Let the Judicial Hiring Free-for-All Begin

By Robyn Hagan Cain on January 30, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

It turns out that federal judges are just as big of gunners as the fledgling lawyers who want to work for them.

You see, once upon time, there was this thing called the Federal Judges Law Clerk Hiring Plan.

(Maybe we shouldn't speak about the plan in the past tense. Technically, it still exists. So do 8-tracks. That doesn't mean that anyone uses them.)

The big news this week is that the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals has formally announced that it will not use the plan for the 2014-2015 term because so many other judges sidestepped the plan to get better law clerks. (Brief thanks, David Lat.)

How does hiring using the plan put judges at a disadvantage?

The federal clerkship hiring plan isn't particularly onerous. It's a series of start dates and deadlines set by the Online System for Clerkship Application and Review (OSCAR) working group. For example, under the 2013 hiring plan, third-year law school applicants cannot submit clerkship applications until August 19. Judges may begin contacting applicants to schedule interviews on September 3, and can make offers beginning September 9.

Judges, however, have the option of hiring "off-plan." And that's the D.C. Circuit's beef.

The appellate court recently announced:

Because participation in the plan is voluntary, a significant percentage of all United States circuit judges must agree to follow it if it is to work appropriately. During the past few years, a significant and increasing number of circuit judges around the country have hired in advance of the plan's interview and offer dates, and it is likely that they will continue to do so. As a result, continued adherence to the plan is no longer fair and equitable to either students or judges.

Yes, the D.C. Circuit has officially thrown down the gauntlet. Which could be a good thing for law students. A federal appellate clerkship is already impressive, but a clerkship for the D.C. Circuit -- which is practically a SCOTUS feeder court -- counts as an extra-shiny gold star on your résumé. If you're willing to hustle, you could beat the other applicants to one of those coveted gigs.

What do you think? Is off-plan hiring a good thing? A bad thing? Completely irrelevant because you're never going to get a federal clerkship anyway? Let us know your thoughts on our Facebook or Google+ pages.

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