Maybe the hiring practices for federal lawyers should – just spit here – be more normal?


I personally don’t care if conservative federal judges make it a personal policy not to hire Yale Law graduates, or only Yale Law graduates, or simply Yale Law graduates who happen to be Scorpios. I’m also confident that the average Yale Law student will do well in life, even if they don’t have the privilege of working for Judge Ho for a year. But since a group of sitting federal judges have opened a debate about how the federal judiciary should choose its court officers, it’s worth pondering the question further. Should some of the most important jobs in the American legal system — jobs with taxpayer-funded salaries and some degree of influence over federal court decisions — be filled in such a haphazard fashion?

Federal judges themselves have tried among themselves voluntary proposals to reform the articling system without much success. Some jurists have also considered reforms to the existing process or even alternatives to it. William Baude, a law professor at the University of Chicago, proposed in 2020 that, at a minimum, federal judges post every job posting for an internship on OSCAR, the federal judiciary’s online system for hiring judges. internships, instead of filling them by word of mouth or without public notice. Josh Blackman, a law professor at the South Texas College of Law, also floated some ideas for reform that year, including congressional intervention to establish minimum standards and regularize the process. At the more extreme end of the spectrum, he discussed the possibility, as a “thought experiment”, of converting some or all law internships into full-fledged public service jobs.

It may not be necessary to completely abandon the existing system. There is something to be said for allowing recent law school graduates to gain first-hand experience of the actual workings of federal courts. A more sensible first step might be to transfer all hiring decisions to the administrative office of the federal judiciary. Prospective law clerks would be hired on the basis of merit rather than the strength of their personal network or the prestige of the law school they attended. Once hired, clerks could then be assigned to specific judges and courts based on where they live, their intended area of ​​legal practice, and perhaps even their personal preferences.

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