How do I get a clerkship in Palau?
If you're just looking for the mechanics, it's simple. Send a resume and cover
letter to the Palau Supreme Court, P.O. Box 248, Koror, Palau 96940. Regular U.S.
mail works just fine. If you're the kind of person who has to add that personal
touch, you can address it to Gene Murret, Court Administrator or to Chief Justice Arthur
Ngiraklsong. A brief writing sample wouldn't hurt, but a list of references probably
isn't worth the trouble.
As a general rule, hiring is done in the late winter/early spring for the coming fall.
A resume in February or early March is probably about the right time. The
Court will send representatives to conduct interviews in the U.S. sometime in the spring,
usually in three or four major cities. You'll be expected to get to one of those
cities for an interview on your own dime.
Clerkships will run from approximately October 1- September 30, but there may be
flexibility of a week or two on either end in appropriate circumstances.
What are my chances of getting hired?
It depends. The Court's hiring record indicates that it is definitely looking for
some post-law school experience, and a prior clerkship, especially a federal appellate
clerkship, is a big leg up. I don't have any connection to the Court anymore and
there's no formal hiring policy, but based on what I've seen and heard, I'd guess that a
federal clerkship is preferable to a state clerkship, an appellate clerkship is preferable
to a trial court clerkship, and any clerkship is preferable to the equivalent amount of
private practice experience. I don't have any hard numbers on total
applications or total interviews conducted, but I'd guess that they get several hundred
applications each year and probably conduct 15-20 interviews for three spots.
Your resume will show whether you've got the legal ability; the interview is for
determining who has the right disposition. Life in Palau is best-suited for people
who are easygoing, flexible, personable, and agreeable. Aggressive types,
introverts, and people who get flustered dealing with the unusual, intransigent, or absurd
tend to have problems fitting in. The Court's absolute worst nightmare is to
hire somebody who, after a month or two on-island, decides he can't handle it and quits.
(It's happened more than once.) Showing that you have reasonable expectations
for your time there goes a long way.
What's the pay and benefits?
Last I knew, the salary was $35,000 for the year, paid bi-weekly in U.S. dollars.
That's not a lot of money, but it qualifies as foreign-earned income and, for most
people, will be exempt from U.S. income taxes. Payroll taxes under Palauan law are
deducted, but, if I recall correctly, they amount to only about 5% of gross pay.
The Court secures furnished housing for clerks, usually in apartment buildings, and
payments are made directly by the Court to the landlord. Assuming an average
rent of $600 for a similar apartment in U.S., the net value of salary and housing,
adjusted for taxes, is roughly the equivalent of a $50,000 salary in the U.S.
The Court will reimburse you for the cost of shipping your personal belongings to Palau
and back, up to $ 1,500 each way. Since the U.S. Postal Service serves Palau, most
clerks ship their things in boxes by mail, and few use the full allowance. If you
intend to ship things that can't be sent in boxes, some clerks have been able to arrange a
cargo crate within the allowance. At least one has even shipped a car, albeit at his
own expense. (Unnecessarily. Used cars are abundant and relatively cheap
on-island, and tend to be bought and sold repeatedly through generation after generation
of expats.) The Court also pays for plane fare from your city to Palau and back, and
will pay for a spouse and/or children's tickets as well. (As best I know, live-in
partners, girlfriends/boyfriends, etc. will have to spring for their own tickets.)
Interestingly, the Court will only pay for a one-way ticket out, and will pay for your
one-way return flight at the end of your term. Even an open-ended round-trip ticket
Otherwise, that's about it for benefits. Clerks get 2 weeks paid vacation, but no
formal sick leave and no health insurance. Some clerks will obtain their own
catastrophic-care insurance from companies that serve expats, but most choose to take
their chances. Medical care in Palau is of mixed quality, but one private doctor on
island is popular and affordable for routine treatment.
Can my spouse/boyfriend, etc. get a job?
If your spouse, etc. is a lawyer, maybe. If not, probably not.
There are lots of American expat lawyers working in various government jobs in Palau.
The Attorney General's office usually has half a dozen or so doing criminal and
civil cases; each house of the legislature has two counsel; the President and
Vice-President each have a staff attorney; the Koror State government has an attorney; the
national Public Lands Authority, the Koror State Public Lands Authority, and the
Environmental Quality Protection Board each have their own lawyer; and several more.
At any given time, someone is getting ready to leave one or more of these jobs, and
many are filled on-island by word of mouth before candidates are sought in the U.S.
With a little luck and by keeping an ear to the ground once you're on-island, it's quite
possible to land a lawyer spouse in one of these. Pay and benefits at these
jobs are roughly similar to the court job (although if you're hired on-island, don't
expect a shipping allowance or transportation expenses).
If your spouse, etc. isn't a lawyer, things are a lot more difficult. You can't
work in Palau without a work permit, and under Palauan law, employers can't usually hire
foreigners unless the job has first been offered to Palauans. That's not to say that
jobs are impossible to find; just difficult. A few spouses of clerks have managed to
land jobs teaching at the Community College, but a teaching degree will usually be a
prerequisite. There are one or two jobs in dive shops that are occasionally
available, but lots of expat spouses want these. I suppose if the spouse has
divemaster credentials, it wouldn't be too hard to learn the local dive spots and get a
job working for one of the scuba operations. There's an outside chance that a local
employer might need specialized skills-- computer programming, bookkeeping, etc.-- that
your spouse might have. Otherwise, the spouse should reconcile him/herself to a life
of leisure, hanging out at the beach all day with all the other unemployed spouses.
What about kids/pets?
