Getting Fired or Let Go From Clerkship

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Getting Fired or Let Go From Clerkship

Postby Anonymous User » Tue May 01, 2018 2:08 am

Hi all, I'm wondering about people who have gotten fired from a clerkship and how they've managed afterwards. My Judge has sat me down a few times and told me that my work is not what s/he expected. I think we fundamentally disagree about a lot of things too. I've essentially been on probation for a month or two but I think my time is running out. I have received hints from other people in chambers that the Judge has considered letting me go.

Should I just quit before I get fired? I don't think the Judge wants to ruin my career but s/he doesn't want to work together anymore. Am I just screwed? How will this hurt my job prospects? Do I need to tell my firms (or other future employers) what happened if the Judge doesn't proactively reach out to them?

I just haven't heard about a lot of people getting fired and I don't know what to do or how best to control the damage of this. I don't think I can salvage the situation to be honest (and not sure I want to work with someone who does not want to work with me).

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Re: Getting Fired or Let Go From Clerkship

Postby Anonymous User » Tue May 01, 2018 10:01 am

Is this a state court clerkship or something?

In my years of federal clerking, I don't think I've ever heard of it (and i've seen several people that it would have been warranted). However, there are some forums on here of people who have quit/been let go/been fired either for personal reasons or others. Can't remember the circumstances but some well done searches will find them.

Frankly, unless your judge has a terrible reputation, employers are going to have genuine questions as to why you couldn't acquiesce and change your writing/work style to satisfy the judge (at least to a non-fireable level) for half a year or whatever is remaining.

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Re: Getting Fired or Let Go From Clerkship

Postby objctnyrhnr » Tue May 01, 2018 11:20 am

I might try to stay as long as you reasonably can. Having a resume stamp that’s too much less than a year might really harm you in the long run...perhaps moreso than getting fired even (in this context).

How long have you been there? When is it scheduled to end? Do you have anything lined up for after?

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Re: Getting Fired or Let Go From Clerkship

Postby Barrred » Tue May 01, 2018 11:28 am

I know you mentioned that you don't think you can salvage the situation, but you are in a unique position right now of having not yet been fired. I think it would be worth at least one more candid conversation with your judge about how you might be able to ride out the rest of the year, given the significant negative career fallout that will ensue if you are let go. (You might even offer to take on responsibility for all of the menial tasks that the other clerks don't want to do, or even take on some JA tasks--this will be easier as a district court clerk, because there is a lot more minutia that has to be dealt with, like dealing with ex parte orders, preparing for scheduling conferences, managing the calendar, handling the externs, etc.) But before you have that conversation with the judge, you should probably sit down and ask yourself why you haven't yet been able to improve/work this out. Even if you are 100% convinced that the Judge is the problem, not you, you should consider this a valuable learning experience to be able to adapt to an onerous situation (you can do it--its less than a year). The consequences/hassle of being fired from a clerkship are just too grave to not expend every ounce of effort attempting to salvage the relationship.

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Re: Getting Fired or Let Go From Clerkship

Postby minnbills » Tue May 01, 2018 11:46 am

Unless I'm missing something here, your judge sucks. I have been clerking for three years (fed) and have never heard of a judge behaving this way.

How long have you been with this judge? and how long is left on your term? You should definitely start ramping up your applications and try and get out the door

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Re: Getting Fired or Let Go From Clerkship

Postby Anonymous User » Tue May 01, 2018 1:49 pm

Disagree re. "judge sucks." I clerked for a judge (federal) who had fired several clerks in the past, but had tried to do so gently. All of the fired clerks landed OK. There were one or two other judges in the courthouse who had done the same thing. And that was in a reasonably small district.

I think it's more common than people think. And, frankly, that your judge is actually talking to you about it suggests that the situation is salvageable, either via the arrangements others have suggested or a "soft exit."

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Re: Getting Fired or Let Go From Clerkship

Postby Anonymous User » Tue May 01, 2018 2:06 pm

Anonymous User wrote:Disagree re. "judge sucks." I clerked for a judge (federal) who had fired several clerks in the past, but had tried to do so gently. All of the fired clerks landed OK. There were one or two other judges in the courthouse who had done the same thing. And that was in a reasonably small district.

