Thursday, November 7, 2013

Yes, That's Really Her

The Judge always had four law clerks working for her. Many people did not understand the term "law clerk". These were not your everyday folks running around doing busy work at the beck and call of the Judge. These were the best and the brightest, the top graduates of the top tier law schools in the country. These students all competed for Appellate Judge Clerkships. Not only did their tenure with the Judge train them for a career in the law, law firms paid top dollar for young attorneys with a clerkship on their resume.

Of course, having a clerkship was one thing. Having a clerkship in a small southern town was another. We had several clerks who thought they had come to a third world country when they arrived. While their friends were working in chambers located in courthouses in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Dallas, they found themselves in a small town, population 15,000, in the low country of South Carolina. It did not take them long to learn that life was not as bad as it may have first seemed.

When the law students came to interview, usually a year or two before the clerkship would begin, the Judge wanted to make sure they understood what they were in for. A full day was dedicated for each interview. Besides talking about the duties of the job and the court, she would personally show them the town, pointing out all the features she thought were redeeming qualities. These included the shoe repair shop that could repair anything in a day or two and never cost more than 5 or 6 bucks, making sure they saw the collection of comical faces made from old shoes that were displayed on the walls of the shop. There was the dry cleaners where their shirts could be pressed for much less than the big bucks their colleagues would be paying in the big cities and of course there was the world class BBQ.

One would have thought she was head of the chamber of commerce. She went as far as showing them the city gardens and explaining in detail the annual holiday light display that city put up each year and then the fair grounds where the county fair is held each October. But, winner was always when they realized they were going to get an apartment with 1100 square feet, hardwood floors, and a fireplace for around $650 a month. 

The Judge insisted that all the current law clerks spend time with the potential clerk being interviewed. Then she would talk with them for a good hour, taking time to answer any questions they may have. I was always the last one they spoke with before they left Inevitably, I always got one question, "OK, what's she really like?" And, I would always answer truthfully, "That's her. What you saw is how she always is."  I realized their previous experiences with federal judges had most likely been a standard 45 minute interview. If they were lucky, they were taken to lunch.

What these bright law students did not realize was that she only interviewed 6 each year at most. And, each of those were incredibly qualified and equally capable. We had all spent weeks culling through the 100's of resumes she received each year to narrow the list down to the 5 or 6 she wanted to talk to. Then it all came down to personality - who would get along best with everyone in chambers. It was like I told one young man after he was offered the position, who had been so nervous about the interview - by the time anyone was offered an interview, unless they had some unreasonable body piercing or an inappropriate tattoo the Judge could see, the job was theirs as long as they were friendly and the Judge thought they would be a team player.

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