Can I Get a Clerkship for SCOTUS?

By William Vogeler, Esq. on October 10, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Unless you graduate at the top of an elite law school, statistics say you are not going to get a clerkship at the U.S. Supreme Court.

The vast majority of Supreme Court clerks come from a handful of law schools -- mostly Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Stanford, and a mixed litter of others.

So how did Tiffany Wright -- a Georgetown night-school graduate -- get the job? Her story shows it's not just about who you know or what you know. It's who you are.

Who You Are

Wright, a clerk for Justice Sonya Sotomayor, is a thirty-something mother. She worked full-time as a paralegal to get through law school. She graduated in the top five percent.

When she took her place among the new law clerks, she was the only mother, the only African American, and the only one from the crime-ridden southeast side of Washington, D.C.

But that's not what made her standout. It was her passion, intellect, and writing -- and encouragement from Judge David S. Tatel, her boss at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, who told The Lily, "she was magical, just extraordinary."

"Just Extraordinary"

Perhaps, too, it was because of a prayer. Wright had hoped and prayed for a better life since her father was murdered two miles from the courthouse when she was seven.

In any case, it takes something special to become a Supreme Court clerk. More than 1,000 people apply for the clerkships each year, and only 36 make the cut. Hanna Stotland, who specializes in judicial clerkship guidance, said the majority of the jobs go to graduates from a handful of law schools.

"And so for that reason, I think candidates really need to be realistic about what achievements are necessary at their law school in order to be in the running," said Stotland, who graduated from Harvard and clerked on the Seventh Circuit and did not apply; she did not want to waste her time or a recommender's time.

Jay Wexler, a constitutional law professor and former clerk for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, told the ABA Journal that a recommendation letter is key. Ideally, it should come from someone who knows the justices.

"I mean, my own case I happened to have first-year constitutional law with the professor who was also Justice Ginsburg's constitutional law professor," Wexler said. "So that helped."

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