I think it's more common than people think. And, frankly, that your judge is actually talking to you about it suggests that the situation is salvageable, either via the arrangements others have suggested or a "soft exit."

Seconded. One of the judges I clerked for is probably the nicest person you would ever meet, but he/she too has fired a clerk in the past. And, from what I heard around chambers, was entirely warranted in doing so. I'm certainly not saying that is necessarily the case with OP, but it does happen--even with judges who are objectively kind and very well respected.

OP, all that you can do is (1) address it with the judge and (2) take his/her guidance to heart. Your judge wants you to succeed just as much as you do; all that you have to do is find out what needs to be changed and do your best.

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Re: Getting Fired or Let Go From Clerkship

Postby minnbills » Tue May 01, 2018 2:22 pm

No, unless the clerk is disruptive, refuses to work, or is a poorly-performing career clerk, termination IS ridiculous. I have clerked in two districts, one of which is a leading jurisdiction in the U.S. and I stand by my comment that this is unheard of. From what OP says, it sounds like the judge has a problem with OP's writing style. That is not a legitimate basis to take such a drastic move.

OP, you need to figure out if your judge wants you to leave and if so, start applying for other jobs right away. Getting fired from a clerkship will have huge implications for your career, precisely because it is so unusual.

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Re: Getting Fired or Let Go From Clerkship

Postby Anonymous User » Tue May 01, 2018 3:15 pm

minnbills wrote:No, unless the clerk is disruptive, refuses to work, or is a poorly-performing career clerk, termination IS ridiculous. I have clerked in two districts, one of which is a leading jurisdiction in the U.S. and I stand by my comment that this is unheard of. From what OP says, it sounds like the judge has a problem with OP's writing style. That is not a legitimate basis to take such a drastic move.

OP, you need to figure out if your judge wants you to leave and if so, start applying for other jobs right away. Getting fired from a clerkship will have huge implications for your career, precisely because it is so unusual.



I mean, I don't know what to tell you except that I respectfully disagree. That you haven't heard of it doesn't mean it's unheard of. I've heard of it. Now, granted, I didn't clerk in a "leading jurisdiction," but it was certainly a real place filled with flesh-n-blood jurists and their charges.

I'm also not sure I agree with your grounds for dismissal as being exclusive; or, rather, while I don't disagree with you that firing a clerk should be reserved only for drastic situations, I can see why it isn't. Some District Court judges are unbelievably busy. If they hire a clerk and it turns out that, for whatever reason, there's an incompatibility--be it over writing style, or work habits, or whatever--they're placed in the uncomfortable position of having 1/2 or 1/3 of their legal staff being functionally out of commission (or, worse, creating extra work). Unlike at the Circuit level, where iffy or incompatible clerks can be papered over, at the trial level they have the potential to torpedo a third or more of the docket.

I was the anon above who mentioned that my district court judge had fired a few clerks. One, as described to me, was an actual problem clerk that couldn't get work out the door. At least one of the others, though, was a personality and temperament mismatch that didn't become apparent until the year had already begun. Would I have enjoyed being the clerk in that position? Hell no; I'm sure it was damned unpleasant. But the judge worked hard to ensure a soft landing, says only nice things about the clerk, and the clerk has a kick-ass job and is doing great. I'd prefer that to a leading-jurisdiction-tyranical-boss-firing (echem) any day.

Doesn't mean OP shouldn't prepare, or isn't justified in being worried. But it's recoverable, it happens, and it doesn't mean you're a garbage lawyer or a bad person (in fact, some of the qualities that make people stellar advocates translate poorly to the "objective" experience of clerking).

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Re: Getting Fired or Let Go From Clerkship

Postby Anonymous User » Tue May 01, 2018 3:36 pm

minnbills wrote:No, unless the clerk is disruptive, refuses to work, or is a poorly-performing career clerk, termination IS ridiculous. I have clerked in two districts, one of which is a leading jurisdiction in the U.S. and I stand by my comment that this is unheard of. From what OP says, it sounds like the judge has a problem with OP's writing style. That is not a legitimate basis to take such a drastic move.

