For everything you could ever want to learn about what judicial interns do, different courts that exist, how to apply, when to apply, and resources for your judicial internship search, read on.
What Judicial Interns Do
A judicial internship is a summer position working for a judge in the judge’s chambers that is generally unpaid. Interns work closely with the judge’s law clerks and possibly with the judge as well. Interns typically research and write memoranda, attend trials or arguments, and perform other tasks that will be helpful to the judge’s clerks.
Summer judicial internships provide one with the opportunity to gain perspective on the law from the “other side of the bench,” see litigation in action, and witness how judicial decisions are made. A major benefit of a summer judicial internship is that you will improve your writing skills, as legal research and writing are the primary duties of this position. Most judges and/or their law clerks provide substantial feedback on assignments.
Keep in mind that your mileage will vary depending on the particular summer internship. Many judges provide substantive assignments that will enable you to extensively research particular issues and learn about the law. Other judges focus more on observation and getting their interns to see as many hearings as possible. If improving your writing skills is a priority for you this summer, make sure you ask a lot of questions in the interview process to get a clear sense of the type of experience you will be signing on for.
Also, some judges do not have space for their interns in chambers so if being in the same office as your co-workers is a priority for you, keep that in mind. If what you’re really looking for is a true office atmosphere, where you get the chance to regularly interact with co-workers and feel like you’re part of an office team, this might not be the ideal summer experience for you. On the other hand, if you are an independent worker, these judicial internships may be the best fit.
No matter what type of summer job you are considering, ask yourself how it will look on your resume before you accept it. What will the bullet points for that experience say? If every single bullet point involves you observing something, how will that look to an employer? Which of those bullet points would grab an interviewer’s attention?
Do not take a job offer because it was easy to get and involves little work on your part. Your 1L summer job has consequences; when you are interviewing for your 2L summer job, your 1L summer job is the #1 thing you will be asked about.
Types of Courts
When applying for judicial internships, there are more opportunities than you might think.
U.S. Court of Appeals
U.S. District Court
Special Federal Courts: U.S. Court of Federal Circuits, U.S. Court of International Trade; U.S. Bankruptcy Court, U.S. Tax Court, U.S. Court of Veterans Appeals, Federal Administrative Law judges (i.e., Department of Labor, Federal Energy Regulatory Agency), U.S. Magistrates
State Supreme Courts
Intermediary Appellate Courts
State Trial Courts
State Administrative Law Judges
Tribal Courts and other specialty courts (For more information on tribal courts, check out the The National American Indian Court Judge Association – http://www.naicja.org/).
Where To Apply?
You have heard the CDO say it before and we will continue to say it again and again. It is best to work in the geographic area in which you want to build your career, particularly if you do not already have ties there.
Once you have narrowed down your geographic preferences, consider which courts you are interested in. Don’t make your decision based exclusively on prestige. If you want to see trials, plan to apply to either federal district courts or state trial courts. State court internships provide wonderful experience and are a great tie to a particular geographic area.
Some federal courts of appeals hire summer interns as well. These positions involve a great deal of research and writing and provide great experience. Note that some judges have a policy of not hiring past interns as judicial clerks after graduation.
In some states, criminal, family law, probate, tax and other categories of cases are handled only in certain courts, which can provide substantive experience in a particular area of law. There are some paid judicial internship opportunities with programs such as the North Carolina State Government Internship Program, which requires you to be from North Carolina, but these opportunities are not common. For funding resources available to judicial clerks, check out my summer funding blog post.
Additionally, the American Bar Association’s Judicial Intern Opportunity Program is open to diverse students. Applications are accepted starting on December 1 for 1Ls and November 7 for 2Ls on a rolling admissions basis. Successful applicants get $2000 in funding. For more information click here.
How to Apply?
The first step to applying for summer judicial internship positions is to make a list of judges to whom you would like to apply. There is no central database of summer judicial hiring. (The OSCAR database you might have heard of is only for post-graduate judicial clerkships.)
Your list should include the name of the judge, the court, the city the court is located in, when applications are due, what the judge wants in terms of application materials (cover letter, resume, etc.), and how they want it (hard copy, email it in).
A resource that many NDLS students find helpful is the spreadsheet showing judges NDLS students have worked for over the past three summers. That spreadsheet is resource #5 under “Employer Research Resources” in the CDO’s Resource Center. Be sure to check out resource #4 “1L Judicial Summer Internship Hiring Survey” as well. That spreadsheet does some of the work for you in terms of stating what judges in certain jurisdictions are looking for in terms of application materials.
Once you have gone through these resources and started to make your list based on them, turn to resource #18 under “Employer Research Resources” in our Resource Center, “Leadership Directories.” This resource contains contact information for judges for every court. You can also use westlaw, wikipedia, and the courts’ specific websites for this purpose. (See the 7th Circuit’s website here, for example.)
Check symplicity. We post judicial internship positions there as well.
In making your list, go court by court. Have a federal judges and a state judges section. Go methodically through every judge in every jurisdiction in which you’re interested in working and find their application information. Sometimes that information will be available online (see the Superior Court of California, County of Santa Clara’s judicial intern posting) and sometimes you will have to call chambers. Do not call the judge directly. The judge’s administrative staff will be very familiar with his or her application processes for summer interns.
If you are interested in a particular court (e.g., Northern District of California, Indiana Supreme Court), you should likely apply to all of the active judges on that court that are within your target area.
In most jurisdictions, you will apply to individual judges versus a central administrator. Initially, forward a cover letter and resume; be prepared to bring to an interview: a writing sample, undergraduate transcript (unofficial copy), and law school transcript (unofficial copy), when available.
Make sure that your cover letter clearly indicates that you are seeking a position as a “summer intern.” The term “law clerk” in this context is reserved for post-graduate, full-time positions with a judge.
When to Apply
As soon as December 1st as you can. Don’t delay. Most judges hire on a rolling basis and actively interview over winter break. Some judges may wait until fall grades come in before considering applicants but even for those judges, it benefits you to get your application in early and then send in your grades later when they come.
Of course, if the website states or you call chambers and they tell you not to apply until you have your fall grades, heed that advice and then apply as soon as you get them.
Before applying for a judicial internship, carefully consider whether it is what you want to do for the summer. If you accept an offer to intern, your decision is final. This is true for any offer you accept and not just offers for judicial internship positions. After accepting, you will withdraw your outstanding applications with all other potential employers. Talk to a career counselor in the CDO if you have any questions about your application strategy.
Please reach out to the CDO for any questions you have about your judicial internship search (and for any questions you have about any aspect of any part of your job search.) Or feel free to just check in and let us know how winter break is going. We love hearing from you.