Indiana Law School To Revamp Clerkship Hiring


Marilyn Odendahl for

The deans of Indiana’s four law schools were part of the successful push to change hiring practices for federal judicial clerkship and allow first-year students to concentrate on “learning for its own sake.”

In September 2017, deans from 111 law schools from across the country wrote a letter asking that judges delay interviewing and hiring until after the students have completed their second year of legal studies. The current practice of clerkship hiring after the first year, they said, added more pressure and altered the students’ focus.

“The point of the first year is to lay the foundations of a legal education while also encouraging exploration and learning for its own sake,” the deans wrote. “It is more difficult to pursue those goals when clerkship decisions are based solely on the first year.”

Andrew Klein, dean of Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law, Andrea Lyon, dean of Valparaiso University Law School, Austen Parrish, dean of Indiana University Maurer School of Law, and Nell Jessup Newton, dean of Notre Dame Law School, were among those who signed the letter.

In response, federal judges are launching a two-year pilot program that will shift recruiting and interviewing to students who have finished their second year. Judges participating in the pilot will have to wait until June 17, 2019, to accept applications or recommendations, conduct interviews or make offers to students who entered law school in 2017. Similarly, the judges will have to wait have until June 15, 2020, for the students who started law school in 2018.

Also, the initiative ends so-called “exploding offers” that force candidates to quickly accept the offer on the spot or lose the clerkship. Judges will have to keep an offer open for 48 hours so the applicant can be free to interview with other judges.

The plan was formulated by the Ad Hoc Committee on Law Clerk Hiring, which includes Chief Judge Diane Wood of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Paul Caron, the dean of the Pepperdine University School of Law, noted in his TaxProf Blog that the new pilot program replicates a policy that began in 2003 and continued for 10 years. It was undermined by “fiercely competitive individual judges (who) ignored the rules and pursued the top first-year students for clerkships…,” he wrote.

Caron also signed the letter.

The deans raised concerns that the accelerated hiring process would disadvantage first-generation law students and reduce the number of women and minorities in the hiring pool. In addition, faculty has less information about students’ academic performance and leadership potential when they have to make recommendations before the end of the first year.

“As a result, there is a greater risk that we will simply make a mistake — either in who we are recommending or in who we are not recommending,” the deans wrote. “It is thus very difficult for us to help judges hire students who fit well in their chambers.”