I can’t stand my co-clerk

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I can’t stand my co-clerk

Post by Anonymous User » Sat Aug 29, 2020 2:35 pm

Thanks
Last edited by Anonymous User on Mon Sep 14, 2020 11:12 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: I can’t stand my co-clerk

Post by shoebox » Sat Aug 29, 2020 2:58 pm

I'd start by politely telling him to knock it off. If that didn't work, I would probably escalate to not-politely telling him to knock it off. But an intermediate step might be talking to the judge's judicial assistant, career clerk, or whoever else sort of administratively runs chambers and has a long standing relationship with the judge. This probably isn't the first time two clerks haven't gotten along, and that person should be able to give some specific advice on how to handle it.

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Re: I can’t stand my co-clerk

Post by Anonymous User » Sat Aug 29, 2020 3:06 pm

I found that the best way to discourage excessive chatting of any kind from co-workers was to listen for a couple minutes, and then say something like, "Hey, I don't mean to cut you off, but can this wait/can we discuss this later? I was in the middle of something and I don't want to lose my momentum/I need to get back to that." Doing this each time he starts in on the lecturing might send the message you're looking for without being outright nasty.

As for him "grading" your writing, if he's not the career clerk and has been there the same amount of time as you, then he's absolutely out of line. I know you say you aren't confrontational, but I think this type of behavior calls for direct handling. I would address this the next time he decided to grade my work unsolicited (maybe it was just my chambers, but we generally didn't review one another's work unless we were asked to, so that's weird to me as well). "Hey, John, I appreciate that you want to help, but this is really not necessary." Then hand back the "graded" assignment without reading it (if it's hard copy), smile, and go back to what you were doing before. If he emails them, same thing, except start with "Hey, John, I just got your email about my work..." If he pushes back, repeat yourself. "You really don't need to go over my work all the time. I promise, if I need help with an assignment, I will ask. Thank you."

Your instinct to not "make waves" is a good one, but to me that just means you don't go and tattle to the judge about your co-clerk unless something truly egregious happens (and even then, going to HR first might be the smarter move). If your co-clerk tries to go and throw a fit about your responses, he'll come off as the unreasonable one.

This is just my two cents, though. You always have the option to just deal with it for a year.

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Re: I can’t stand my co-clerk

Post by LBJ's Hair » Sat Aug 29, 2020 3:10 pm

*He's lecturing you*
*You politely stop him, say the following*: "Hey X, I appreciate that you want to help. But I understand [research/writing/this legal issue]. If I need help, I'll ask you! :)"
*Put on headphones*

Might have to do it a few times. If he doesn't take the hint, the stuff above posters mentioned are great.

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Re: I can’t stand my co-clerk

Post by nixy » Sat Aug 29, 2020 3:28 pm

The suggestions above are good. I also think it's completely fair, when he comes in to lecture you, to say, "I'm sorry, I'm right in the middle of this and don't have time to chat," and turn back to your computer, start working, and ignore him.

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Dcc617

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Re: I can’t stand my co-clerk

Post by Dcc617 » Sun Aug 30, 2020 10:58 am

Never been a clerk but wanted to let you know that your co-clerk sounds like a pompous, insufferable, unprofessional ass. I can’t believe the gall to give unsolicited “grades” to one’s colleague. You’re 100% in the right and I’m sorry you have put up with that. Fuck that guy.

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Re: I can’t stand my co-clerk

Post by Anonymous User » Sun Aug 30, 2020 2:31 pm

I did not get along with my co-clerk at all. Very similar to your experience. I was originally bummed because I had hoped we would be close. Then I went through a period of anger where it absolutely consumed me that I had to go in every day and stomach all of the passive aggressiveness. Finally, I realized this had nothing to do with me. Other people in chambers were experiencing a similar thing and there was very little that could be done. Once I accepted that I was not responsible for my co-clerk’s antisocial behavior, the job got a little easier.

I agree with the advice to carve out your own space and communicate that you don’t have the time right now. In the grand scheme of things, this is only a short-term problem for you. Your co-clerk is going to have to live this way for the rest of their career unless they get a clue or face the inevitable consequences from a fed up supervisor. Keeping chambers on an even-keel is more important than being that messenger.

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Re: I can’t stand my co-clerk

Post by Anonymous User » Sun Aug 30, 2020 6:12 pm

Your co-clerk sounds horrible, and I'm sorry that it's making clerking less enjoyable (really great co-clerks can make clerking really great, and I imagine the reverse is true, too).

I agree with the other poster who said that you should initially try to shut it down politely but maintain peace and a good working environment in chambers for your Judge's benefit. If your co-clerk doesn't take a hint, it's fine to be more direct and say "I really don't need you grading my writing. If you have specific substantive feedback or a proofreading nit, of course I want to give the Judge the best possible work, but you're not my legal writing professor" (related: who in the world grades their co-clerk's writing???). And if he really won't stop, the advice about going to your JA might be good if the JA has worked for the Judge for a long time and kind of keeps chambers running.

