Bizarre Clerking Interview

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Rhiannon17
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Bizarre Clerking Interview

Postby Rhiannon17 » Thu Jun 22, 2017 11:54 pm

Recent law school graduate in the south. Interviewed for a clerk position with a state court judge a few towns over from my hometown. Feeling like the interview went well overall, but got lots of mixed signals, so I'm not sure what to think.

The judge and his secretary were the only other 2 people present, totally normal. The judge asked lots of typical questions, like wanting me to go into more detail about some of my internships on my resume, which I expected. He smiled at those answers.

Here's where things got weird:

-Questioned me regarding whether I really grew up in my hometown because apparently my accent isn't like the people from there.
-I am a female and he started asking me if I was married, how long I had been married, what my husband did for a living, and then tried to get details about my husband's job. My husband is special ops in the military, so I cannot really say specifics about what he does as far as his unit's name and whatnot. He asked these questions all at various times in the interview.
-The application for the job was on the state's court website and is general for all state employees. It asked for personal references I knew for at least 5 years, no more than 10. I put some references of people I knew or worked for in college. One of those people has since moved across the country. The judge looked over those references and asked point blank, "Why did you give a reference from someone in X State?" I was totally caught off-guard, but I explained to him that it was a general application, so I just answered what asked, but that I had 5 references from employers and a professor from law school (He did not even notice that on my resume until I pointed it out.)
-On my resume, I had that I worked for a judge in law school and he wanted the individual contact info of the various staff members who worked in that judge's office. He demanded I give that to his secretary via email after the interview was over.
-He asked me how much I was studying for the bar and if I honestly thought I would pass since the national rates have declined overall
-He asked me if I thought certain work was beneath me and went on a rant about how awful his 2 previous clerks were.

Positive (maybe)
-My cousin is a judge in a different district of the state, and they know and like each other.
-His secretary and I clicked extremely well
-A couple of hours later, his secretary emailed me that it was great to meet me and that they would let me know a decision "either way" within a week.

If I get an offer, I'm not really sure whether to accept. I wanted to clerk right out of law school for a couple of years especially in this area of law and in this geographical location, but I don't really know how to take all the marriage questions and I'm wondering if the unnecessary references I gave that the standardized application asked for made me look stupid and blew my chances. I have had a boss before who was a real a** and I ended up resigning because he made the work environment miserable. I'm probably overthinking it, like many law students and attorneys do every day of our nerdy lives, but I can't get the weird stuff out of my head.

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mjb447
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Re: Bizarre Clerking Interview

Postby mjb447 » Fri Jun 23, 2017 12:49 am

With respect to whether you'll be offered the job, that's out of your hands regardless, so it's not worth spending too much time thinking about. As an aside, I think it's unlikely that you'll get penalized for having "unnecessary references," but stranger things have happened.

With respect to whether you want the job, I don't know what your other options are like or what your goals are, but I would carefully consider whether I'd want to accept. Probably less because of the marriage questions ("background" questions that would not fly in any other interview can still come up in clerkship interviews, although I understand your hesitance if you got a creepy vibe or something), but because this judge "demanded" something of you this early in your relationship and went on a rant during an interview, with someone who it sounds like he'd never met before, about how bad his two previous clerks were. This guy sounds like he could make your year miserable, and you may not get a good reference out of it.

Can you talk to any of his previous clerks and try to read between the lines?

Rhiannon17
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Re: Bizarre Clerking Interview

Postby Rhiannon17 » Fri Jun 23, 2017 12:57 am

I'm going to have to do some digging to even find out who his previous clerks were, but it can be done.

I'm just kind of bummed because I had a rare good feeling before the interview and by the time it was over, I felt very ruffled and nervous. Maybe I should take it as a red flag.

Anonymous User
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Re: Bizarre Clerking Interview

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Jun 23, 2017 8:01 am

I don't think this interview was quite as "bizarre" as you make it out to be. My answers are based on anecdotal evidence, though, after interviews with a handful of judges, interactions with others, and learning of the experiences of other clerks, so take them for what they're worth.

Rhiannon17 wrote:-Questioned me regarding whether I really grew up in my hometown because apparently my accent isn't like the people from there.


