University of San Diego lawprof Michael Rappaport follows up his earlier post on his judicial clerkship from hell with an addendum to my suggestions on ways clerkship applicants can identify judges who abuse their clerks:
Ilya raises the question of how information about judicial tyrants can be publicized. One possibility is simply to list whenever a law clerk quits his or her job. While one or two quits might be innocent, a pattern would be revealing, especially when supplemented with gossip. One Volokh commentator mentions that many clerks resigned from their clerkship with Judge Irving Kaufman of the Second Circuit. At law school, I knew that about Kaufman -- everyone did -- but I had no knowledge about [Judge] Sloviter [the oppressive judge Rappaport clerked for]. (Interestingly, my two co-clerks did know that she had a reputation for being a very tough boss, but they took the clerkship anyway, because their wonderful interview with her (mistakenly) convinced them that the reputation was undeserved.) As I remember it, when I started the clerkship in 1985, three Sloviter clerks had quit in the six years she had been a judge. My co-clerk made it 4 in 7 years.
Michael's suggestion is a good one. On rare occasions clerks resign for reasons of their own that are no fault of the judge's; sometimes, a judge will have no choice but to force a clerk to resign because the latter is simply too lazy or incompetent to do the job. Even so, a pattern of repeated resignations does indeed suggest that there's something wrong with the judge in question.
Michael's idea is only a partial solution to the information problem. Even if their judge is an oppressive tyrant, clerks will hesitate to resign early because of the very high costs of doing so. Because prospective future legal employers will almost always contact the judge an ex-clerk served under, alienating the judge by leaving the clerkship early is likely to be a major career setback. Still, Michael's proposal would certainly provide valuable information about those (probably very few) judges who are so bad that large numbers of their clerks are willing to pay the high cost of resigning in order to be rid of them.
David Lat at Above the Law has his own proposal for increasing the availability of information about hellish clerkships:
Never fear, Above the Law is here! We're happy to serve as a clearinghouse for your clerkship horror stories.
Email us with your tales of clerkship woe. We will confirm that you actually clerked for the judge in question (or were otherwise properly situated to acquire such dirt). We will then post your horror story, but without identifying you as our tipster, per our standard procedure. (Of course, if you for some bizarre reason WANT to be credited, we can do that too.)
Judges are public figures, and they're used to being criticized. But sometimes even judges sue for libel. So — and this should go without saying — only send us stories that are TRUE.
I should mention that David is himself a useful font of information about judges and their clerkship policies, since he has a virtually encyclopedic knowledge of the various denizens of the federal judiciary. If you want the real dope on what it's like to work for a particular judge, he's often one of the best people to ask.
Finally, I want to emphasize that I am NOT suggesting that applicants should automatically forego clerkships with judges who treat their staff badly. Sometimes, the educational and career benefits of clerking for a nasty judge will outweigh the pain and suffering involved. Some mean judges are also outstanding and highly respected jurists whom clerks can learn a lot from. Others are major figures in the legal profession who can do a lot for a clerk's career prospects. Applicants will have to decide for themselves whether the benefits of clerking for a particular judge are worth the costs. I simply hope that such decisions will be taken with the benefit of as much accurate information as reasonably possible.