OP, you need to figure out if your judge wants you to leave and if so, start applying for other jobs right away. Getting fired from a clerkship will have huge implications for your career, precisely because it is so unusual.


There's an SDNY judge who is notorious for firing clerks.

OP: try to make corrections and stick it out as long as you can. If you are fired/leave early, it isn't the end of the world. As long as the judge won't bad-mouth you to future employers, you can keep your timing vague (plus, judges will sometimes hire for a six-month gap or whatever), and it shouldn't have to affect your future career prospects.

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Re: Getting Fired or Let Go From Clerkship

Postby Anonymous User » Tue May 01, 2018 4:23 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
minnbills wrote:No, unless the clerk is disruptive, refuses to work, or is a poorly-performing career clerk, termination IS ridiculous. I have clerked in two districts, one of which is a leading jurisdiction in the U.S. and I stand by my comment that this is unheard of. From what OP says, it sounds like the judge has a problem with OP's writing style. That is not a legitimate basis to take such a drastic move.

OP, you need to figure out if your judge wants you to leave and if so, start applying for other jobs right away. Getting fired from a clerkship will have huge implications for your career, precisely because it is so unusual.


There's an SDNY judge who is notorious for firing clerks.

OP: try to make corrections and stick it out as long as you can. If you are fired/leave early, it isn't the end of the world. As long as the judge won't bad-mouth you to future employers, you can keep your timing vague (plus, judges will sometimes hire for a six-month gap or whatever), and it shouldn't have to affect your future career prospects.


Come to think of it I did hear Clay on Sixth Circuit fired multiple pretty recently.

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Re: Getting Fired or Let Go From Clerkship

Postby Anonymous User » Tue May 01, 2018 4:27 pm

minnbills wrote:No, unless the clerk is disruptive, refuses to work, or is a poorly-performing career clerk, termination IS ridiculous. I have clerked in two districts, one of which is a leading jurisdiction in the U.S. and I stand by my comment that this is unheard of. From what OP says, it sounds like the judge has a problem with OP's writing style. That is not a legitimate basis to take such a drastic move.

OP, you need to figure out if your judge wants you to leave and if so, start applying for other jobs right away. Getting fired from a clerkship will have huge implications for your career, precisely because it is so unusual.


Multiple federal level clerk here and I agree. A year is a long time when in a small chambers but you can't just fire someone unless it is pretty outrageous. It torpedoes a career, usually. Your hiring process needs to drastically change if you cant figure out someone will be fireable.

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Re: Getting Fired or Let Go From Clerkship

Postby Anonymous User » Tue May 01, 2018 6:35 pm

Based on what OP said, termination sounds reasonable to me. OP fundamentally disagrees with the judge on lots of points and faults the judge for being unwilling "to work together anymore" and not wanting to "work with [OP]." Perhaps I'm reading too much into this, but it sounds to me like OP doesn't realize that s/he works for the judge, not "with" the judge. The judge's name is the name on the opinion, and if OP isn't willing to write what and how the judge wants his/her work to be written, the judge has every right to fire OP and hire someone who will do the work as directed.

It's not fair to expect everyone else in chambers to do lots of extra work to make up for one clerk who can't or won't do what s/he was hired to do.

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Re: Getting Fired or Let Go From Clerkship

Postby nixy » Tue May 01, 2018 8:58 pm

minnbills wrote:No, unless the clerk is disruptive, refuses to work, or is a poorly-performing career clerk, termination IS ridiculous. I have clerked in two districts, one of which is a leading jurisdiction in the U.S. and I stand by my comment that this is unheard of. From what OP says, it sounds like the judge has a problem with OP's writing style. That is not a legitimate basis to take such a drastic move.

OP, you need to figure out if your judge wants you to leave and if so, start applying for other jobs right away. Getting fired from a clerkship will have huge implications for your career, precisely because it is so unusual.