This looks like small talk to me. Sure, it might not be the most polite thing to say, but you might be surprised at how many judges don't follow social norms quite like the rest of us. Judges have remarked on my Deep South accent. If I had a dollar for every comment I've received similar to "you're not from around here, are you?" I could go on a shopping spree at the Dollar Tree. I don't think this is a big deal.

Rhiannon17 wrote:-I am a female and he started asking me if I was married, how long I had been married, what my husband did for a living, and then tried to get details about my husband's job. My husband is special ops in the military, so I cannot really say specifics about what he does as far as his unit's name and whatnot. He asked these questions all at various times in the interview.


This is not abnormal at all (in my brief experience). All the judges I interviewed with were concerned about spouses. Clerkships, although temporary, tend to be more personal than working for someone at the typical job. Depending on the judge, you may spend a lot of time outside of the job with him or her. For example, it is not uncommon to meet the families of the judges, have meals and participate in other activities with the judges outside of the workplace, and stay in contact after you no longer work for them. Judges receive holiday cards from their clerks with the typical family photos, and they send the same sort of cards to their clerks (both current and former). Some clerks have even closer relationships with their judges, doing things like working out with their judges every morning, golfing with them every week, etc. So judges ask questions about your personal life like this so that they can determine whether they want to welcome you into their clerk "family." Perhaps your concerns with this particular judge are warranted, but, without knowing the specifics, I just don't think these questions were out of the norm.

Rhiannon17 wrote:-The application for the job was on the state's court website and is general for all state employees. It asked for personal references I knew for at least 5 years, no more than 10. I put some references of people I knew or worked for in college. One of those people has since moved across the country. The judge looked over those references and asked point blank, "Why did you give a reference from someone in X State?" I was totally caught off-guard, but I explained to him that it was a general application, so I just answered what asked, but that I had 5 references from employers and a professor from law school (He did not even notice that on my resume until I pointed it out.)


Without knowing more about your other references, this sounds like small talk to me. For example, if all your references are in North Dakota, but this reference was from Hawaii, it would make sense to me for a judge to ask why this person in Hawaii. It would make sense for the judge to ask about your references anyway.

Rhiannon17 wrote:-On my resume, I had that I worked for a judge in law school and he wanted the individual contact info of the various staff members who worked in that judge's office. He demanded I give that to his secretary via email after the interview was over.


This seems a bit odd, but not necessarily inappropriate. Judges are usually concerned with how you will interact with their staff, which is why clerkship interview advice always includes the recommendation that you are polite to everyone you meet at the interview, including judicial assistants, secretaries, etc. (although this should be unnecessary advice).

Rhiannon17 wrote:-He asked me how much I was studying for the bar and if I honestly thought I would pass since the national rates have declined overall


Seems like more small talk. Pass rates are abysmal. The obvious answer to this question is "yes."

Rhiannon17 wrote:-He asked me if I thought certain work was beneath me and went on a rant about how awful his 2 previous clerks were.


This is definitely a red flag. How odd. Perhaps the judge truly had been burnt by two absolutely awful law clerks. That would support his request above for the contact information of the various staff. That's giving him the benefit of the doubt though. If you think this is representative of the judge's general demeanor, then you might consider declining any offer. mjb447's recommendation to talk to former clerks is a very good one. You probably don't want to work for someone who will never be satisfied with your work and will complain about you after you're gone. However, if you make this decision, I would recommend withdrawing now for "personal reasons" or something similar, as it's generally not a good idea to decline offers.

*****

Ultimately, while I think you may be overreacting a bit, you do have some legitimate concerns. You should go with how you feel in deciding to accept any offer because you will spend at least a year with the judge and it's poor form to quit a clerkship. Best of luck!

EDM
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Re: Bizarre Clerking Interview

Postby EDM » Fri Jun 23, 2017 8:14 am

Accidental anon. That's me above.

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zhenders
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Re: Bizarre Clerking Interview

Postby zhenders » Fri Jun 23, 2017 9:39 am

Anyone who has the poor judgment to tell an interviewee about how bad the last people in the role were is not someone I'd want to work for. Unless you need this job, I would avoid this. The whole reason you clerk is for a combination of experience and relationship. This judge sounds like he's more likely to be harmful than helpful to your future.

