The Most Prestigious and Competitive Clerkships in the United States

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Judicial clerkships are highly sought-after positions for law school graduates, offering invaluable experience and a unique insight into the legal system. However, not all clerkships are created equal. Some clerkships are considered more prestigious and competitive than others, attracting the best and brightest legal minds from across the country. In this article, we’ll explore the most prestigious and competitive clerkships in the United States.

Supreme Court Clerkships: The Pinnacle of Prestige

Clerking for a U.S. Supreme Court Justice is widely considered the most prestigious and competitive clerkship in the country. Each year, thousands of highly qualified applicants vie for a handful of positions, with only 36-38 clerks hired annually. Supreme Court clerks are typically recruited from the ranks of top law school graduates who have already completed a clerkship with a federal appellate court judge. These clerks assist the Justices in preparing for oral arguments, researching cases, and drafting opinions. The experience and prestige of a Supreme Court clerkship can open doors to elite legal careers in academia, government, and private practice.

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Federal Appellate Clerkships: The Path to the Supreme Court

Clerkships with the U.S. Courts of Appeals are highly competitive and often serve as stepping stones to Supreme Court clerkships. The D.C. Circuit, often referred to as the “second-highest court in the land,” is particularly prestigious due to its jurisdiction over federal agency actions and its reputation as a feeder court for the Supreme Court. Other highly competitive federal appellate clerkships include the Second Circuit (New York), the Ninth Circuit (California), and the Fourth Circuit (Virginia). These clerkships attract top graduates from elite law schools and provide an opportunity to work on complex and high-profile cases.

District Court Clerkships: Prestige in the Trial Courts

While often overshadowed by appellate clerkships, clerkships with federal district courts can be highly competitive, especially in districts with prominent judges or in major legal markets like New York, Washington D.C., and San Francisco. District court clerks work closely with judges on the front lines of the legal system, assisting with research, drafting orders and opinions, and gaining exposure to a wide range of legal issues. Some district court judges, particularly those with a track record of sending clerks to the Supreme Court or appellate courts, may receive hundreds of applications for a single position.

Specialized Clerkships: Niche Expertise and High Demand

Clerkships in specialized areas of law, such as tax, bankruptcy, or patent law, can be highly competitive due to the niche expertise required and the limited number of positions available. The U.S. Tax Court, for example, hires only a handful of clerks each year, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which handles patent appeals, is known for its highly competitive clerkship process. These specialized clerkships offer a unique opportunity to develop expertise in a particular area of law and can be highly valuable for future careers in those fields.

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State Supreme Court Clerkships: Prestige at the State Level

While federal clerkships often receive the most attention, clerkships with state supreme courts can be highly competitive and prestigious, especially in states with well-respected high courts or in geographic areas with a high concentration of legal talent. The Supreme Courts of California, New York, and Texas, for example, are known for their competitive clerkship processes and the caliber of their clerks. State supreme court clerkships offer an opportunity to work on important issues of state law and can be valuable for future careers in state government or private practice.


Securing a clerkship with one of the most prestigious and competitive courts in the United States is no easy feat. It requires a combination of outstanding academic credentials, impressive work experience, and a compelling application package. However, for those who are up to the challenge, these clerkships offer an unparalleled opportunity to learn from the nation’s top legal minds, work on groundbreaking cases, and launch a successful career in the law. Whether at the Supreme Court, a federal appellate court, or a specialized court, these prestigious clerkships are a testament to the dedication, skill, and potential of the next generation of legal leaders.

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