Landing a Federal Clerkship Is Only Impossible If You Don’t Try

Ever thought of turning your apartment into a UPS store? Spending at least half of your time on something other than schoolwork? Sending your information to as many as 100 different judges across the country?

Me either, until I decided to apply for federal clerkship positions. Federal judges start accepting applications over a year before you will actually start working. The application process starts in January of your 2L year and preparation may begin even sooner. If you are fortunate enough to land a federal clerkship you will also have to graduate from law school and pass a bar exam before starting.

Federal clerkships are extremely competitive positions, as the top students from every law school in the country are applying to fill one or two open positions with a limited number of federal judges who will have positions open. Florida State Law graduates are being hired for these positions, so it is not unrealistic to consider applying. The Florida State University College of Law also has a committee in place, specifically to help and guide students through the application process.

In considering if you should apply, you should answer the following questions. If you answer is yes to most, or all, then you should consider applying:

  • Do you enjoy legal research?
  • Do you enjoy legal writing?
  • Are you interested in gaining a unique perspective of the legal system?
  • Are you within the top 20% of your class?
  • Are you a member of one of the law school’s journals?
  • Do you have advocacy experience, either through participation in Mock Trial or Moot Court?
  • Do you want to be able to put one of the most prestigious legal positions in the country on your resume?

Florida State University has various resources for students interested in applying for federal clerkships. The Clerkship Committee is comprised of extremely knowledgeable, patient, and helpful professors. The Placement Office will also review your resume and help you print mailing labels for your paper applications. The documents you will need for each application are:

  • Resume
  • Cover letter
  • Three letters of recommendation from College of Law professors
  • A writing sample, about ten pages in length

If you think you have what it takes, definitely consider jumping in and applying for these opportunities. Good luck!

??????????????????????????????????? Melanie Kalmanson, 3L

Taking Advantage of Summer Opportunities in Tallahassee Can Be Very Rewarding

Because I studied abroad during the summer after my first year of law school, the following summer was my first one spent right here in Tallahassee, Florida. Staying in Tallahassee for the summer provided me with some much needed rest and family time as I healed from knee surgery I underwent in the spring. As a student, I was also able to take advantage of Florida State University’s Fitness and Wellness Clinic, which assisted in my recovery and helped me get on a regular exercise regime. After recuperating, I ventured out to enjoy some of Tallahassee’s many great outdoor venues, including Tom Brown Park.

My summer in Tallahassee was also a great time to gain valuable legal experience. I continued with a part-time position alongside a family law practitioner with over 30 years of experience and clerked for a firm specializing in appellate law. These experiences provided me with opportunities to research some very novel areas of law, while simultaneously learning many of the practical ins-and-outs of operations within a law firm. I was also able to work with some great lawyers, who exemplified positive examples of what it takes to be legal practitioner. Ultimately, my summer assignments put my legal, research, writing and analytical skills to the test while allowing me to really appreciate just how much Florida State University College of Law was preparing me to participate and engage in the legal community.

While there are many reasons to be somewhere else during the summer, there are also a great many reasons to stick around and take advantage of opportunities right here in Tallahassee. As it turns out, last summer ended up being a great time for me to gain some valuable experience, start a new routine, and prepare for my exciting final year of law school at Florida State.

College of Law student ambassadors. Nicholas G. Bush, 3L

“Make Today Great!”

It was just another Tuesday working at the Leon County Public Defender’s Office when a complete stranger got on the elevator with me. We exchanged pleasantries and right before she exited the elevator, she turned to me and said, “Make today great!” I stood there in silence and thought about those words, but at that moment I did not know that this small phrase would impact me so heavily.

Working at the public defender’s officer has been my most rewarding experience since coming to law school. Growing up in a house with two parents in law enforcement and countless cousins and uncles in the military, there was no hope for me to steer clear of criminal law. I always imagined I would eventually work as a prosecutor, but while in both college and law school, I began to notice my emotions and mindset drifted towards defense.

Taking a chance, I registered for the appropriate courses, participated in the Criminal Practice Clinic, and chose to complete my externship at the public defender’s office. I never would have guessed just how much I would grow to love the work and the people in the office. I represented real clients with real issues. Their personal liberty was at stake and it was my job to meticulously review their cases and make sure that the State of Florida and its actors had properly charged them.

My externship gave my law school education purpose and provided the “ah-ha” moment I had been waiting for to justify having chosen to attempt law school in the first place. Finding my purpose is like the feeling of finding a home. I will never forget the call I made to a client to let her know that the State received the motion I had written and would be dropping the charge against her. Her elation almost put me in tears. That euphoric feeling of helping someone else motivated me to do better, work harder, and “make today even greater”. Even though I experienced angry calls, and some clients who never returned my calls, a simple thank-you at the end of the day can make it all worth-while.