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anon sequitur
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Re: Bizarre Clerking Interview

Postby anon sequitur » Fri Jun 23, 2017 10:50 am

Most of the stuff sounds strange and unpleasant to me, I went through for clerkship interviews with nothing like this sort of behavior. The spouse questions I can understand, if you and your spouse will be moving together for the clerkship, I can see if the judge is interested/concerned about how your spouse feels about the move. But the statements about former clerks and the questions about whether you think this work is beneath you are huge red flags to me about him having unreasonable expectations.

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A. Nony Mouse
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Re: Bizarre Clerking Interview

Postby A. Nony Mouse » Fri Jun 23, 2017 12:16 pm

I agree with everyone else, generally, but I do think the questions about the spouse are ishy. A lot of people will bring up spouses (like the spouse is from where they're interviewing or similar) and then talking about them is fair game, but the judge bringing it up (esp to a woman candidate) can be fairly icky (especially pressing for answers about their career when the candidate clearly doesn't want to talk about it).

lolwat
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Re: Bizarre Clerking Interview

Postby lolwat » Fri Jun 23, 2017 12:18 pm

A lot of this is tone and vibe, which we on TLS cannot evaluate because we weren't there.

I understand where the judge is coming from with a lot of those questions, though.

Hometown/accent: I grew up in the south and have no southern accent, and I get comments or questions about this a LOOOOOOT.
Spouse: This is generally is a fairly common topic at clerkship interviews, but I'm not female, so I can't read anything into this either way.
References: Maybe it's obvious to you but I think this is a reasonable question especially for state court judges and, particularly, state court judges that might be in flyover places...
Staff of other chambers: A little odd to "demand" individual contact info of various staff members. I would have thought giving information about that chambers (often which is public info anyway) would be enough.
Studying for the bar: I got bar questions too. My answer was basically "I passed. Just waiting to get the result." Again, this kind of question is very common, but can depend on context and tone.
Work beneath you: I might be different from some of the other people above--I think this is reasonable. Your judge's chambers is basically a very tiny law firm. Everyone's going to have to pitch in to do a little of everything -- you can't just say, well, I'm not going to make copies or scan stuff or maintain the chambers' library of hard-copy books because that's the judicial assistant's job. There are definitely people who feel that kind of administrative or clerical stuff is "beneath" them once they graduate from law school. Finally, I don't know about at the interview, but certainly once I started clerking I heard stories about good and bad clerks. My judge is still probably the nicest/best person I've ever worked with/for.

Rhiannon17
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Re: Bizarre Clerking Interview

Postby Rhiannon17 » Fri Jun 23, 2017 12:32 pm

I got a CB for a second interview. That was fast. I will go and see if I can feel him out more before making a decision. Still kind of on high alert after he didn't speak well of the previous 2 staff attorneys. I looked them up and one is a solo practitioner, the other works in a nice firm. Will definitely be reaching out.

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mjb447
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Re: Bizarre Clerking Interview

Postby mjb447 » Fri Jun 23, 2017 12:55 pm

lolwat wrote:Finally, I don't know about at the interview, but certainly once I started clerking I heard stories about good and bad clerks. My judge is still probably the nicest/best person I've ever worked with/for.

Yeah, I think it's very normal to find out who the good and bad predecessors and co-clerks are once you're working in chambers. This is only a red flag for me because it happened during the interview, which I think is much less common. I don't think it says great things that the judge will badmouth former employees to (essentially) a total stranger, even if the employees weren't great.

Rhiannon17
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Re: Bizarre Clerking Interview

Postby Rhiannon17 » Fri Jun 23, 2017 7:28 pm

I appreciate everyone's responses. There seems to be a general consensus that it is probably a red flag that he didn't speak highly of his past clerks but that the other stuff isn't that bizarre. I have agreed to a second interview and from there I will see what kind of feel I get.

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rpupkin
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Re: Bizarre Clerking Interview

Postby rpupkin » Fri Jun 23, 2017 7:58 pm

Rhiannon17 wrote:I appreciate everyone's responses. There seems to be a general consensus that it is probably a red flag that he didn't speak highly of his past clerks but that the other stuff isn't that bizarre.

