Personality Conflict w/ JA

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Personality Conflict w/ JA

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Oct 23, 2018 1:54 am

I have the coolest judge and co-clerk ... but the JA is the fucking worst.

JA won't stop bossing me around under the pretext of "Judge 'would' want this that" ... it's a lot of little things like "not to boss you around, but maybe start your day with this order," or when I put orders in Judge's box she'll scoop them out and make stylistic edits (that suck).

The kicker was the other day when I wanted to go sit in on a suppression hearing and she was like "judge would rather you work on whatever it is you do... keep plugging away!"

I'm boiling. This is compounded by the fact that I did two years of big law so (and it's a part of me I hate) I'm not real into taking orders from non-lawyers.

There's also just a general personality conflict -- we don't get along. She pushes my buttons on purpose. I push hers by intentionally closing my door when I gossip with my co-clerk.

Honestly, if it weren't for this I'd love my job, but this conflict makes me dread going to work every day. She's always quick to tell Judge about every little mistake I make so there's that too.

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Re: Personality Conflict w/ JA

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Oct 23, 2018 2:05 am

Anonymous User wrote:I have the coolest judge and co-clerk ... but the JA is the fucking worst.

JA won't stop bossing me around under the pretext of "Judge 'would' want this that" ... it's a lot of little things like "not to boss you around, but maybe start your day with this order," or when I put orders in Judge's box she'll scoop them out and make stylistic edits (that suck).

The kicker was the other day when I wanted to go sit in on a suppression hearing and she was like "judge would rather you work on whatever it is you do... keep plugging away!"

I'm boiling. This is compounded by the fact that I did two years of big law so (and it's a part of me I hate) I'm not real into taking orders from non-lawyers.

There's also just a general personality conflict -- we don't get along. She pushes my buttons on purpose. I push hers by intentionally closing my door when I gossip with my co-clerk.

Honestly, if it weren't for this I'd love my job, but this conflict makes me dread going to work every day. She's always quick to tell Judge about every little mistake I make so there's that too.


Can relate. My JA isn’t as “problematic” as yours, but I was warned by past clerks that she is prone to “drama” and if you get on her bad side she can ruin your clerkship. My solution was to kill her with kindness from day 1—ask her about her weekend, laugh at her jokes, listen with sincerity when she wants to vent (which is at least once a day). There are still moments where her...uniqueness...make the job more interesting than it has to be, but I managed to get on her good side and I think the job would be a lot harder if I hadn’t done so.

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Re: Personality Conflict w/ JA

Postby lavarman84 » Tue Oct 23, 2018 9:51 am

Just respond politely and then do what you feel is right (like going to the suppression hearing).

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anon sequitur

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Re: Personality Conflict w/ JA

Postby anon sequitur » Tue Oct 23, 2018 10:08 am

If a JA made stylistic edits to a draft order I would be seeing red. But if she's been working there for 5+ years, maybe the judge trusts her and she knows the judges preferences? On things like attending a suppression motion, is it possible that the judge really would like you to stay in chambers and JA is just passing this preference along? Judge may have an indirect style where he doesn't like to tell you to do X even if that is his preference.

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Re: Personality Conflict w/ JA

Postby Outis Onoma » Tue Oct 23, 2018 10:40 am

New term clerks don’t realize that, in the federal judiciary, every single employee - including clerks office employees and especially your JA and CRD - are above you. They don’t care that you have a JD. If you want a successful clerkship, you need to eat shit and do whatever the JA says. In most chambers, the JA can influence how your judge perceives you and make your life a living hell.

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Re: Personality Conflict w/ JA

Postby lavarman84 » Tue Oct 23, 2018 11:30 am

Outis Onoma wrote:New term clerks don’t realize that, in the federal judiciary, every single employee - including clerks office employees and especially your JA and CRD - are above you. They don’t care that you have a JD. If you want a successful clerkship, you need to eat shit and do whatever the JA says. In most chambers, the JA can influence how your judge perceives you and make your life a living hell.


This is also a fair point. In my chambers, the JA is #2. Shes extremely kind, so we get along very well. However, if push comes to shove, I answer to her. She's been with the judge for a very long time, and my ass would get booted out the door long before hers would. Definitely don't have the attitude that the JA is beneath you and has no right to give you instructions.

anon sequitur wrote:If a JA made stylistic edits to a draft order I would be seeing red. But if she's been working there for 5+ years, maybe the judge trusts her and she knows the judges preferences? On things like attending a suppression motion, is it possible that the judge really would like you to stay in chambers and JA is just passing this preference along? Judge may have an indirect style where he doesn't like to tell you to do X even if that is his preference.