?????????????????????????????????????????? Brooke Tharpe, 3L

Criminal Practice Clinic and Externship: A Great Training Ground For Tomorrow’s Litigators

When I arrived at law school I expected that I might have an opportunity to be an intern at a law firm and do some behind-the-scenes work like doing legal research or drafting briefs or motions. I did not expect to get real hands-on experience. Knowing that the best way to learn how to do something is to go out there and “do it”, I definitely wanted to take advantage of such an opportunity once I found out that I could.

The College of Law offers students the opportunity to extern at either a State Attorney’s Office or Public Defender’s Office. The process starts with an in-class preparation course, the Criminal Practice Clinic. During the Clinic students are provided with training in trial and pre-trial skills and are provided with the information needed for the job through a very hands-on approach. Professor Krieger, who teaches the course, is a seasoned prosecutor and his experience and insights are invaluable.

During the in-class portion, we were taught everything we need to know related to criminal process from the time the accused is taken into custody, to filing motions, through the end of a trial. I chose the prosecution side, so my goal was to work in a State Attorney’s Office. Even while in the class, I still did not think about how much real work I would be doing. I did not think that they would really give law students so much responsibility when it came to criminal records and real criminal cases. I was completely wrong!

After completing the course and obtaining my designation as a Certified Legal Intern (CLI), I spent my summer completing my externship placement in Tallahassee at the Office of the State Attorney, 2nd Judicial Circuit, Juvenile Division. I started by observing what my supervisor was doing and recognized a lot from what I had learned in my class. Before I knew it I was arguing cases for the State of Florida in first appearance hearings, doing arraignments, offering plea deals, and even participating in trial proceedings. I made many of the decisions on how to proceed with a case, including exactly what to offer a defendant in a plea deal.

As I noted, these were things I never thought I would be doing as a law student. There was a lot of pressure to because this was someone’s future and I also had the consideration of the victims in the back of my mind. It was a great learning experience because I experienced what lawyers are dealing with every day. My efforts secured a conviction during my only case that went to trial. It was a great feeling to win a case; a feeling I never thought I would have so early on in my legal career.

Getting hands-on experience through an externship was one of the best decisions I have made since starting law school! It also helped confirm my desire to go into criminal litigation after law school. I recommend it to anyone who is thinking about doing litigation, whether criminal or civil.

Employers love seeing this on your resume and talking about your experience as a CLI during interviews. I can speak from experience because this was the very first thing an interviewer asked me about during my first interview as a 3L.

?????????????????????????????????????????? Matt Sulkin, 3L

Getting Experience During The Summer Can Be More Valuable Than You Might Think!

Following my 2L year, I received an offer to work as a summer associate with my dream law firm in Tampa, Florida after participating in the on-campus interview (OCI) process with our Placement Office. As soon I finished my final exams I headed straight to Tampa to begin my summer clerkship with the firm.

They wasted no time in getting me assimilated. On my very first day, I met another summer associate I would be working with, attended a meet-and-great breakfast with many of the firm’s attorneys, went through training exercises, and was shown to my office. I cannot express how exciting it was to actually have my very own office! I was nervous, but as I came into contact with more people, I was made to feel welcome and gradually felt more at ease.

As summer associates, we were treated like and assigned the same type of work as a first-year associate and were invited and encouraged to attend various department meetings whenever we could. The attorneys I came in contact with came from a wide variety of backgrounds and ranged from first-year associates to senior partners. The firm had approximately 70 attorneys, so I had the opportunity to observe a diverse range of legal practice. These included different writing styles, operational preferences, and approaches to legal analysis.

It was exciting to apply what I had learned in my classes in real-life scenarios and the supportive environment made me feel purposeful. As the summer progressed I became more acquainted with different areas of law and practice. I had never considered some of these areas before, and several really appealed to me.

On top of the work-related aspects of my clerkship, the summer associate program also had an incredibly robust social component designed to help us get to know the attorneys outside of the office.  In addition to being invited to lunch by different attorneys each day, the full-time associates planned structured events and put a great amount of effort into making sure that we had a one-of-a-kind summer associate experience. These events included happy hours (with delicious food!), a Tampa Bay Rays baseball game, a Tampa Bay Storm arena football game (in the firm’s box at Amalie Arena), kayaking at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, a wine tasting event in Ybor City, and a social gathering that gave us an opportunity to meet summer associates from other law firms in Tampa.

By the end of my 10 weeks I was completely sold. I knew that these were the attorneys I want to work with in my professional career. I spent the next few weeks relaxing and enjoying a break, learning to catch lobsters in Key West, and ended up adopting a dog. Not long after arriving back in Tallahassee to prepare for my 3L year, I received a phone call from the firm offering me a permanent associate position after graduation. Not a bad way to top off your 2L summer!

