When Should Judicial Clerks Apply for Jobs? Late Spring? Early Summer?
It depends on your target employers...
If you want to do county attorney, public defender or legal services work, you can't get on those offices' radar screens soon enough. In addition to genuine commitment to the work, getting hired by those offices requires persistence, patience, people to go to bat for you, people in the offices who you've gotten to know by having worked in their offices or with trusted friends and colleagues; by networking through the relevant bar sections or separate bar associations; or any other way that you can make yourself into a three-dimensional candidate rather than a one dimensional guy-on-a-resume, and great timing, over which you have absolutely no control.
For private practice -- it's trickier, or at least less direct. If you know, for example, that you want to do Workers Comp, you can go to CLEs and meet people there. Also, there are a relatively limited number of comp lawyers (many are our grads), they are easy to identify, and it is relatively easy to identify the really good ones. More or less the same model applies for any clearly defined practice area, once you've focused: CLE to show that you are serious, alumni networking, networking with strangers, applying for posted jobs, applying to employers that interest you.
If, on the other hand, your interest is less tightly defined and you want to do general litigation or general practice, your strategies might include attending Litigation CLE, conducting focused chats with your classmates and friends who are working to get their impressions of their firms and the lawyers for whom they work; guidance from your judge who knows of lots of lawyers; and connections through alumni, many of whom are eager to assist new lawyers.
If your target is large firms, early spring is a fine time to get onto their radar screens for a September hire. They might not call you until the end of the summer, but with business growing, they may be hiring in late summer for the fall.
It depends on your judge...
While it is fine to apply for jobs in the spring, would it be fine with your judge if you got one? Outside of the universe of large law firms and agencies which hire a year ahead, most employers advertising for positions want someone on board now or yesterday because they operate like small firms everywhere: when you interview at a restaurant this afternoon, you're not interviewing for September, you are interviewing for Monday. If your judge wants you to stay for a whole year, begin to look seriously in late spring or early summer.