This is also a fair point. There are definitely chambers where the judge uses the JA to pass along certain messages. My chambers does not work that way, but one in our courthouse does. OP, has your judge given you any indication on whether you are allowed to sit in on whatever you want?(my judge explicitly tells the clerks that)

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Re: Personality Conflict w/ JA

Postby QContinuum » Tue Oct 23, 2018 1:40 pm

I think in general, OP should try to ramp things down with the JA. Like, OP doesn't need to (try to) become her BFF, but I don't see any benefit for OP in actively antagonizing her. Most people respond to kindness; it's likely the JA's attitude/behavior will improve at least somewhat if OP cuts out the passive-aggressive treatment. For example, OP can gossip with their co-clerk away from chambers; no need to rub it in the JA's face.

I also think that OP's reluctance to take direction from non-lawyers is problematic. Maybe OP hasn't had to interface directly with clients yet as a first/second-year BigLaw associate; if so, OP's in for a rude awakening down the road.

All of the above said, I also disagree with Outis' advice that "every single employee - including clerks office employees and especially your JA and CRD - are above you. They don’t care that you have a JD. If you want a successful clerkship, you need to eat shit and do whatever the JA says." The mere fact that - essentially - a secretary has been around for a long time doesn't somehow transform the secretary into more than a secretary. OP seems to think they're above the JA; they're not. But the JA isn't above the OP either. They are simply not in the same chain of command. Again, as stated above, I think OP should do their best to tolerate the JA instead of engaging in some kind of passive-aggressive cold war. But that doesn't mean the OP should treat the JA like their boss. It doesn't mean the OP should "eat shit" from the JA. It simply means that OP needs to treat the JA with professional courtesy as an equal coworker. To the extent that the JA isn't merely acting as a messenger transmitting the judge's orders, OP should feel free to politely acknowledge, but then decline to follow, the JA's suggestions.

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Re: Personality Conflict w/ JA

Postby nixy » Tue Oct 23, 2018 2:13 pm

Ehhhhhhh I think the above post minimizes the importance of JAs in most chambers. The JA making substantive comments on a draft of something would be kind of tough to deal with, but outside of actual legal substance (as opposed to something like a judge’s preferences on stylistic stuff, which a JA could easily be an expert on), I would always defer to the JA. (Unless the JA was saying something directly opposed to an express directive from the judge.) Maybe they’re not in the same chain of command as the clerk, but chances are excellent that the JA is WAY more important to the judge than the clerk is.

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Re: Personality Conflict w/ JA

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Oct 23, 2018 8:21 pm

nixy wrote:Ehhhhhhh I think the above post minimizes the importance of JAs in most chambers. The JA making substantive comments on a draft of something would be kind of tough to deal with, but outside of actual legal substance (as opposed to something like a judge’s preferences on stylistic stuff, which a JA could easily be an expert on), I would always defer to the JA. (Unless the JA was saying something directly opposed to an express directive from the judge.) Maybe they’re not in the same chain of command as the clerk, but chances are excellent that the JA is WAY more important to the judge than the clerk is.


This is true. There are JA's in my courthouse who have been with judges for literally 40 years, as many judges hire the person who had been their secretary while in private practice. I would be very hesitant to take substantive legal advice from a JA, but you should consider an experienced JA a wealth of information on the judge's writing style and other preferences. It's often much easier to ask the JA what the judge thinks about, say, typeface conventions than it is to interrupt the judge. Remember that this person has seen new clerks every single year since they've been on the job, and has probably heard and answered 90% of your routine questions before.

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Re: Personality Conflict w/ JA

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Oct 23, 2018 10:01 pm

OP here:

So Takeaways / Lessons Learned?

1. We are in different chains of command -- when she tells me something give her the presumption she's right, but it's okay to "politely" confirm with judge if unsure ("hey Judge, can I attend next suppression hearing you know I'd love to be an AUSA and I'd be happy to finish this MSJ this evening).

2. We don't have to be friends and I don't have to be fake-nice, but don't make Judge choose between the two of us because I'm only here for a Term and she's here for potentially decades so that wins every time. Being civil (i.e. "hi in the hallways" probably isn't enough given close proximity of chambers, but do be political [look for common ground and avoid areas of disagreement -- when she annoys me maybe I'll just take a minute to step outside and change my thoughts]).

3. Perspective -- this is only one year (that should be fun): I can remind myself that in less than a year I can go back to having the marginal respect that comes with being a BL midlevel.

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Re: Personality Conflict w/ JA

Postby lavarman84 » Tue Oct 23, 2018 10:54 pm

Anonymous User wrote:OP here:

So Takeaways / Lessons Learned?

1. We are in different chains of command -- when she tells me something give her the presumption she's right, but it's okay to "politely" confirm with judge if unsure ("hey Judge, can I attend next suppression hearing you know I'd love to be an AUSA and I'd be happy to finish this MSJ this evening).

