By Kathleen Rubenstein, Executive Director of the Skadden Fellowship Foundation, email@example.com
The Skadden Fellowship provides two years of funding for recent law school graduates to work in the public interest, addressing the civil legal needs of people living in poverty in the US. We have recently updated our FAQS and posted the 2022 application on our website’s application process page. For Fellowships beginning in the fall of 2022, the application will be due on Friday September 10, 2021.
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One thing that always surprises people who aren’t lawyers is how far in advance you have to apply for legal jobs, particularly at the beginning of your career. I applied for my current job in March, which was considered “late” in the hiring cycle. I started the job in January, 10 months later, which is not out of the ordinary for academic jobs. Clerkship are also like this. Students are applying right now for clerkships that will start in September 2022. And sometimes judges hire several years in advance.
Public interest fellowships are no different. In fact, if you are hoping to begin a fellowship in September 2022, you should start thinking about it now, 16 months before your start date. If you wait until the middle of the summer, you are already behind.
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This blog is mostly for people who are already committed to public interest law, or at least for those who are on the fence about what they want to do. But I recognize that there are many lawyers who don’t see themselves as working in the public interest except in the narrow sense that they represent their clients diligently, work to hone their craft, and contribute to the well-functioning of the legal system. And there are plenty of law students who are striving to get good grades and a good job after law school, without much thought about how they will contribute to the public good.
That is not to say that they won’t find ways to give back to their communities, by, for example, volunteering through civic organizations or their church or by donating money to charity. There is nothing wrong with this kind of contribution, and we should applaud people who devote themselves to the greater good no matter what form it takes. But I would argue that as lawyers we have a special obligation to contribute to the public interest in our role as lawyers, either by devoting ourselves to public interest careers or, at the very least, by spending a significant amount of time doing pro bono legal work.
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It’s clerkship application season, so it seemed like a good time to do a post about the role judicial clerkships play in public interest careers.
For those who don’t know, judicial law clerks work for a judge for a year or two after graduating from law school. They write memos for the judge, draft opinions and orders, and provide logistical support for the judge’s courtroom. Most judges―state, federal, magistrate, and administrative―have law clerks, though not all of them have clerks they hire for a year at a time. Some hire career law clerks who hold their positions indefinitely. In this post, I am mainly talking about short-term clerkships because this is what people are talking about when they talk about clerkships in law school.
Judicial clerkships are coveted positions that signal prestige, accomplishment, and potential. Lawyers who clerk will earn hefty bonuses if they go on to work at a big law firm. Clerkships are also important for those wanting to become law professors (over half of law professors hired in 2020 had done at least one clerkship). If you want to be an appellate lawyer or have an active Supreme Court practice, having a clerkship on your resume is crucial.
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