Clerkship Apps Rise Amidst Shaky Law Firm Hiring

Rise in HLS clerkship applications may indicate a souring job market

In a continually-ailing job market, more Harvard Law School third year students applied to judicial clerkships this past fall, according to the Harvard Law School Office of Career Services.

Associate Director for Judicial Clerkships Kirsten K. Solberg attributed the increase in clerkship applications to a tougher job market, which likely prompted students to apply to many different positions to ensure employment post-graduation.

“Clerkships are continuing to grow as a nice alternative,” she said.

Solberg said that there was a more dramatic increase in clerkship applications when the economy crashed in 2008, but in the following years the application rate has continued to increase in smaller increments.

Still, she added that she thought the current popularity of clerkships was tied to the changing likelihood of obtaining law firm positions.

“I think if law firms jump back up to their hiring practices before 2008, we would see a decline in clerkship applications,” Solberg said.

While the weakened economy has affected the ability of students at other law schools to obtain employment, Harvard Law students have been largely been unaffected.

“The percentage of Harvard Law School graduates [with jobs at graduation] varies in small numbers in the boom years compared to the worst job market years,” Solberg said.

“For most Harvard students, the difference in the job market means not as many offers to chose from.”

Rachel E. Mehlsak, a third year at the Law School, will clerk next year for Maine Supreme Judicial Court Justice Jon D. Levy as “a nice way of transitioning into practice later on.”

Mehlsak said that she applied to work for over 100 judges, including judges that sit on state supreme courts, federal appeals courts, and federal district courts.

According to Solberg, applying to about 80 clerkship positions is normal for students interested in clerking—some students apply to more, some apply to fewer.

Soblerg said that the rate of students that are accepted to clerkships would be a meaningless statistic because students who could probably get a clerkship somewhere in the country sometimes apply to a very narrow pool of judges based on personal preferences or the cities where the judges are based.

“Most Harvard applicants who want a clerkship could get a clerkship—it’s a matter of how broadly or narrowly they want to apply,” Soblerg said.

Mehlsak said that most of her friends who applied for clerkships were given positions.

“I have a lot of friends who applied,” Mehlsak said, “and I would say maybe half to the majority were accepted.”

—Staff writer Caroline M. McKay can be reached at carolinemckay@college.harvard.edu.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction.

CORRECTION: MAR. 23, 2011

The Mar. 22 article "Clerkship Apps Rise Amidst Shaky Law Firm Hiring" misspelled Maine Supreme Court Justice Jon D. Levy's name.

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