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May 2009

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This article is in the news archives --- for current news go to the Third Branch News.


OSCAR: A Winner for Judges and Law Students

The class members of 2010, like previous law school graduates, will seek prestigious federal judicial clerkships. Over the next weeks and months, they’ll send out hundreds of applications and references to federal judges with clerkship openings in the hopes they’ll be among the lucky chosen few.

Some of the judges on the receiving end of applications will spend a considerable amount of time and resources handling paper applications. The rest—over 1,000 judges—will save time and more than a few trees with the Online System for Clerkship Application and Review, or OSCAR. The number of judges receiving electronic applications has significantly grown since 2005 when Judge James Robertson (D. D.C.) took his idea of automating the clerkship application process to a fully implemented system.

OSCAR is a single, centralized on-line resource for notice of available clerkships, clerkship application information, and law clerk employment information for judges available at https://oscar.uscourts.gov/. Need a law clerk? Post your vacancy on OSCAR with all the requirements of the position, or post a notice that there are no vacancies, and spare yourself a flood of hopeful applicants.

“All the information you’d get from an applicant by opening an envelope comes electronically to chambers. In addition, a judge with a clerkship vacancy on OSCAR has the ability to screen applicants by law school, law journal experience, specific areas of legal experience, or numerous other criteria,” said Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis (E.D. NY), chair, OSCAR Working Group.

With a recent upgrade to OSCAR, judges now can look at a law school’s profile for its ranking and grading system. “OSCAR presents efficiencies,” said Garaufis. “It’s one tool that can be used to receive applications, screen applicants, and then print out the materials for the selected candidates.”

Garaufis appreciates those efficiencies. When he began as a federal judge in 2000—in the days before OSCAR— Garaufis received 700 applications for his law clerk positions. “We opened all the envelopes, and because the letters of recommendation arrived separately, we then had to collate them with the applications,” Garaufis recalls. “We made piles of applications by law school. It put my chambers out of business for a week.”

OSCAR also levels the playing field for third-year law students.

“It permits them to apply, submit all the information necessary to be considered, including references, and have all the judges receive the information electronically at the same moment,” said Garaufis. “Law schools don’t have to bundle up hundreds of applications and mail them.”

Seeing a vacancy on OSCAR may offer a potential bonus by encouraging a law student to consider a judicial clerkship in a different area of the country, or in a different type of court than originally planned.

The recent OSCAR upgrade also added forums for the different OSCAR user groups (judges, applicants, and law school administrators), to increase communications and allow feedback on the system.

“Even judges who do not accept electronic applications, but post clerkship positions, benefit from OSCAR. Potential applicants receive immediate electronic notification of clerkship openings posted in the system,” said Garaufis. “Use of OSCAR is optional. But we encourage it because it is efficient and comprehensive, and we’ve made it as user-friendly as possible.”