Decreasing Friendliness with Judge

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Decreasing Friendliness with Judge

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Oct 24, 2017 6:54 pm

Hi all, I'm a couple months into a federal district court clerkship and was wondering if anyone else has found their judges getting *less* friendly as time goes on. I feel like I'm going crazy overanalyzing every little thing I'm doing to avoid pissing off the Judge, and am hoping y'all might have some solutions, thoughts, or commiseration.

I think the crux of the matter is that I'm not sure what I'm doing right substantively or socially. Rather, it feels like I'm wrong with great frequency on both fronts. I think I'm producing pretty good quality work (though I still feel largely lost at sea three months in, hopefully that's normal?), and put in long hours. I try to keep my non-work conversations polite but engaged, and I think I'm quite enthusiastic about the legal issues we face. Yet, it feels like my Judge is constantly irritated or upset with me; every time he comes into my office to talk about a memo or order he doesn't smile or seem to actually enjoy talking with me about the case.

I'm looking into CoA stuff a couple years down the road and hope the Judge will talk to some of his friends on the circuits, and so am particularly worried my Judge actively dislikes me. That said, I think all this might be general judge prickliness. Nonetheless, I am hoping others might have pointers on how to adjust the relationship, or, at least, how to think about it in a way that isn't sheer internal panic and constant guardedness.

mvp99
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Re: Decreasing Friendliness with Judge

Postby mvp99 » Tue Oct 24, 2017 7:01 pm

3 months in at any job doing the same thing I think you start to feel more comfortable and not repeat mistakes. Are you repeating mistakes? It seems without more information that your judge is not happy with your performance.

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rpupkin
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Re: Decreasing Friendliness with Judge

Postby rpupkin » Tue Oct 24, 2017 7:06 pm

Anonymous User wrote:I think the crux of the matter is that I'm not sure what I'm doing right substantively or socially. Rather, it feels like I'm wrong with great frequency on both fronts. I think I'm producing pretty good quality work (though I still feel largely lost at sea three months in, hopefully that's normal?), and put in long hours. I try to keep my non-work conversations polite but engaged, and I think I'm quite enthusiastic about the legal issues we face. Yet, it feels like my Judge is constantly irritated or upset with me; every time he comes into my office to talk about a memo or order he doesn't smile or seem to actually enjoy talking with me about the case.

Many district court judges are very busy. If your judge is going through a hectic phase, he may simply not have the time to smile and chit chat with you; he probably just wants to understand the issue so that he can dispose of the motion in front of him before moving onto the next one in the pile.

As for your request for "pointers on how to adjust the relationship," I suggest against thinking this way. Keep doing the best work you can. Keep being yourself. Over the next ten months, you'll likely find moments of warmth and levity with your judge (particularly if you don't force it!). But if those moments don't materialize, that's okay--you're certainly not alone.

In law school, we tend to worship judges, and we hear all these stories about amazing clerkship experiences. But at the end of the day, most judges are just cranky lawyers who, like so many of us, lose a few degrees of charm when under stress. Don't take it personally.

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A. Nony Mouse
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Re: Decreasing Friendliness with Judge

Postby A. Nony Mouse » Tue Oct 24, 2017 7:19 pm

I agree that you shouldn’t take it personally - it’s just as likely that any “decrease” in friendliness is also getting more comfortable having you around and not feeling like they have to be polite/on their best behavior because you’re new (as they may have to start).

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Re: Decreasing Friendliness with Judge

Postby wwwcol » Tue Oct 24, 2017 8:28 pm

mvp99 wrote:3 months in at any job doing the same thing I think you start to feel more comfortable and not repeat mistakes. Are you repeating mistakes? It seems without more information that your judge is not happy with your performance.


yeah, this seems sensible based on what we know. Few things piss off judges more than clerks who make the same error(s) over and over. OP, you should look carefully for patterns in the judge's comments on your draft memos/opinions.

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rpupkin
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Re: Decreasing Friendliness with Judge

Postby rpupkin » Tue Oct 24, 2017 8:36 pm

wwwcol wrote:
mvp99 wrote:3 months in at any job doing the same thing I think you start to feel more comfortable and not repeat mistakes. Are you repeating mistakes? It seems without more information that your judge is not happy with your performance.


yeah, this seems sensible based on what we know.

