research. While serving on a school law review is not crucial, it is very helpful. Similarly important is an academic record showing extraordinary achievement in a wide range of areas of the law that are relevant to the court’s work. A transcript filled to the brimwith courses such as “Law of International Refugees” and seminars taken during semesters abroad will not be as attractive as one showing the student chose to take all the available advanced elective courses in civil and criminal procedure. Resumes listing a candidate’s foreign language abilities might be mildly alluring because they demonstrate some level of intellectual rigor; those touting athletic achievements, on the other hand, simply waste space that could be devoted to skills more relevant to the position. Along the same line, candidates without strong Illinois connections gained from attending an Illinois law school, or having resided in Illinois, are at a disadvantage because work- ing knowledge of Illinois court procedure and state law is so crucial. The application should include a brief writing sample of about five to ten pages in length. Candidates should always include their class rank and grade point average in their resume. Omitting them is a clear sign that the student believes his or her academic achievement is below the level judges will expect. Before seeking a clerk- ship, candidates should consult with their law school placement offices to determine whether their academic performance is high enough to demonstrate the ability to handle the demanding work of a judicial law clerk. Including references is helpful, but enclosing reference letters from profes- sors in sealed envelopes is overkill. Many judges, including me, will not consider candidates who have not yet taken or passed the bar exam. Law clerking is a full-time position, and the judge will expect that a clerk will not take extensive time off to take bar review courses and study for the bar exam. Candidates should also submit a brief cover letter explaining why they seek the position. Both the resume and cover letter must be absolutely free of misspellings and without typographical or grammatical errors. Both should have an immaculate
professional appearance, meaning that the spacing and arrangement of text shows the candidate has good facility with busi- ness correspondence and word processing programs. Finally, the cover letter should be properly addressed to the judge, using correct legal terminology and forms of address such as “The Honorable Justice X” and referring to the judge as “Your Honor” when appropriate. Another thing that I find important, but which is not often discussed, is an actual record of working in a real job. Most students’ resumes are packed with lists of unpaid externships with other judges, professors, or charitable institutions. Well and good, but this raises the question of whether the 20- or 30-something appli- cant has ever actually worked for a salary. Working as a fast-food cashier for a time at least shows that the candidate has a sound work ethic and was able to keep a job. Even better are candidates who have experience working in a professional environment such as a bank, government office, or school. Appellate justices, particularly in the First Judicial District, will often hire candidates who previously worked for another justice or who have already proven themselves as clerks for circuit court judges or as a research staff attorney. Accord- ingly, candidates might consider devoting their attention to obtaining one of those positions and using it as a stepping-stone toward a higher-level clerkship. Conclusion Whether for the short or long term, work- ing as a law clerk in the Illinois court system can be a rewarding and fulfilling experi- ence. Law clerks throughout the nation perform valuable service for judges at all levels of the judicial system. If you are a recent graduate and believe you have the skills necessary, please consider working as a judicial law clerk and serving the court system in this important role.
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Mathias W. Delort is a Justice in the Illinois Appellate Court, First District.