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Re: I can’t stand my co-clerk

Post by ExperssioUnius » Sun Aug 30, 2020 8:38 pm

If you want an even less direct or confrontational approach, try closing your door about 2/3 or 3/4 of the way and see if that deters your co-clerk from entering and starting up the conversation. It isn't a long-term solution but maybe a short-term one that will help you get through the normally busy month of September.

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Re: I can’t stand my co-clerk

Post by Anonymous User » Mon Aug 31, 2020 12:16 pm

This is the kind of behavior that can escalate quickly, and it can absolutely ruin your clerkship experience and even your work product, so you've got to nip this in the bud now. I agree with the posts above about bringing this up with a JA/career clerk, or maybe another judge's clerk if you're close enough with them and just need a sounding board. Alternately, you need to be blunt with your co-clerk and make it very clear that you're not going to put up with his behavior ("There's no need for you to grade my work" , "I can't talk to you right now, [put headphones on/close door]").

I had a co-worker like this whose sexist behavior soon turned into stalking. I hope this guy is just a pompous ass, but if at any point you start to feel unsafe, immediately skip the "being blunt" stage and tell someone ASAP.

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Re: I can’t stand my co-clerk

Post by Anonymous User » Mon Aug 31, 2020 1:58 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Sat Aug 29, 2020 2:35 pm
I recently started my clerkship and am loving it so far. The only drawback is my co-clerk. He is insufferable. For some reason, he seemingly believes he is my superior, despite us starting the clerkship at the same time. He’ll constantly come into my office and lecture me about random topics like legal writing, research, etc. I get 20-minute lectures from him three to four times a day, which is a complete waste of my time. He’s even given me “grades” on my writing. It’s extremely condescending and even comes off as sexist at times. I can’t get a word in, and he’s constantly talking down to me. It’s especially strange because I graduated from a much better school than him, I had better grades, and I have more work experience.

Any advice? I’m not a confrontational person, and I’ve really tried putting my best foot forward with him. The last thing I want to do is create waves in chambers. But I’m getting to the point that I can’t even stand seeing his face.

Thanks for your feedback!
I had to deal with a similar problem. It is weird how the clerking environment lends itself to so many of these situations. You mentioned you are not a confrontational person, but unfortunately you may need to lean into a more confrontational or direct means of communication to deal with this.

Your space and time: If co-clerk comes into your office, mention before he starts talking that you are doing something really urgent, and that you should discuss later. If you cant get a word in, interrupt him and speak at the same time as him. Dig in and just keep talking until he stops. This is pretty much the only way to get a word in with this type of person.

Talking down to you: Please, please DO NOT let co-clerk do this to you without responding. If you let it go unanswered, he will keep doing it. Co-clerk probably feels threatened by your credentials and is worried you will outshine him in the clerking role. Every time he talks down to you, and you don't say anything back, he is able to inflate his ego, which reinforces his feeling that this is a permissible way for him to feel better about himself (what a loser!). One way to respond is with humor - think of some jokes and comebacks (write them down if you need to) and deliver them when he talks down to you (on giving you grades - haha are you a law professor now? didn't realize they give out tenure so fast). You can also reasonably push back: If co-clerk says something negative about your past work experience, etc. you can just say "Oh actually I really enjoyed X and it was an excellent experience." The last way to respond is to play co-clerk's own game - remind co-clerk he went to a lower-ranked school than you, that he got lower grades than you, that he is lucky to have gotten his clerkship, and that judges fire sub-par performers. You decide how low you want to go here.

Crossing Boundaries: When co-clerk crosses boundaries - like this thing about giving you grades - tell him clearly and directly that it is not OK and you will not tolerate it. Please, please do this or it will continue. Still a bit unsure on the context here but let's say co-clerk comes into your office and tells you he thinks something you just wrote is bad, it is a C. You say: It's not part of your job to do this, Thanks!

Co-clerk may respond inappropriately when you confront him about these issues. He might yell at you, because of his own insecurities. Think about how you will respond if he does this. But also know that this type of confrontation, if you respond appropriately and in a cool manner, will amount to valuable ammunition should you ever need to take this to chambers staff. Also, I've never done this with a co-worker, but if you're anticipating someone going full-on crazy with you, you can record it on your phone to protect yourself from further repercussions, gaslighting, etc.

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Re: I can’t stand my co-clerk

Post by Quichelorraine » Mon Aug 31, 2020 2:40 pm

Could he just be utterly clueless? For instance, is he K-JD? If this is his first ever Big Boy Job (setting aside summer internships and the like), he could just be laboring under the assumption that this is how you're supposed to act in a professional setting, colored by a strong amount of social awkwardness and possible fissile-quality insecurity. (The "grades" thing makes me think he might be K-JD; that's been his currency of worth his entire life thus far.)