Okay, but 1) I also have heard of clerks getting fired, and 2) all due respect to the OP, we don't actually have any evidence that the issue is "writing style" - "work is not what [the judge] expected" could mean a LOT of things besides "writing style" and actually sounds a lot like "poorly-performing." Also the fact that the judge has sat the OP down "a few times" and the OP has been on "probation" and nothing has changed/got better sounds a lot like the OP is poorly-performing, in some way. The judge could well also be a problem, don't get me wrong, but we absolutely don't have enough information to dismiss this as ridiculous. No offense meant to OP because sometimes people just end up in jobs that aren't right for them, but they might fit into any of the categories you deem sufficient for termination.

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Re: Getting Fired or Let Go From Clerkship

Postby Anonymous User » Wed May 02, 2018 1:07 am

OP here. To clarify, I do think my work is to blame for a lot of this. I had trouble adjusting to the pace of a D.Ct. clerkship. I made a few mistakes in cases and had to go back and fix things. I also think that my Judge's method of feedback wasn't helpful in figuring out what I was doing wrong. I am still not sure what exactly I should be doing differently in particular. I just know that what I have done is not enough and I cannot seem to figure out what else to change.

Thank you for the advice. I plan on directly speaking to the Judge in the next few days. I am worried that this direct conversation might outright lead to the Judge letting me go. I am just trying to figure out next steps and what I should say to firms and how to phrase it.

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Re: Getting Fired or Let Go From Clerkship

Postby Laser Lady » Wed May 02, 2018 4:18 am

I think the bigger problem is that the reasons you give for having trouble with the clerkship -- fast pace, high workload, poor feedback, bad communication, etc. -- seem pretty typical of firm practice as well. You'll have a hard time convincing a firm that they should hire you when your reason for leaving the clerkship early (whether you're fired or quit yourself) is that you couldn't manage the workload/perform to expectations.

If you do quit/get fired, you need to figure out what kind of work you will be able to do (or what kind of employer you need to work with) to avoid running into the same problems. Once you figure that out for yourself, it'll be a lot easier to convince a potential employer as well.

As for approaching the judge, if you think it's pretty inevitable that you'll get fired anyway, I don't think it would hurt to approach him/her. Even if that conversation does directly lead to the judge pulling the plug on your employment, I think you can honestly tell future employers that you and the judge mutually agreed that the arrangement wasn't working out for either of you. That seems to be the direction you're headed anyway.

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Re: Getting Fired or Let Go From Clerkship

Postby nixy » Wed May 02, 2018 8:02 am

Unfortunately, giving constructive feedback is more of an art than a science, and it's one very few people get any training in, so many people are terrible at it. I'm sorry this situation isn't working out for you. Depending on how your relationship is with this judge otherwise, I think it might be worth asking them directly about what to say to firms etc. - for one thing, you will want to know what *they* would say if a prospective employer called them up. It sounds like some judges in similar situations have been supportive even if the clerkship didn't work out, and helped clerks get something else, but even if your judge isn't interested in doing that, you want to know what you can expect from them. And it might give you some idea of how you can move forward.

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Re: Getting Fired or Let Go From Clerkship

Postby Anonymous User » Wed May 02, 2018 10:57 am

OP here. To clarify, I do think my work is to blame for a lot of this. I had trouble adjusting to the pace of a D.Ct. clerkship. I made a few mistakes in cases and had to go back and fix things. I also think that my Judge's method of feedback wasn't helpful in figuring out what I was doing wrong. I am still not sure what exactly I should be doing differently in particular. I just know that what I have done is not enough and I cannot seem to figure out what else to change.


It's a tough thing to adjust to, and it isn't for everyone. And, as you mention, some judges aren't great at indicating what they want. But there's no guarantee that the relationship is beyond repair. And, honestly, sitting down with him or her and talking things out might be stressful in the moment, but it's probably better than having a dark cloud over your head the rest of the term. As others have suggested, there may be some sort of middle ground work you could do, or dig into the habeas pile, or something.

Backing up a bit:

There's an SDNY judge who is notorious for firing clerks.


Yeah, but I think that's for a different reason. I'm getting the impression here that the OP and his or her judge aren't meshing, for whatever reason. That happens. The SDNY judge seems to have a wee bit of a tyrant-boss complex.

