Clerkships are invaluable for young lawyers. They can also be a setup for abuse.

Publication Type: 
Other Writing
Publication Date: 
December 15, 2017

Last week, The Washington Post reported that six women, all former law clerks and legal externs, have accused federal appeals court Judge Alex Kozinski of “inappropriate sexual conduct or comments,” with allegations that included showing them pornography and suggesting that they exercise naked.

In legal circles, this wasn’t a surprise. Rumors have swirled around him for years.

In general, judicial clerkships can place young women in a particularly vulnerable position — the job, by its nature, requires young clerks to work in close and secluded quarters with judges who have the power to make or break their careers. The current system encourages women to put up with bad behavior or forego certain opportunities rather than insist on fair and equitable treatment. It is a structural flaw with the way we train some of the most promising young lawyers. Whether these clerkships are structured in a way that allows women to thrive is important to the health of the legal profession.

For young lawyers, federal judicial clerkships are a gateway to membership in the profession’s elite, easing the way to highly paid jobs at law firms, prestigious government positions and prized fellowships at respected nonprofit organizations.

In the 2000s, I clerked for federal appeals court Judge M. Margaret McKeown. It was a wonderful opportunity for close mentorship by a talented legal thinker. I learned a tremendous amount about effective legal writing, gained a better understanding of the operation of the court and the experience helped land me my dream job, a fellowship at the American Civil Liberties Union. But I also saw how clerkships can be the perfect setup for abusive relationships. When things go wrong, too often clerks — about half of whom are women — feel there is nowhere for them to turn.

Read the full piece at The Washington Post