This isn't to excuse the behavior. It sounds wretched and is a bad way to begin a year-long relationship. But if he's clueless or socially awkward (or simply not neurotypical) instead of an ass, that provides more avenues for reaching a happy ending, and for giving benefit of the doubt before bringing the axe down.

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Re: I can’t stand my co-clerk

Post by nixy » Mon Aug 31, 2020 3:33 pm

Yeah, I wondered if he was K-JD and perhaps kind of socially awkward, and has based his whole sense of self worth around grades/academic achievement and doesn’t really know what else to have a work conversation around (not saying all K-JDs are remotely like this, just that he may not have had helpful life experience yet). That doesn’t remotely mean you have to put up with him, of course! Just that if this is what’s going on, it might be easier to cope with him by thinking of him clueless rather than malicious. (Unless he really should know better of course.)

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Dcc617

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Re: I can’t stand my co-clerk

Post by Dcc617 » Mon Aug 31, 2020 3:43 pm

Yeah, fuck that, dude is obviously being unprofessional, don't try to gaslight OP. There's no borderline here.

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Re: I can’t stand my co-clerk

Post by Anonymous User » Mon Aug 31, 2020 3:46 pm

Former clerk here who clerked for a fairly low-key, low-drama judge. If this had happened in our chambers clerk would've gotten one chance to turn it around and then would've been shown the door. This is outlier behavior and it's super inappropriate.

I'd try the direct approach once, and then go straight to the JA to figure out how to broach this with the judge (not whether to broach it - how to broach it). Document the things that he's done so you have a full and complete picture.

This guy isn't your friend, and he'll continue this behavior unless someone puts a stop to it. If you can do so, great. If it requires judge intervention, then so be it. But you shouldn't have to suffer through some asshole just because he's louder and more aggressive than you.

What I'd discourage though is from the post a few spots up - I don't think you should stoop to his level, or even respond at this point with jokes/mockery of him. I say that only because there's almost certainly sexist overtones in the way he's behaving, and he'll try to use any such response as ammo if he's ultimately chastised by you/the JA/the judge.

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Re: I can’t stand my co-clerk

Post by Wild Card » Mon Aug 31, 2020 3:47 pm

I wanted to tell you not to be passive aggressive, but to be firm and direct.

But then I remembered that 99 percent of my law school classmates were socially disabled, and I could never bring myself to instruct them to act like decent human beings.

I would not engage in eye-for-an-eye behavior. I do agree that you have to act quickly.

I don' read Margaret Atwood, but came across this great quotation: "At core, men are afraid women will laugh at them, while at core, women are afraid men will kill them."

I don't mean that he will kill you if you make him feel any more insecure, but that you should be firm and direct rather than trying to pull an eye for an eye.

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Re: I can’t stand my co-clerk

Post by Anonymous User » Mon Aug 31, 2020 4:23 pm

Dcc617 wrote:
Mon Aug 31, 2020 3:43 pm
Yeah, fuck that, dude is obviously being unprofessional, don't try to gaslight OP. There's no borderline here.
Of course he’s being unprofessional; no one said he’s not. Some people are just really obtuse and have no self awareness, and usually someone who talks down to others in such a way is cripplingly insecure. Doesn’t make his behavior any more acceptable but it can help the OP decide best how to handle it.
— accidental anon, this is nixy

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Re: I can’t stand my co-clerk

Post by Anonymous User » Mon Aug 31, 2020 4:32 pm

The poster who said to talk to your JA about how—not if—to raise it with the judge brings up a good point (assuming you’ve tried to politely and then quite directly shut it down yourself first). Both of the judges I clerked for would have wanted to know if a clerk was being a sexist jerk who refused to change his behavior after having been asked directly to do so. Obviously don’t start with going to the judge (like most things in chambers, if you can figure it out yourself without involving the judge, try that first). But my judges would have been way more upset by this than, say, a mistake in someone’s work.

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Re: I can’t stand my co-clerk

Post by Dcc617 » Mon Aug 31, 2020 5:07 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Mon Aug 31, 2020 4:23 pm
Dcc617 wrote:
Mon Aug 31, 2020 3:43 pm
Yeah, fuck that, dude is obviously being unprofessional, don't try to gaslight OP. There's no borderline here.
Of course he’s being unprofessional; no one said he’s not. Some people are just really obtuse and have no self awareness, and usually someone who talks down to others in such a way is cripplingly insecure. Doesn’t make his behavior any more acceptable but it can help the OP decide best how to handle it.
— accidental anon, this is nixy
So won't derail the thread, but that's not OP's responsibility. It starts looking shitty when people try to make OP second guess themself about bullshit behavior. That sort of "well maybe they don't really mean it", or maybe OP cut them a break thing is exactly the sort of thinking that lets people get away with shitty behavior.