LaserLady wrote: think the bigger problem is that the reasons you give for having trouble with the clerkship -- fast pace, high workload, poor feedback, bad communication, etc. -- seem pretty typical of firm practice as well.


True. But at a firm, the structure of review is simply different...as is the goal of the work product. I'm the anon who worked for a judge who fired clerks. One of those clerks was absolutely brilliant but struggled mightily with switching from "advocate" to "digest huge record, spit out standard of review, decide, procedural niceties, order." She's done great at a top-tier legal aid organization which has a crushing workload. Why? Because it wasn't the pace itself; it was the pace combined with the mentality.

Bubbling under the surface of some of my comments here: clerks getting fired or let go happens more often than people think, as this thread itself demonstrates. That contributes to the huge stigma associated with it; people simply can't contemplate that problems won't be papered over for a year until everyone can move on, nobody the wiser. If we were more honest with ourselves that clerking is a job, albeit an unusual one, where sometimes things don't work out--even sometimes when all parties are perfectly reasonable and competent people--folks like the OP wouldn't be staring down career mortality simply because of one bad experience.

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Re: Getting Fired or Let Go From Clerkship

Postby Anonymous User » Wed May 02, 2018 11:17 am

I agree with the above poster that this stuff shouldn't be career ending, but it very well can be. I think OP ought to have an honest, self-critical evaluation of themselves and realize getting fired from this clerkship, especially if the judge isn't feeling helpful, could torpedo OPs future career.

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Re: Getting Fired or Let Go From Clerkship

Postby Anonymous User » Wed May 02, 2018 12:55 pm

Backing up a bit to one of OP's original questions.

Anonymous User wrote:Do I need to tell my firms (or other future employers) what happened if the Judge doesn't proactively reach out to them?


I don't know what you ought to tell a firm proactively (you certainly shouldn't hide the truth), but you mention other future employers. At very least, if one of those future employers is another clerkship, I think you should reach out and tell them if you are getting fired/quitting a clerkship, especially because based on what you've said the reason seems to be largely your difficulty adjusting to the pace and demands of work in a chambers. I suspect any judge would want to know this, especially if you were hired with the understanding that you would gain experience clerking elsewhere first.

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Re: Getting Fired or Let Go From Clerkship

Postby Anonymous User » Wed May 02, 2018 1:28 pm

This is pretty unheard of, but it does happen. A couple of ideas:

First, you were likely hired for a term, so on your resume dates you can always put your 2017-2018 Term and it be fine. That way it doesn't look as if there's a gap to potential employers

Second, you can ask the judge to assign you work that you can't possibly mess up, like 2255s for the remainder of your term rather than more substantive assignments like drafting opinions on dispositive motions.

Third, you might ask the judge to loan you to a magistrate judge for a few months to build up your writing and analysis skills and then come back improved and ready to finish your term.

Fourth, you might simply hire a writing coach. I know it can be costly, but the problem in a clerkship is likely that you're writing is incoherent. That's likely an organizational thing that can be fixed by simply learning the structure of legal writing. Nipping this in the bud now might save your legal career down the road.

Fifth, you might ask if you can take on the role of a personal assistant. Instead of drafting opinions, you can write speeches for the judge when she/he speaks at bar organizations or other events and you might help prepare the judge for non-judicial duties.

Sixth, speak to your judge about leaving the term early with her/his support. Ask that he keep you on until you're able to find other legal employment.

Seventh, you might ask your co-clerks to look over some stuff before you send to the judge. As a former co-clerk, i had my own crushing workload, but I was always happy to look over discrete parts of my co-clerks WP when asked. Just do it sparingly and only do so when the WP is polished.

Anyways, if you get fired, it isn't the end of the world. You're a law clerk and always will be one. You'll land on your feet doing something amazing.

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Re: Getting Fired or Let Go From Clerkship

Postby Wild Card » Wed May 02, 2018 6:28 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
OP here. To clarify, I do think my work is to blame for a lot of this. I had trouble adjusting to the pace of a D.Ct. clerkship. I made a few mistakes in cases and had to go back and fix things. I also think that my Judge's method of feedback wasn't helpful in figuring out what I was doing wrong. I am still not sure what exactly I should be doing differently in particular. I just know that what I have done is not enough and I cannot seem to figure out what else to change.