No it doesn't.

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lavarman84
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Re: Decreasing Friendliness with Judge

Postby lavarman84 » Tue Oct 24, 2017 8:51 pm

How does your judge treat the other clerks? Is this just the judge's personality or solely directed at you?

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Re: Decreasing Friendliness with Judge

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Oct 24, 2017 9:18 pm

OP here; I don't think I'm repeating mistakes. I certainly am still making mistakes, and the judge notes them and lets me know, with varying degrees of tact. I think they've been mostly minor mistakes (things like word choice in a draft, a disagreement over some analysis, or leaving some document with the courtroom deputy instead of bringing it back to the Judge's office), and seem to me like the kind of thing I could not have predicted before I was told otherwise. There was one somewhat more serious issue: a sloppy job I did editing a draft. I've been particularly diligent to avoid repeating that mistake. I also made the mistake of asking to leave early (I meant like a half hour, but I think the judge took it to mean an afternoon early) before a holiday weekend to drive to see my folks, which didn't go over exceptionally well either. I haven't repeated that request either.

As to the other clerks, I can't totally tell w/r/t work feedback. One clerk is on his second year and is generally very competent. The other is only a couple weeks senior to me but I don't know what their feedback is like. In general, the judge seems gruff (or socially awkward, maybe). He laughs at our jokes (mine maybe more than others, but I tell more) at the social interactions we have, but is otherwise something of a cypher.

Honestly, it's not really the analysis in the draft orders/memos I'm that worried by - the judge really hasn't commented negatively (or, for that matter, positively) on my legal analysis, aside from disagreeing on some points when it comes to application (and once, asking why I chose to reference another circuit's analysis than the one in which we fall, for which I had a good answer, though would not do so if I did it again). I'm concerned about my analysis by proxy, though, because I don't definitively know what I'm doing well. My m.o. so far has been assuring myself that if I am doing something wrong, he'd tell me, but I can't seem to separate gruffness/social awkwardness from additional, unmentioned irritation at my work product.

mvp99
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Re: Decreasing Friendliness with Judge

Postby mvp99 » Tue Oct 24, 2017 9:23 pm

Anonymous User wrote:OP here; I don't think I'm repeating mistakes. I certainly am still making mistakes, and the judge notes them and lets me know, with varying degrees of tact. I think they've been mostly minor mistakes (things like word choice in a draft, a disagreement over some analysis, or leaving some document with the courtroom deputy instead of bringing it back to the Judge's office), and seem to me like the kind of thing I could not have predicted before I was told otherwise. There was one somewhat more serious issue: a sloppy job I did editing a draft. I've been particularly diligent to avoid repeating that mistake. I also made the mistake of asking to leave early (I meant like a half hour, but I think the judge took it to mean an afternoon early) before a holiday weekend to drive to see my folks, which didn't go over exceptionally well either. I haven't repeated that request either.

As to the other clerks, I can't totally tell w/r/t work feedback. One clerk is on his second year and is generally very competent. The other is only a couple weeks senior to me but I don't know what their feedback is like. In general, the judge seems gruff (or socially awkward, maybe). He laughs at our jokes (mine maybe more than others, but I tell more) at the social interactions we have, but is otherwise something of a cypher.

Honestly, it's not really the analysis in the draft orders/memos I'm that worried by - the judge really hasn't commented negatively (or, for that matter, positively) on my legal analysis, aside from disagreeing on some points when it comes to application (and once, asking why I chose to reference another circuit's analysis than the one in which we fall, for which I had a good answer, though would not do so if I did it again). I'm concerned about my analysis by proxy, though, because I don't definitively know what I'm doing well. My m.o. so far has been assuring myself that if I am doing something wrong, he'd tell me, but I can't seem to separate gruffness/social awkwardness from additional, unmentioned irritation at my work product.

