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Federal Law Clerk Hiring Plan Is ‘Discontinued’

The Federal Law Clerk Hiring Plan, which sought to bring order to the process of hiring judges’ law clerks, “has been effectively discontinued, and no further dates are being set in connection with the plan,” according to a memo sent to all federal judges.

The memo from Judge John D. Bates, Director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, also urged federal judges to make greater use of OSCAR, a centralized system that enables law school students and graduates to research federal clerkship vacancies and apply electronically. Bates said OSCAR, which stands for Online System for Clerkship Application and Review, makes the process fairer and more transparent.

The Hiring Plan set several limits on the receipt of applications, interviewing and hiring of third-year law school students. First- and second-year law students were barred from applying on OSCAR, and participating judges received electronic applications through OSCAR on a set date.

But the Hiring Plan was voluntary, and growing numbers of federal judges began to opt out, accepting paper applications and hiring clerks before the official deadlines. Law school deans increasingly questioned whether the Hiring Plan was achieving its goals.

Bates’ memo adopted several recommendations made by the OSCAR Working Group, an advisory committee made up of federal judges and law school officials, at two fall meetings. The judges and law school representatives collaborated to develop recommendations that support transparency in clerkship recruitment and ensure OSCAR’s ongoing value.

“The OSCAR Working Group recognized the decline in participation in the Hiring Plan was jeopardizing OSCAR’s viability,” said U.S. District Judge Timothy Burgess, chair of the working group.

Under the new process, rising second-year law students can begin researching clerkship openings on June 1, and can begin submitting applications on August 1. Judges will receive applications from eligible students immediately and can offer available clerkships at any time. Second- and third-year law students and alumni will continue to have full access to OSCAR year-round.

The memo also said best clerkship hiring practices had been developed for federal judges by the Working Group, and the National Association for Law Placement will be asked to create a list of recruiting practices that best meet the needs of law schools and students. The Administrative Office will make the list available through OSCAR.

With the Hiring Plan coming to an end, Bates urged federal judges to use OSCAR, whose online listings enable all potential applicants to learn of new clerkships in a timely manner.

“The Judiciary supports a transparent clerkship recruitment and hiring process, and OSCAR plays a valuable role in ensuring transparency,” the memo said. “OSCAR’s online application process eliminates paper and saves court staff time. Using OSCAR adds diversity to judges’ applicant pools and enables judges to electronically manage a large volume of applications through search and sort features. I encourage you to use OSCAR to post your hiring practices.”

According to Administrative Office data, 72 percent of federal judges hold OSCAR accounts, a 2-point increase from FY 2012. However, some judges who previously had accepted only online applications also began accepting paper applications by mail, as participation in the Hiring Plan declined.

Judges posted almost the same number of position listings (which may reflect multiple clerkships) in Fiscal Year 2013—1,043—as the 1,067 listings posted in FY 2012. But there were declines both in the number of applicants using OSCAR and in the number of applications submitted to judges.

In FY 2013, 8,980 applicants created online applications, a 13 percent decline from the 10,312 who submitted materials in 2012. Actual OSCAR applications totaled 189,875 in FY 2013, down 44 percent from the 339,758 recorded in FY 2012. Key factors were a new rule that prevents users from having more than 100 finalized online applications at any time and judges abandoning the Hiring Plan and accepting paper applications outside of OSCAR.

Law school alumni represented 60 percent of all OSCAR applicants, although law school students created 58 percent of job applications in the system.

Further data are available at the OSCAR website, with interactive maps that show the total number of online positions/applications by circuit and by district.

In addition to the best-practices guidelines, the Administrative Office has created online training to help judges maintain profiles, post positions and manage applications. A new version of OSCAR released last spring also provides expanded information for applicants and law schools on judges’ hiring preferences.