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Following Lack of Applications, Harvard Law School Encourages Students to Apply to Clerk for Trump-Appointed Judges

Harvard Law School's Office of Career Services urged students to apply for clerkships with Trump-appointed judges last month, drawing criticism.
Harvard Law School's Office of Career Services urged students to apply for clerkships with Trump-appointed judges last month, drawing criticism. By Virginia F. Tiernan
By Michelle G. Kurilla, Crimson Staff Writer

Harvard Law School’s Office of Career Services urged its students to apply for clerkships with Trump-appointed judges last month after they failed to utilize the office's internal network to work with the jurists, drawing criticism from some students and scholars.

In a series of messages to students and alumni, the Office of Career Services and alumni said that the lack of applications on file seemed like “wasted opportunities,” according to Bloomberg Law.

On Dec. 17, the school sent a message encouraging students to apply to work with newly confirmed Ninth Circuit judge Lawrence VanDyke in Nevada.

“Lawrence VanDyke (HLS ’06) was confirmed last week to become a new judge on the Ninth Circuit based in Reno (‘next to Lake Tahoe and great skiing!’),” the message read.

VanDyke was confirmed by the Senate on Dec. 11. In October, the American Bar Association found him to be “Not Qualified” to serve on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. In a letter to United States Senators Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the ABA cited interviews in which VanDyke was characterized as “lacking in knowledge” and “arrogant,” and raised concerns about his judgment towards LGBTQ individuals.

The Ninth Circuit did not respond to a request for comment.

Based in California, the Ninth Circuit, which reviews cases for several western states, is one of the most desirable clerkships, according to Bloomberg Law.

In a follow-up message on Dec. 19, the Law School referenced other 2020 clerkships that received zero applications from Harvard, including the Los Angeles chambers of California appellate court judge John Wiley and a recently confirmed Ninth Circuit judge, Patrick Bumatay.

“If you could be available for a 2020 clerkship, now is a time you can stand out with just the Harvard brand name, not to mention your other qualifications, as the applicant pool nationwide shrinks,” the message read.

That same day, the People’s Parity Project — a Law School student group that has pushed law firms to dispose of controversial arbitration policies — tweeted criticizing the school’s messages.

“Harvard thinks we have ‘wasted opportunities’ by not applying to these judges,” the group wrote.

A screenshot posted on the organization’s Twitter shows listings for clerkships for VanDyke, Southern District of Ohio Judge Douglas Cole, Eastern District of Missouri Judge Sarah Pitlyk, Ninth Circuit Judge Patrick Bumatay, and California Court of Appeals Judge John Wiley in Los Angeles.

Both Pitlyk and VanDyke have received “Not Qualified” ratings by the American Bar Association.

Law School Assistant Dean for Career Services Mark Weber wrote in an emailed statement that his office works to share available clerkship opportunities for students.

“We work to share available clerkship opportunities with our students, confident they will apply for the ones that best suit their interests and needs,” he wrote. “We understand that different judges appeal to different applicants for different reasons.”

University of Michigan law professor Leah Litman — who previously taught at the Law School — also sharply criticized Harvard’s message on Twitter. Litman previously clerked for the Sixth Circuit and for now-retired Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy.

“It’s not responsible to tell students that they should apply to any/every judge, or to say that *anyone* with whom the students might disagree is a judge they should be willing to clerk for,” she wrote on Dec. 20. “It is also a good reminder to our profession that we should be thinking (and rethinking) the kinds of positions/jobs/work experiences we reward."

In a blog post, Litman added that Harvard students are in a "fortunate position," as they come from a “top law school.”

“HLS students are in an extremely fortunate position – because they’re at a top law school, they have more choices among clerkships than students who might be applying for clerkships from a lower ranked school,” she wrote. “If some students are exercising that privilege to stand up for themselves or others, they should be applauded, not chastised.”

The Law School’s Office of Career Services wrote in a post that it will continue to promote more clerkship opportunities in the future.

“We will continue to post separately about any new opportunities that come to our attention for before Fall 2020,” the school wrote. “There will be more.”

—Staff Writer Michelle G. Kurilla can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @MichelleKurilla.

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