2. We don't have to be friends and I don't have to be fake-nice, but don't make Judge choose between the two of us because I'm only here for a Term and she's here for potentially decades so that wins every time. Being civil (i.e. "hi in the hallways" probably isn't enough given close proximity of chambers, but do be political [look for common ground and avoid areas of disagreement -- when she annoys me maybe I'll just take a minute to step outside and change my thoughts]).

3. Perspective -- this is only one year (that should be fun): I can remind myself that in less than a year I can go back to having the marginal respect that comes with being a BL midlevel.


1. Yep, that sounds reasonable.

2. It'll certainly make the year easier if y'all are on good terms. Because if the judge does choose, you're likely out.

3. Sure. You'll get plenty of respect from lawyers (even biglaw partners) as a clerk, but yeah, you gotta accept that the staff stays with the judge. Be on good terms with your chamber's staff (JA, CRD, court reporter, etc.).

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Re: Personality Conflict w/ JA

Postby QContinuum » Tue Oct 23, 2018 10:55 pm

Anonymous User wrote:OP here:

So Takeaways / Lessons Learned?

1. We are in different chains of command -- when she tells me something give her the presumption she's right, but it's okay to "politely" confirm with judge if unsure ("hey Judge, can I attend next suppression hearing you know I'd love to be an AUSA and I'd be happy to finish this MSJ this evening).


Yea I agree - or even better, maybe just generally ask your judge if these "suggestions" originate from the judge or the JA. If your judge tells you that the JA is serving as the judge's messenger when she tells you what hearings to attend/not attend, then you should listen to the JA in the future (and it wouldn't really be a matter of listening to the JA, it'd be more a matter of listening to your judge speaking through the JA's mouth). But if your judge professes ignorance w.r.t. the JA's "suggestions," then in future just politely acknowledge the JA's "advice," and proceed to follow your own judgment.

W.r.t. to the stylistic changes, I'd also bring it up to the judge - maybe along the lines of "hey just to check: the JA insisted on making some stylistic revisions to my draft before passing it on to you." If the judge acts like this is routine and expected, then you'll know the JA is acting at the judge's direction. (In which case you won't need to be upset with the JA going forward. After all, it's your judge's name that ends up on whatever goes out, not yours. If your judge wants a nonlawyer editing a legal document, what does it matter to you?) Alternately, if the judge is alarmed, then your judge will move to correct the JA. (In which case, again, problem solved.)

Anonymous User wrote:I would be very hesitant to take substantive legal advice from a JA, but you should consider an experienced JA a wealth of information on the judge's writing style and other preferences. It's often much easier to ask the JA what the judge thinks about, say, typeface conventions than it is to interrupt the judge. Remember that this person has seen new clerks every single year since they've been on the job, and has probably heard and answered 90% of your routine questions before.


Incidentally, this is often true of paralegals/legal secretaries in private practice too. In many cases, such personnel will be at a firm long before and long after associates come and go. I have gotten great help & info from paralegals/legal secretaries by building a rapport with them. And most of them are genuinely nice people. (Of course, that doesn't mean I "eat shit" from them or treat them as my bosses.)

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Re: Personality Conflict w/ JA

Postby hlsperson1111 » Wed Oct 24, 2018 12:56 am

Thoughts (based on clerking and being married to someone who clerked for a judge with a very different chambers environment than mine):

--I would not take it personally if your JA makes stylistic edits. I would review them and try to incorporate them globally going forward if they reflect a general stylistic preference. If they are inconsistent with one another or strike you as objectively wrong, I would raise them with your judge (but not in a way that blames the JA - just "I noticed the JA made this edit on a couple of drafts, I assumed this is your general stylistic preference but I just wanted to confirm so we are all on the same page").

--If you want to go to a hearing, ask your judge ("Do you mind if I go to this hearing [and stay later to get XYZ done if need be]?"). If the JA tries to tell you that you need to stay in chambers and work, you can tell her that you cleared it with the judge. If you do this enough, your judge may say something like "you don't need to clear it with me every time, you're obviously free to go to hearings, you're a clerk," and then you have solved this problem.

--I would not ask the judge in a broad way if these "suggestions" are coming from him or the JA or if the JA generally is acting as his messenger (although you should take the judge at his word if he volunteers that the JA knows his preferences and you should listen to her). This has a nonzero chance of pissing off your judge and a high chance of pissing off the JA. (By way of analogy: I am a midlevel and give feedback to junior associates on their work, including by correcting things to fit my personal stylistic preferences. If a junior associate went to a partner and said, "hey, is this change coming from you or just this midlevel's arbitrary stylistic preferences," I would be real mad and would try to avoid working with that person in the future.)

--I would generally go out of your way to be nice to the JA. What you describe as being "fake nice" strikes me as basic common courtesy that is expected when you are working in an intimate chambers environment.

