculty Support Office?
See the Clerkship Letter of Recommendation fact sheet for the four steps for obtaining faculty letters of recommendation. Faculty Support will develop two MS Excel Files that you should use to submit your "list of judges" to Faculty Support Services and complete the webform to identify faculty members.
When do faculty members have to submit recommendation letters to the Faculty Support Office?
What if I need faculty recommendation letters before September to meet an early state deadline?
Communicate with Faculty Support directly about deadlines via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
How do non-faculty member utilize Faculty Support?
Outside recommenders do NOT go through Faculty Support. You are welcome to share the excel spreadsheets with outside recommenders it if would be of assistance to them, but they are responsible for creating their own letters. Also, you should become familiar with the OSCAR user guide for recommenders (on the OSCAR site) so that you can explain the process to them.
What should non-faculty members write in their recommendations?
We do not have a template recommendation for outside recommenders as the relationships are all very different. However, we can offer some general advice: The letter should be as detailed as possible. The recommender should describe some of the projects you did with explicit mention of your research, writing, and analytical skills, and stress your experience and their reliance on your judgment. Provide the recommender with some reference to your background if you think it would be appropriate. If you are asked to write a first draft for your recommender, then stick to the facts and let them add adjectives.
When do I need to submit my list of judges to the Faculty Support Office?
If you submit your list of judges by July 15 and the letters are ready as well, the office can guarantee that they will be processed in time for September deadlines.
How do I submit my list of judges to Faculty Support?
On our clerkship website, please find two Excel Lists of judges—a federal excel and a state excel—for use in your submission of your own lists to Faculty Support for faculty recommendations. The Clerkship Information Sheet explains how to use these lists. The spreadsheets are not “locked” so although you should not change the data, you should sort after making your selections and delete the judges to whom you will not apply—only submit the list of the judges/courts to whom you will apply.
The State Excel. This Excel does not include every state court judge in the country; the list includes administrators listed in the Vermont State Guide who take central applications (Mass SJC, Appeals Court, Connecticut Chief Appeals Court judge, RI trial court administrator) and state appellate court judges who hire clerks. If a judge to whom you wish to apply is not on the list, please contact Faculty Support and do not make any changes to the Spreadsheet.
The Federal Excel. There is only one federal excel—not two—but you will need to create two separate excel files and label them appropriately: one for Federal Paper and the other for Federal OSCAR.
How many applications may I send?
75 paper applications and unlimited OSCAR applications. If you have a need to apply to more judges, please submit a one paragraph explanation to Heather Hayes (by e-mail) before noon on July 12th for consideration by the Clerkship Committee.
Which method should I use if the judge accepts both OSCAR and paper?
Pick one. Usually this scenario occurs if a judge (i.e. usually 5th and 10th Circuit judges) is not following the Federal Law Clerk Hiring Plan and wants rising 3L applications before September 4th. OSCAR releases alumni applications when finalized, but it will not release 3L applications until September 4th. Hence, the need for paper. You need to show that a judge is not following the plan before the school will release any federal letters.
What should I say in the cover letter?
The letters that are most targeted to the judges are the most successful. Explain why you want to clerk for that judge or that specific court. Keep it simple.
Do faculty recommendations have to be included in the application packages?
Yes. The federal judges' ad hoc committee report included a recommendation that students submit their recommendation letters (in sealed envelopes) with their application materials. If a letter is mailed separately, the outside of the envelope should be clearly marked: Clerkship Recommendation for [Applicant Name].
What about employer recommendations?
Employer recommendations should be included as well.
Where is the Most Up to Date List of Judges? Which judges are Hiring?
OSCAR will list all of the federal judges, except for judges on the U.S. Supreme Court, the U.S. Tax Court, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces. The judges, however, will retain the freedom to decide whether or not to post clerkship information on the site. You can also cross reference with the Judicial Yellow Book Leadership Directories to see the judges for the district and you can tell from the listings if they have Career Clerks.
Use the Vermont Law School Clerkship Guide as a starting point for state applications. There is no central state court database.
How can I tell whether a judge accepts applications through OSCAR or by paper?
The first question is: Have they registered on OSCAR?
The second question is: If so, have they indicated (check archives, too) if they prefer mail or OSCAR—check the icons on the list. If the judge has not registered on OSCAR, then s/he would accept paper applications if there is an opening.
If the judge historically hires each year, but has not posted an opening by July 15th, what should I do?
If the judge historically hires, but has not posted an opening yet, include the judge on the appropriate spreadsheet.
How do you find out if a judge historically hires?
Review any archived postings on OSCAR. Check the Leadership Directory to see information about the judges’ current staff and whether they have career clerks or term clerks.
If the judge is “grayed-out” on OSCAR (i.e. has not posted any information), how can I tell if he or she is hiring and through what method?
If the judge is grayed out, s/he will not accept applications on OSCAR (so any applications must be by paper). Use other resources (yellow book, clerkship questionnaire responses & etc.) to see if s/he is hiring.
Can a judge change his or her mind and switch from paper to OSCAR (or vice versa)?
Yes. OSCAR does not restrict whether or when judges can sign on to OSCAR, so you need to monitor your judges throughout the summer and make sure there are no changes. More commonly, a paper judge will become an OSCAR judge rather than an OSCAR judge switching to paper. You will not need to re-do your spreadsheets. You will need to set up an application on OSCAR though if the judge chances his/her mind at the last minute.