I'm late to this thread but I agree with the consensus on both points. If your description of your judge's comments about his past two clerks is accurate, then I strongly recommend that you avoid this judge. Do not clerk for a judge like this. Consider yourself lucky that the judge showed his colors during your interview.

Rhiannon17
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Re: Bizarre Clerking Interview

Postby Rhiannon17 » Tue Jun 27, 2017 9:45 pm

I had interview #2 with this judge. The interview basically consisted of small talk and him reading my writing sample in front of me. He praised me on my writing sample (a brief from 2L legal writing), said I "wrote like him" and that he was 99% sure he was going to offer me the job, but that there were 2-3 others he was considering. I met 2 more staff members and they were really nice and invited me in on their conversations. The judge himself was a lot less harsh this time, but I watched him in court earlier and noticed that like many judges, he is kind of awkward, and it's like you have to get used to his idiosyncrasies and unique ways of going about things.

I did reach out to 2 pervious clerks. One was extremely vague. The other did not feel comfortable discussing with me. My senses are buzzing about that. :?:

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rpupkin
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Re: Bizarre Clerking Interview

Postby rpupkin » Tue Jun 27, 2017 9:50 pm

Rhiannon17 wrote:I did reach out to 2 pervious clerks. One was extremely vague. The other did not feel comfortable discussing with me. My senses are buzzing about that. :?:

Don't clerk for this judge. This is not a hard decision.

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mjb447
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Re: Bizarre Clerking Interview

Postby mjb447 » Tue Jun 27, 2017 9:54 pm

Rhiannon17 wrote:I had interview #2 with this judge. The interview basically consisted of small talk and him reading my writing sample in front of me. He praised me on my writing sample (a brief from 2L legal writing), said I "wrote like him" and that he was 99% sure he was going to offer me the job, but that there were 2-3 others he was considering. I met 2 more staff members and they were really nice and invited me in on their conversations. The judge himself was a lot less harsh this time, but I watched him in court earlier and noticed that like many judges, he is kind of awkward, and it's like you have to get used to his idiosyncrasies and unique ways of going about things.

I did reach out to 2 pervious clerks. One was extremely vague. The other did not feel comfortable discussing with me. My senses are buzzing about that. :?:

Nothing about that interview/watching him in court seems out of the ordinary to me, but your contacts with the two previous clerks are a very bad sign - it barely sounds like there are any lines to read between re: the kind of experiences they had. Again, consider very carefully how badly you want to clerk and what your other options are.

ETA That's a lot of hedging, even by my standards. I'm sure you'll carefully consider everything, but there are a lot of red flags here and you really haven't described any redeeming moments or qualities or anything like that. You should look for a better way to spend a year.

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anon sequitur
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Re: Bizarre Clerking Interview

Postby anon sequitur » Tue Jun 27, 2017 10:32 pm

A judge is allowed to be pretty much as shitty a boss as he wants to. This judge went 0-2 on recommendations, that's a bad sign. No one is going to be comfortable telling a semi stranger that he's a horrible person to work for. On the other hand, if he was nice you would hear lots of effusive praise. I wouldn't take this job unless you are really, really desperate.

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jchiles
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Re: Bizarre Clerking Interview

Postby jchiles » Tue Jun 27, 2017 10:49 pm

unless you truly, urgently need the money I wouldn't knowingly walk into a job with this many obvious red flags. There will be other opportunities to clerk and not clerking this year sounds like a better option than moving forward with this.

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rpupkin
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Re: Bizarre Clerking Interview

Postby rpupkin » Tue Jun 27, 2017 11:09 pm

mjb447 wrote:ETA That's a lot of hedging, even by my standards.

It's too much hedging. There is no gray area here: all the signs point to this judge being an absolutely horrible person to clerk for. Even when clerks don't get along with their judge, they'll usually say nice things about the judge if asked by strangers. I've only heard of former clerks saying something like "I don't feel comfortable discussing my clerkship" when their clerkship was a nightmare experience.

