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The Federal Clerk Hiring Process Is Getting a Coronavirus Revamp This Summer
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Law students who wish to land a prestigious federal clerkship usually take last-minute flights to interview with judges, but the COVID-19 pandemic is forcing the judiciary to rethink federal clerk hiring processes.

Federal judges have been encouraged to interview clerk candidates only by phone or video—annulling the need to crisscross the country to meet with judges in person.

See related article: To Clerk Or Not To Clerk

  
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The Ad-Hoc Committee, which was created in 2018, released a letter in April to inform all federal judges that the latest version of the Law Clerk Hiring Plan will stay in effect during the COVID-19 outbreak, but that judges should address the challenges brought on by the outbreak and adjust their hiring process to limit exposure to the virus and get past travel issues for candidates.

The clerk hiring plan aims to make the hiring process more consistent and transparent by setting dates for judges to review applications, conduct interviews, and make offers.

See related article: How Attorneys Can Get a Job During and After a Federal Clerkship

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The Ad-Hoc Committee is comprised of Chief Judge Sidney Thomas of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit; chief Judge Robert Katzmann of the U.S. Court; Chief Judge Diane Wood of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit and Judge Merrick Garland of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

“We know how difficult the current period is for students and judges alike, as well as for all of those assisting in the clerkship hiring process,” reads the letter from the committee. “Given that the crisis is of uncertain duration, it makes sense to adhere to the application and hiring schedule as planned, with the practical safeguards of online applications and video interviewing.”



The committee’s letter urges judges and students to go about the hiring process by using the online OSCAR system—the judiciary’s clerkship application program—to avoid the need for both students and judges to handle paper applications and therefore limit the virus transmission risks.

See related article: Judiciary Prepares for Gradual Reopening

“This will mitigate health risks to both students and judges, as well as circumvent the uncertainties and difficulties of travel,” reads the letter.

OSCAR is essential to the long-term success of the Law Clerk Hiring Plan because it allows the judiciary to monitor when judges receive applications from candidates and make it more difficult for judges to jump the gun on hiring.

Under the current clerk hiring plan, which debuted last year, judges should wait until the summer after a law student’s second year to make a call on hiring. That timeframe is meant to ensure judges have two years of grades to consider and that students who don’t have connections to the industry (such as parents who are lawyers) would have enough time to learn about clerkships.

This year, however, OSCAR will release applications to judges on June 15, giving them a 24-hour period to review applications—and on June 16 judges may start interviewing candidates. Judges must hold offers open for 48 hours to allow students to interview with other judges. The committee plans to reevaluate the pilot model at the end of the 2020 clerk hiring cycle.

The first round of the plan was applauded by judges and law schools. “I am pleased that judges are considering the possibility of remote interviews this year,” she said. “Students are being affected in very different ways by the coronavirus. Some will not feel it is safe to travel, either because it would create risks for themselves or for loved ones. Remote interviewing, even if it sacrifices something, makes this a fairer, more open process.” Ruth Payne, senior director for judicial clerkships at the University of Virginia School of Law told LAW.com.



 

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