Selecting Law Clerks

April may indeed have been “the cruellest month” this year for federal judges and their prospective clerks. For a decade now, federal judges have been trying – largely without success – to conduct a dignified, collegial, efficient law clerk selection process. Because each federal judge has only to choose two to three clerks each year, and there is a large universe of qualified applicants graduating each year from our law schools, this would not seem an insurmountable task. And because each federal judge has choice first-year positions to offer and has no need or ability to dicker on salary or hours or perks, one would expect the process to go quickly and smoothly. Not so. To the contrary, the yearly clerk caper has been variously described as a “frenzied mating ritual,” “madcap decisionmaking,” “positively surreal, the most ludicrous thing I’ve even been through . . . brilliant, respected people … behaving like 6-year olds” and a “process … in which the law of the jungle reigns and badmouthing, spying and even poaching among judges is rife.”