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Re: Personality Conflict w/ JA

Postby nixy » Wed Oct 24, 2018 7:19 am

Out of curiosity, what is your co-clerk’s take on the JA?

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Re: Personality Conflict w/ JA

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Oct 24, 2018 10:21 am

My co-clerk doesn’t love her but is more easily able to let things slide

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Re: Personality Conflict w/ JA

Postby QContinuum » Wed Oct 24, 2018 11:06 am

hlsperson1111 wrote:--If you want to go to a hearing, ask your judge ("Do you mind if I go to this hearing [and stay later to get XYZ done if need be]?"). If the JA tries to tell you that you need to stay in chambers and work, you can tell her that you cleared it with the judge. If you do this enough, your judge may say something like "you don't need to clear it with me every time, you're obviously free to go to hearings, you're a clerk," and then you have solved this problem.

--I would not ask the judge in a broad way if these "suggestions" are coming from him or the JA or if the JA generally is acting as his messenger (although you should take the judge at his word if he volunteers that the JA knows his preferences and you should listen to her). This has a nonzero chance of pissing off your judge and a high chance of pissing off the JA. (By way of analogy: I am a midlevel and give feedback to junior associates on their work, including by correcting things to fit my personal stylistic preferences. If a junior associate went to a partner and said, "hey, is this change coming from you or just this midlevel's arbitrary stylistic preferences," I would be real mad and would try to avoid working with that person in the future.)


1) IMO, repeatedly bugging the judge about hearing attendance etc. has a higher chance of irritating said judge than asking the judge a single time in a broad way as I suggested earlier ITT.
2) I do not see how asking the judge - once - in a broad way as suggested stands a "high chance" of pissing off the JA. I'd suspect that repeatedly going to the judge after first hearing from the JA would stand a higher chance of pissing off the JA.
3) The analogy to a midlevel/junior relationship is not on point. The midlevel is the junior's direct supervisor/boss and the midlevel's duties primarily involve reviewing/revising the junior's work product. The JA is not the clerk's supervisor/boss, and, as a nonlawyer, should not ordinarily (absent the judge's decision otherwise) be in a position to revise the clerk's work product. The closest analogy to the JA is a hybrid of a paralegal and the partner's legal secretary.

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Re: Personality Conflict w/ JA

Postby nixy » Wed Oct 24, 2018 11:28 am

But there are definitely circumstances in which a paralegal or a legal assistant have the ability to tell me what to do. I feel like the focus on who is actually in a supervisory relationship with whom is sort of misplaced in this context.

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Re: Personality Conflict w/ JA

Postby Barrred » Wed Oct 24, 2018 11:47 am

Ask former clerks how they dealt with it. I'm sure someone has had a similar experience, and they may be able to answer the above questions (re: is the JA serving as the judge's messenger) without you having to ask the judge yourself.

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Re: Personality Conflict w/ JA

Postby bretby » Fri Oct 26, 2018 6:45 pm

Anonymous User wrote:I have the coolest judge and co-clerk ... but the JA is the fucking worst.

JA won't stop bossing me around under the pretext of "Judge 'would' want this that" ... it's a lot of little things like "not to boss you around, but maybe start your day with this order," or when I put orders in Judge's box she'll scoop them out and make stylistic edits (that suck).

The kicker was the other day when I wanted to go sit in on a suppression hearing and she was like "judge would rather you work on whatever it is you do... keep plugging away!"

I'm boiling. This is compounded by the fact that I did two years of big law so (and it's a part of me I hate) I'm not real into taking orders from non-lawyers.

There's also just a general personality conflict -- we don't get along. She pushes my buttons on purpose. I push hers by intentionally closing my door when I gossip with my co-clerk.

Honestly, if it weren't for this I'd love my job, but this conflict makes me dread going to work every day. She's always quick to tell Judge about every little mistake I make so there's that too.


You are right on the takeaways below. And remember that the judge must like the JA and her way of doing things, or she wouldn't be around. And "not being real into taking orders from a non-lawyer is a TERRIBLE look. In terms of prioritizing orders, etc., the JA absolutely knows more about your judge's idiosyncratic preferences and how to make the chambers run smoothly than you do. Your two years in big law is almost irrelevant to knowing this. I would recommend adjusting your attitude quickly, and perhaps apologizing to the JA, even if you do so obliquely (like "the adjustment to chambers from big law has been a learning experience and I've been feeling a little stressed - I hope that hasn't come out in any way to the rest of the chambers, and I really appreciate your help in making sure I get up to speed on how things work around here.") A little sucking up and getting on the good side can make the rest of your experience as productive as possible. And don't push people's buttons, it's juvenile.
Last edited by QContinuum on Fri Oct 26, 2018 6:56 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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