Student ambassadors for the College of Law April Zinober, 3L

Balancing School and Outside Activities is Important to Success Following Your 1L Year

You hear all the time that your 1L year is the hardest, and it gets easier after that. It definitely seemed like that to me because I was focused on academics my first year. Now, as a 2L, I also have the freedom to choose my classes as well as what I want to do outside class to supplement my legal education.

There are many different approaches, but it seems that the focus in the 2L year shifts to building one’s resume. One of the many great aspects of the Florida State University College of Law experience is that you have many diverse opportunities to explore as a student. With so many opportunities—clinics, externships, internships, student organizations, and co-curricular activities—how do you determine where to focus your efforts?

For the people who know with 100% certainty what they want to do with their law degrees, the choices are a bit easier. But for those of us who are not even 10% sure, the sheer number of choices can be overwhelming. Either way, it is easy to overcommit and then find yourself booked for every second of every day.

You will not be alone in the crazy endeavor to try and do everything but here are some simple tips for managing the seemingly unmanageable as your look forward to your 2L year.

Surround yourself with dependable people and make sure that you too can be counted on when needed. You cannot do everything yourself, so you have to be able to lean on those around you. This is especially important if you are going to be in student group leadership positions or team activities. Make sure whoever you work with are people you can trust to get their tasks done and make sure that you allot an adequate amount of time to get your tasks done.

Your calendar is your best friend (after caffeine of course). Scheduling and sticking by your calendar is important. Whether it is electronic or hard-copy, make sure it gives you somewhere to write down EVERYTHING in one place so that nothing will fall through the cracks.

Concentrate on things that you love. Getting involved in an activity, joining a group, or taking a job just to build one’s resume does not really benefit anyone. There are too many opportunities to be involved in something you will find rewarding. So, do not jump into something that will make you unhappy or dissatisfied.

School comes first. Personally, I love my job more than I love going to class, but one has to graduate and pass the bar to become a real lawyer. So, keep up with your reading assignments and homework and always go to class. Even those classes that begin at 8:00 a.m.

Take care of yourself. It does not do you or anyone around you any good if you are sick all the time or you are too tired to function. So eat well, get your rest, and set aside some time to spend with your friends. You need your health and your sanity to be a productive, so use that handy dandy super calendar I already mentioned above.

Don’t panic. Starting at the end of the fall semester of your 1L year, you will be able to start looking at your options. During the following spring many will be laid out in front of you by the various co-curricular organizations, the placement office, the externship office, and student groups. Just keep telling yourself not to panic because you do not have to do everything.

No matter what you choose to do, you will handle it like a champ if you keep these things in mind. You know what will be best for you, so take advantage of those opportunities that interest you and you will have a great experience!+

Student Ambassadors for College of Law  Katie Harrington, 2L

Persistence and Hard Work Can Land You a Federal Clerkship and Much More!

This past summer I had the opportunity to serve as a summer clerk for a Federal Magistrate Judge in Jacksonville, Florida. Since the beginning of law school, the possibility of clerking for a judge was something I had always been interested in doing, but was concerned I might not have the necessary grades, class rank, or connections. So I began working to prepare myself for this position during the summer of 2014 while clerking for the United States Attorney’s Office.

While at the U.S. Attorney’s Office we were encouraged to attend various types of proceedings to get a feel for the environment of federal courts. In doing so, I came across a judge for whom I was determined to work the following summer. From her reputation in the office and her demeanor on the bench, I knew learning from her would be invaluable. I remained a consistent presence in her courtroom throughout the summer, asked to meet with her before I returned to school, and left her with my resume. She later told me my persistence as well as being assertive was what landed me the position.

To say I learned a lot clerking for a federal judge would be an understatement. On my first day I was given a checklist of preliminary assignments I was to complete before I would be delegated any “actual” work. This checklist contained multiple reading assignments including four books about grammar and concise writing, the Federal Rules of Evidence, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and hour-long interviews with each of the U.S. Supreme Court Justices about what makes a good writer. I did not think I would have time to finish all of this before I had to return to the College of Law for the fall semester.

About two weeks and a lot of homework later, I received my first assignment. After working on it for almost a month, the Judge was kind enough to pour over it line by line asking me to explain why I chose certain words or phrasing. This took four hours. Her input has shaped the way I write even text messages since. It was intimidating to say the least, but I now feel more confident than I ever have with my writing style.

The thing that surprised me most was the Judge’s interest in my future. I was applying for jobs throughout the summer and she took time to put me through interview boot camps and helped me find the perfect power suit. She also helped me perfect the art of “thank you” notes and taught me the necessity of Crane paper. Her help and guidance throughout the application and interview process aided me in landing my job after graduation this fall.

I am so lucky to have spent the summer learning and refining not only my work but my professional identity. It has reaffirmed for me that in the real world there is more to a law student than their resume and grades, and there is more to be gained in a summer position than how to file a motion.

College of Law, Student Ambassadors. Nicole Corring, 3L