After Decline, Student Clerkship Numbers are Rising

by Thomas Dargon, Jr. 

In the last five years, UConn Law students have obtained fewer clerkship positions. Yet the Career Planning Center said that more recent numbers show that “things are getting better.”

Why are the numbers down? The reasons are not surprising. Judges are hiring an increasing number of experienced attorneys, reducing opportunities available to graduating students. And the East Coast is home to the most competitive clerkship market in the entire country.

But Michele Hoff, Associate Director of the Career Planning Center said that the landscape is improving for UConn Law students. This year, at the state level, UConn Law doubled the number of students who will be clerking at the Connecticut Appellate Court. Twelve of the sixteen Appellate Court clerks next year will be UConn Law graduates. Additionally, two of the seven clerkship positions at the Connecticut Supreme Court were offered to UConn Law students. At the federal level, in the past five years, Hoff reports that UConn Law students have obtained eight District Court clerkships (six in CT, one in FL, and one in MA), three Circuit Court clerkships (all outside the East Coast), and two Bankruptcy Court clerkships (one in WI and one in CT).

In order to help students deal with the expense of applications, the Law School offers a cost reimbursement program. Additionally, Hoff says that the Career Planning Center hopes to provide more networking opportunities for students by inviting judges to speak at campus events and continuing to maintain relationships with alumni who have completed clerkships.

Professor Molly Land is the head of the Faculty Clerkship Committee, which includes four faculty members, the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, one representative from the Career Planning Center, and one student representative. The Committee is charged with the task of evaluating the services available to students, developing new methods of providing support, and assisting students in crafting the most effective application possible. The Committee hopes to form a clerkship-advising program in the near future to match students with faculty mentors who can assist them in the application process.

Land clerked for the Honorable Denise Cote of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, a position that she applied for after her 1L year at Yale Law School. Land believes that her clerkship experience was an invaluable asset to her legal career. In an ever-tightening legal market, she encourages students to pursue clerkships because they provide a unique professional credential and help graduates stand out in their quest for post-graduate employment.

In general, Land aims to advise students on application strategy and encourages students to think ahead.

“There is a high correlation between clerkship offers and students with prior judicial internship experience. Judges talk to one another,” Land said. Like Hoff, Professor Land urges students to consider broadening their geographical range. Moreover, she recommends a “sequencing” strategy, i.e. using a state court clerkship as a stepping-stone for federal court clerkships.

On November 13, 2013, the Career Planning Center is hosting a panel of UConn Law alumni, all of whom completed clerkships, to engage in a discussion about the nuts and bolts of the clerkship experience. All students are invited to attend.