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Judges Urged to Go All-Electronic in Clerkship Hiring

Students and law schools are struggling to complete applications for coveted judicial clerkships during the global pandemic. And federal judges are being urged to help them by using an all-electronic hiring process instead of paper applications and in-person interviews.

“It has become a terrible problem during the pandemic for judges to receive and law students to submit paper applications,” said Judge Robert Bacharach, chair of the Judiciary’s OSCAR Working Group, in a video interview. He said many students “don’t have the financial resources to have printers. Often, they rely on the law school to provide printing.”

OSCAR, which stands for Online System for Clerkship Application and Review, is an online database that enables applicants to upload documents once and automatically route them to all the judges they are interested in clerking for. The system has existed for more than a decade, but some judges continue to request or accept paper applications.

Judges also are being urged to conduct all job interviews via online communication technologies, such as Skype for Business or Microsoft Teams, so that students can avoid the risk and cost of hectic travel to be interviewed in person. Bacharach said law school leaders have vigorously urged federal judges to use an entirely electronic hiring process.

Bacharach’s concerns were echoed in a May 26 memo to judges from James C. Duff, director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.

“As you know, we are not operating as ‘business as usual,’ ” Duff said. “Online tools are practical and essential in conducting law clerk hiring during the COVID-19 pandemic, while protecting your safety, the safety of applicants, and remaining compliant with travel restrictions and stay-at-home orders.”

Law clerks, who often are drawn from highly talented law students and recent law school graduates, directly assist judges in legal matters, such as drafting motions and opinions. Hiring is extremely competitive.

Online applications in OSCAR will be forwarded to judges on June 15. Under the Judiciary’s voluntary Law Clerk Hiring Plan, judges are asked to initiate contact with clerkship candidates on June 16.