When you combine the fact that this judge's former clerks won't recommend him with the fact that the judge "went on a rant about how awful his 2 previous clerks were," you have more than enough information to conclude that clerking for this judge is a mistake.

OP: Clerking for an abusive judge is probably the single worst professional experience that a lawyer can have because you're trapped with a single boss. It's worse than the worst big-law horror stories you hear about. Here's a nice example:

http://rightcoast.typepad.com/rightcoas ... hip-f.html

Be sure to check out the comments as well, like this one:

I clerked for her. It was a horrific experience. She routinely screamed. It was not unusual for her to throw things (books, files) in a clerk's direction in a rage. She was irrational and self-contradictory, praising you almost affectionately for something one minute and launching a crazed, enraged tirade against you the next for the very same thing. Her gamut ran from cloying to sadistic, tending toward the latter, and I have never seen such a traumatized group as the cowering, furtive, whispering people who worked for her, myself included. While clerks continued to quit over the years, sometimes mere weeks after starting the job, it is surprising that so many made it through their year.
Last edited by rpupkin on Tue Jun 27, 2017 11:22 pm, edited 1 time in total.

RaceJudicata
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Re: Bizarre Clerking Interview

Postby RaceJudicata » Tue Jun 27, 2017 11:21 pm

Not to pile on, but I'd consider pulling your candidacy. Sounds like a small legal market... probably better to withdraw than to deny an offer. Who knows what (if) judge will hold it against you if you appear before him or her in the future, but you probably want to get ahead of this and not find out.

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mjb447
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Re: Bizarre Clerking Interview

Postby mjb447 » Tue Jun 27, 2017 11:28 pm

rpupkin wrote:
mjb447 wrote:ETA That's a lot of hedging, even by my standards.

It's too much hedging. There is no gray area here: all the signs point to this judge being an absolutely horrible person to clerk for. Even when clerks don't get along with their judge, they'll usually say nice things about the judge if asked by strangers. I've only heard of former clerks saying something like "I don't feel comfortable discussing my clerkship" when their clerkship was a nightmare experience. When you combine the fact that his former clerks won't recommend the judge with the fact that the judge "went on a rant about how awful his 2 previous clerks were," you have more than enough information to conclude that clerking for this judge is a mistake.

Yes, agreed. OP should not take this clerkship unless she wants some anecdotes to post here.

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zhenders
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Re: Bizarre Clerking Interview

Postby zhenders » Tue Jun 27, 2017 11:48 pm

Don't chase this prestige. It's not worth it. One person was vague and the other refused to talk about it? If you take this clerkship, you will regret it the entire year and likely years thereafter. Don't do it. This is worse than a trap. There is no possible upside to this, now that you have total confirmation that he's awful.

To be clear: NO one who has even a decent experience clerking refuses to discuss it. Those clerks not only had a terrible experience, but they are literally afraid to say something bad about him. Just think about that.

You're gonna get an offer. Back out now before you have to turn it down. Otherwise, you will already be giving him power to blackball you.

esther0123
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Re: Bizarre Clerking Interview

Postby esther0123 » Wed Jun 28, 2017 11:15 am

This is a serious red flag. I've never had a previous clerk who declined to discuss their experience with a judge. Even when the judge was known to be hard-driving, the "worst" i heard was "I'm sure you've heard but you work long hours." Do not take it!

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magnum_law
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Re: Bizarre Clerking Interview

Postby magnum_law » Wed Jun 28, 2017 11:43 am

Also, because this will be for a state court judge, it is especially not worth it. The whole point of a clerkship is to walk away with a lifelong mentor while appreciably boosting your resume. Sounds like you will get neither of these, OP. Unless you're facing unemployment, tread cautiously.

lolwat
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Re: Bizarre Clerking Interview

Postby lolwat » Wed Jun 28, 2017 12:41 pm

I agree it's a red flag.

To me, much depends on your other options. It seems like you originally would have been fine withdrawing or declining the offer, so in that case I might suggest doing so. But I would suggest you use your best judgment.

To just offer a different view, though, I think 2 is a small sample size and it's not necessarily true that all blame falls on the judge. Some people genuinely are bad employees/clerks/associates.




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