It's a tough thing to adjust to, and it isn't for everyone. And, as you mention, some judges aren't great at indicating what they want. But there's no guarantee that the relationship is beyond repair. And, honestly, sitting down with him or her and talking things out might be stressful in the moment, but it's probably better than having a dark cloud over your head the rest of the term. As others have suggested, there may be some sort of middle ground work you could do, or dig into the habeas pile, or something.

Backing up a bit:

There's an SDNY judge who is notorious for firing clerks.


Yeah, but I think that's for a different reason. I'm getting the impression here that the OP and his or her judge aren't meshing, for whatever reason. That happens. The SDNY judge seems to have a wee bit of a tyrant-boss complex.

LaserLady wrote: think the bigger problem is that the reasons you give for having trouble with the clerkship -- fast pace, high workload, poor feedback, bad communication, etc. -- seem pretty typical of firm practice as well.


True. But at a firm, the structure of review is simply different...as is the goal of the work product. I'm the anon who worked for a judge who fired clerks. One of those clerks was absolutely brilliant but struggled mightily with switching from "advocate" to "digest huge record, spit out standard of review, decide, procedural niceties, order." She's done great at a top-tier legal aid organization which has a crushing workload. Why? Because it wasn't the pace itself; it was the pace combined with the mentality.

Bubbling under the surface of some of my comments here: clerks getting fired or let go happens more often than people think, as this thread itself demonstrates. That contributes to the huge stigma associated with it; people simply can't contemplate that problems won't be papered over for a year until everyone can move on, nobody the wiser. If we were more honest with ourselves that clerking is a job, albeit an unusual one, where sometimes things don't work out--even sometimes when all parties are perfectly reasonable and competent people--folks like the OP wouldn't be staring down career mortality simply because of one bad experience.


Why don't you out the fucking judge? Is this some kind of pretentious inner circle bullshit you're pulling? Stop abusing the anon function.

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Re: Getting Fired or Let Go From Clerkship

Postby Anonymous User » Wed May 02, 2018 11:12 pm

Anonymous User wrote:Disagree re. "judge sucks." I clerked for a judge (federal) who had fired several clerks in the past, but had tried to do so gently. All of the fired clerks landed OK. There were one or two other judges in the courthouse who had done the same thing. And that was in a reasonably small district.

I think it's more common than people think. And, frankly, that your judge is actually talking to you about it suggests that the situation is salvageable, either via the arrangements others have suggested or a "soft exit."


seconding this, re: having clerked for a judge who has done this. i don't think it's that rare

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Re: Getting Fired or Let Go From Clerkship

Postby Anonymous User » Thu May 03, 2018 12:17 am

Anonymous User wrote:Second, you can ask the judge to assign you work that you can't possibly mess up, like 2255s for the remainder of your term rather than more substantive assignments like drafting opinions on dispositive motions.


LOL I don't know what kind of 2255s you've been dealing with, but post-Johnson 2255s dealing with issues of first impression are some of the most procedurally and substantively challenging work. Sorry, I just couldn't let that one stand...

As for OP, I really feel for you. People make mistakes, even law clerks. It happens. You cannot possibly be perfect from day one on the job. The trick is to learn from the mistakes and not repeat them. It's unfortunate that your judge is less constructive in his/her feedback. That type of stress and pressure can only make it harder to produce good work. Keep your head up.

Also, everyone keeps repeating that parting ways with a judge is career suicide, but I don't think that type of a blanket statement is warranted. If you got fired because, say, you did something illegal and were disbarred, yeah, sure, that might be a career killer. But I suspect that, like most bad things in life, getting fired is a setback, but not the end of the world. It might not be ideal, but you won't have to wear a sign on your head that says "I GOT FIRED FROM A CLERKSHIP." Things will blow over and you'll make the best of it.

Just my 2 cents.

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Re: Getting Fired or Let Go From Clerkship

Postby Anonymous User » Thu May 03, 2018 10:05 am

Who is the SDNY judge?



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