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Re: I can’t stand my co-clerk

Post by nixy » Mon Aug 31, 2020 5:50 pm

You’re reading way too much into what was said. No one has said the co-clerk doesn’t mean it or that the OP should cut the co-clerk a break. Only that if any of those things are in play, it might alter how the OP gets them to stop their current behavior.

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Re: I can’t stand my co-clerk

Post by lavarman84 » Mon Aug 31, 2020 5:51 pm

Dcc617 wrote:
Mon Aug 31, 2020 5:07 pm
Anonymous User wrote:
Mon Aug 31, 2020 4:23 pm
Dcc617 wrote:
Mon Aug 31, 2020 3:43 pm
Yeah, fuck that, dude is obviously being unprofessional, don't try to gaslight OP. There's no borderline here.
Of course he’s being unprofessional; no one said he’s not. Some people are just really obtuse and have no self awareness, and usually someone who talks down to others in such a way is cripplingly insecure. Doesn’t make his behavior any more acceptable but it can help the OP decide best how to handle it.
— accidental anon, this is nixy
So won't derail the thread, but that's not OP's responsibility. It starts looking shitty when people try to make OP second guess themself about bullshit behavior. That sort of "well maybe they don't really mean it", or maybe OP cut them a break thing is exactly the sort of thinking that lets people get away with shitty behavior.
He's being a dickhead, but it unfortunately OP is stuck with him. So how OP handles this issue is important. People have given good advice. Even though the guy deserves a good verbal ass-kicking, that's unlikely to be productive in this sort of situation. (But is worth reserving for later if he ignores the kind and respectful "cut it outs" and keeps being a dick.)

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Re: I can’t stand my co-clerk

Post by Anonymous User » Tue Sep 01, 2020 9:30 am

.
Last edited by Anonymous User on Mon Sep 14, 2020 11:13 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: I can’t stand my co-clerk

Post by Anonymous User » Tue Sep 01, 2020 10:29 am

Anonymous User wrote:
Tue Sep 01, 2020 9:30 am
OP here. Thanks for all the replies. It’s good to know I wasn’t just creating an issue in my own head.

The co-clerk is not a K-JD. In fact, he’s much older than me. I think that’s one of the sources of his behavior, as well as the implicit sexism. It’s like he believes I am his mentee.

Is it customary to nit-pick your co-clerk’s work? He spends hours pouring over my drafts to highlight little issues, many of which boil down to discretionary preferences. I don’t think I’d mind this as much if it didn’t always come along with a lecture.

I’m hesitant to say anything because I do think he believes he’s just being helpful. But I’ve worked very hard to achieve this milestone, and I don’t want to feel discounted or undeserving.
IMO that's all the more reason to tell him, in no uncertain terms, that you are not his mentee or subordinate, and that you don't feedback from anyone in chambers except the judge. I'm sorry you have to deal with this, OP. This person sounds miserable, even if they think they're being helpful.

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Re: I can’t stand my co-clerk

Post by polareagle » Tue Sep 01, 2020 10:31 am

It is pretty common to exchange drafts with co-clerks to run a cite check and look out for things like typos. (I assume he only has access to your work in the first place because of this sort of arrangement.)

It is not common for co-clerks to substantively, much less stylistically, edit each other's work (at least without some sort of direct request--e.g., I once asked a co-clerk to help me puzzle through re-arranging an opinion to make it more readable because I was stuck).

Given that you only have one co-clerk, it sounds like you're at a district court. I find it mind boggling that he has so much time to waste editing your work, especially going into September. Is he getting his own work done?

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Re: I can’t stand my co-clerk

Post by mjb447 » Tue Sep 01, 2020 10:34 am

Anonymous User wrote:
Tue Sep 01, 2020 9:30 am
Is it customary to nit-pick your co-clerk’s work? He spends hours pouring over my drafts to highlight little issues, many of which boil down to discretionary preferences. I don’t think I’d mind this as much if it didn’t always come along with a lecture.
I reviewed the thread briefly but I may have missed this - is your co-clerk reviewing and editing your drafts a required part of the judge's process? Some chambers don't do that at all -- things just go clerk -> judge or term clerk -> career clerk -- and he would be 100% out of line.

Other chambers require at least some "lateral" editing, in which case the bolded part is a little more understandable IMO. I clerked in a chambers where clerks swapped drafts for editing multiple times for each opinion and expectations were pretty high at every stage (so everyone had strong incentives to search exhaustively and point out anything even colorably "wrong"), so this happened sometimes. It was a little obnoxious when it was over matters of preference, but it's not as bad as the other behavior you described, including *how* he's delivering the edits.

Seriously? What are you waiting for?

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