A number of expats have come to Palau with kids without much problem. As a
general rule, expat kids up to middle-school grades go to the various church-run-but-
mostly-secular private schools. Classes are taught in English, and the prevailing opinion
is that the educational quality of these is decent. I don't have reliable numbers on
tuition, but I believe they're pretty affordable. Once expat kids reach
high-school age, they're almost always sent off-island to private schools, as there are no
private high schools, and the Palauan high school isn't held in high regard.
Kids need to be pretty self-entertaining to make it, as the typical places kids hang out
in the U.S. don't exist there. (See below.)
Dogs can be brought to Palau, but it's kind of a pain. You'll want to contact the
Palau government to find out for sure, but I believe they have to go through quarantine in
Hawaii before they'll be let into Palau. I don't have numbers on cost or length of
quarantine. There is no such thing as rabies in Palau, but things like heartworm are
rumored to be common in the local stray population. I don't know anybody that
ever brought or tried to bring a cat or other non-dog pet to Palau, and I'm not sure it's
even permitted, but you can contact the government just to be sure.
If my spouse can't work, what else is there to do?
Scuba diving is the number one pastime in Palau. Unless you're deathly afraid of
water, plan on getting a dive certification before you leave or shortly upon arriving.
Until then, you can usually go out with the divers and do some snorkeling.
Other common recreational activities are boating/fishing, mountain biking, and sea
kayaking. Boats and kayaks are easy to buy or rent, bikes less so. You might
consider shipping a mountain bike. Hiking through the jungle is also popular.
For organized sports, the Court fields a non-competitive softball team, and an outrigger
canoe paddling team has formed. 5k runs/walks are held a few times a year, and the
Hash House Harriers (a combination of jungle running, trail finding, and beer-fueled
fratboy antics) do runs every other weekend. There is a running track and football
field available for use most of the time, as well as a couple of baseball diamonds.
On rainy days, options lessen. Shopping is minimal-- two small department/grocery
stores sell a good variety of food and a selection of clothes, electronics, sporting
goods, etc., but with not much variety and relatively high prices. There are some
private specialty stores selling arts and crafts and apparel and such, but not too many.
(Goods can be ordered from Amazon.com, and some--but not all-- other online
merchants will ship to Palau using the U.S. mail.) There are a couple of small museums of
Palauan art and culture, and a small public library. A coral reef research center is
being built and should have a visitor's area; in the meantime, there's a "farm"
for giant clams you can visit. Week-old cable t.v., a surreal experience, is
available, but the channel selection is a bit odd- CNN and MTV Asia, for example.
Internet is available, but charged on a per-minute basis (at least when I was there; I'm
told cell phones and such have started to develop, so maybe the technological base has
advanced). There are no movie theaters, but the Navy camp shows recent DVDs on a big
outdoor screen for free every week. A couple of video rental places exist, and
karaoke bars are common. That's about it-- as far as I know, no bookstores, bowling
alleys, video arcades, golf (mini- or otherwise), malls, Home Depots, Wal-Marts, or Radio
Shacks exist. Yet.
There's some good sightseeing, especially World War II relics, on the southern islands
of Pelelieu and Anguar. I don't know if the interisland flights have resumed, but
you can always take the slow "state boat" that runs between Koror and these
islands every few days. There are places to stay on the islands, but camping may be
easier, and permission to do so can be obtained from the state offices in Koror.
There are also quiet towns to stay at to the north in Babeldoab and on the northern atoll
of Kyangel, accessible only by boat (and with no real accommodations other than
Travel off-island is difficult and expensive. There are only two ways off: to
Guam or Manila. The most common exit is the daily 2:00 a.m. flight to Guam, or you
can catch the twice weekly morning flight to Manila. Expect to pay at least $100
each way, if not more.
What about getting a job afterwards?
Most clerks don't manage to land a job back in the states before their clerkship ends.
It may have gotten easier since I was there, but searching for job opportunities
stateside and arranging interviews while living in Palau just didn't seem to work for most
people. Some people were able to arrange interviews for just after they returned,
but that's the exception, rather than the rule. Resolve to save enough money to get you
through a month or two worth of job-searching once you get home.
As for the resume effect of a Palau clerkship, it's hard for me to say. I've
stayed in the clerking game since I got back, and haven't seen how private employers
react. I used to think that having Palau on your resume would at least get you an
interview for curiosity's sake, but I can't say that empirically, that's true.
Based on what I've heard from friends, it seems that a stint in Palau is either
resume-neutral, or, in a few circumstances, a minor negative. Most employers will
probably find it interesting, but not especially beneficial. A few employers, mostly
high-strung, type-A firms, might see it as a frivolous waste of time that could be better
spent poring over documents and suing somebody's pants off. But if you're thinking
about clerking in Palau, you're probably not interested in that kind of job anyway.
Do you think I should do it?
It's hard to say. It's not for everyone. I had a great time there.
Some people I met were miserable. It's hard to say how someone will react to
it. If you're looking to just have an adventure and try something different just for
the hell of it, I'd say go. If you're convinced that you can put up with just about
anything for a year, you'll probably do fine. If you're thinking it'll be
intellectually stimulating, well, it might be, but then again, maybe not. Expats are
usually friendly towards newcomers, but they can also become cliquey and can leave people
feeling isolated and alone, so if you need to be part of the social scene to be happy,
think carefully. If you're afraid of tropical-sized insects, think twice.
Court housing is clean and of good quality, but ants, roaches, and various
crawly-leggy-flying things will show up in your house now and then no matter what.
If you're thinking "Hawaii," forget it. If it helps, think of it
this way: if Hawaii is the Pacific's version of New York City, Guam would be the Pacific's
version of, say, Cleveland, and Palau would be, say, Tulsa, Oklahoma. If you can't
picture yourself learning to like living in Tulsa, you probably shouldn't be considering