The judge could still be generally unhappy with your performance. Doesn't mean you're not a good clerk.

mvp99
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Re: Decreasing Friendliness with Judge

Postby mvp99 » Tue Oct 24, 2017 9:24 pm

rpupkin wrote:
wwwcol wrote:
mvp99 wrote:3 months in at any job doing the same thing I think you start to feel more comfortable and not repeat mistakes. Are you repeating mistakes? It seems without more information that your judge is not happy with your performance.


yeah, this seems sensible based on what we know.

No it doesn't.

Oh my gawd ty

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lavarman84
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Re: Decreasing Friendliness with Judge

Postby lavarman84 » Tue Oct 24, 2017 10:07 pm

Anonymous User wrote:OP here; I don't think I'm repeating mistakes. I certainly am still making mistakes, and the judge notes them and lets me know, with varying degrees of tact. I think they've been mostly minor mistakes (things like word choice in a draft, a disagreement over some analysis, or leaving some document with the courtroom deputy instead of bringing it back to the Judge's office), and seem to me like the kind of thing I could not have predicted before I was told otherwise. There was one somewhat more serious issue: a sloppy job I did editing a draft. I've been particularly diligent to avoid repeating that mistake. I also made the mistake of asking to leave early (I meant like a half hour, but I think the judge took it to mean an afternoon early) before a holiday weekend to drive to see my folks, which didn't go over exceptionally well either. I haven't repeated that request either.

As to the other clerks, I can't totally tell w/r/t work feedback. One clerk is on his second year and is generally very competent. The other is only a couple weeks senior to me but I don't know what their feedback is like. In general, the judge seems gruff (or socially awkward, maybe). He laughs at our jokes (mine maybe more than others, but I tell more) at the social interactions we have, but is otherwise something of a cypher.

Honestly, it's not really the analysis in the draft orders/memos I'm that worried by - the judge really hasn't commented negatively (or, for that matter, positively) on my legal analysis, aside from disagreeing on some points when it comes to application (and once, asking why I chose to reference another circuit's analysis than the one in which we fall, for which I had a good answer, though would not do so if I did it again). I'm concerned about my analysis by proxy, though, because I don't definitively know what I'm doing well. My m.o. so far has been assuring myself that if I am doing something wrong, he'd tell me, but I can't seem to separate gruffness/social awkwardness from additional, unmentioned irritation at my work product.


Yea, I just don't really know what to tell you. My judge has a very different personality. In all honesty, it probably isn't you. It probably will just take some time for your judge to warm up to you (or for you to be able to actually read him). But that's just me guessing.

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mjb447
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Re: Decreasing Friendliness with Judge

Postby mjb447 » Tue Oct 24, 2017 10:10 pm

It doesn't sound like you're doing anything unusually badly for a new clerk, nor does it sound like the judge has given you any absolutely unmistakable signs that he doesn't like you, so I really don't think there's much you should do besides doing the best work you can. If you have a pretty good rapport with the two-year clerk (or a friendly JA or CRD) you could try to figure out a tactful way to ask if the judge is generally standoffish or has any pet peeves, which might let you know if the judge is prickly about letting people leave early, for example. Only if you can really trust them, though, which is sometimes hard to feel out.

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Re: Decreasing Friendliness with Judge

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Oct 25, 2017 7:33 am

rpupkin wrote:In law school, we tend to worship judges, and we hear all these stories about amazing clerkship experiences. But at the end of the day, most judges are just cranky lawyers who, like so many of us, lose a few degrees of charm when under stress. Don't take it personally.


I just want to second this. There are some real gems out there to work for, but judges are otherwise a pretty representative cross-section of lawyers more generally—some are great, some are not "nice" in the conventional sense (which doesn't mean they're necessarily bad judges to work for). Judges may even, on the whole, tend to be or become a little more introverted or socially awkward than lawyers generally.

Try not to overanalyze your interactions. Keep in mind that in the end it's a professional relationship. And since it sounds like your judge doesn't have any trouble letting you know when you've done something wrong, trust that he'd let you know if he had bigger concerns. Based on your last comment, he's a "gruff" "cypher," who doesn't seem to have had major issues with your work product who still laughs at your jokes. That's all.




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