HELP - can I quit my clerkship?

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HELP - can I quit my clerkship?

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Dec 26, 2018 7:42 pm

Is quitting a clerkship necessarily impossible/taboo/career-ending? Has anyone here done it, or known someone who has?

My chambers environment is toxic. My judge harasses me almost daily on the basis of my race and religion. These hurtful words are usually under the guise of "jokes" but they are extremely personal and affect me deeply. I have tried to discuss this professionally with my judge but my feelings were unequivocally dismissed. This environment is extremely isolating and demotivating. I realize some clerks drag themselves through a full year of even worse conditions, such as sexual harassment / abuse (thankfully not at issue here), but I just don't know if I can face nine more months of this.

I do have a job lined up after this clerkship ends. It is not a traditional big-firm job but rather a very small office. If I did quit, I am sure they would require some sort of explanation as to why. I am not sure how I could navigate that, or how much explaining it would take for the rest of my career. Moreover, this is not a situation where my judge would be understanding as to my reasons for leaving.

Advice (or even just "been there, survived a full year" stories) much appreciated.

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Re: HELP - can I quit my clerkship?

Postby 265489164158 » Thu Dec 27, 2018 11:21 am

I do know someone who quit about three months into a toxic clerkship. Here is how "Bob" told me he handled it. Bob reached out to a partner at the firm he summered at (and had a good relationship with) asking for advice. Partner told him the firm would still have a place for him (not mid-year, but with the next class) and to get some legal experience. Bob quit his clerkship and did legal volunteer work in the market where his clerkship was (not where the firm is) for the remainder of the year. Bob returned to the firm after the year as planned.

I also know of another clerk who stayed in a toxic environment and was bullied by the judge. This clerk became depressed and considered suicide, but toughed it out (with medication). His family was worried about him every day, though, until the term ended.

I am sorry you are in this situation, truly. It sounds terrible.

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Re: HELP - can I quit my clerkship?

Postby Auxilio » Thu Dec 27, 2018 11:50 am

I'm not sure of the organization structure at your court, but another thing to consider if this is really race/religion harassment is to reach out to HR-equivalent (or maybe your district's chief judge?). At the end of the day this is a superior harassing their employee on protected grounds.

This is obviously a big move that could burn the bridge, but I think I would do it before quitting.

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Re: HELP - can I quit my clerkship?

Postby QContinuum » Thu Dec 27, 2018 2:22 pm

Anonymous User wrote:My chambers environment is toxic. My judge harasses me almost daily on the basis of my race and religion.

You may actually have a professional duty under your state's ethics rules to report your judge's bigoted harassment.

265489164158 wrote:I do know someone who quit about three months into a toxic clerkship. Here is how "Bob" told me he handled it. Bob reached out to a partner at the firm he summered at (and had a good relationship with) asking for advice. Partner told him the firm would still have a place for him (not mid-year, but with the next class) and to get some legal experience. Bob quit his clerkship and did legal volunteer work in the market where his clerkship was (not where the firm is) for the remainder of the year. Bob returned to the firm after the year as planned.

I like this advice. I think this is the way to do it. It's hard to imagine a partner taking offense to a future associate asking for advice. At worst, OP will reach out and the partner will tell OP to stick it out. At best, the partner will let OP start at the firm immediately (OP says it's a "very small office", so they may be less rigid about hiring timelines than traditional BigLaw). In any case, OP doesn't have anything to lose by reaching out.

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Re: HELP - can I quit my clerkship?

Postby BlackAndOrange84 » Thu Dec 27, 2018 3:09 pm

QContinuum wrote:You may actually have a professional duty under your state's ethics rules to report your judge's bigoted harassment.


This is likely not true in OP's case, and it's bad advice that's not responsive to OP's concerns. Even in states that have adopted the rule you're alluding to re: discrimination/harassment, there's a separate question of whether the judge and the clerk are both subject to professional ethics such that an obligation to report would be incurred. There are a lot of reasons why one or the other may not be covered (e.g., clerk is barred out of state or not at all and clerking isn't "practice of law," ergo clerk is not subject to professional duties in a state he or she isn't barred in).

OP asked about quitting, obviously wanting to do so quietly. Let's focus on that rather than encouraging OP to become a martyr by speculating about a hypothetical duty to report that OP didn't ask about.

ETA: OP good luck with your situation, however you decide to handle it. There are no easy answers or ways out.

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Re: HELP - can I quit my clerkship?

Postby QContinuum » Thu Dec 27, 2018 4:14 pm

BlackAndOrange84 wrote:
QContinuum wrote:You may actually have a professional duty under your state's ethics rules to report your judge's bigoted harassment.


This is likely not true in OP's case, and it's bad advice that's not responsive to OP's concerns. Even in states that have adopted the rule you're alluding to re: discrimination/harassment, there's a separate question of whether the judge and the clerk are both subject to professional ethics such that an obligation to report would be incurred. There are a lot of reasons why one or the other may not be covered (e.g., clerk is barred out of state or not at all and clerking isn't "practice of law," ergo clerk is not subject to professional duties in a state he or she isn't barred in).

OP asked about quitting, obviously wanting to do so quietly. Let's focus on that rather than encouraging OP to become a martyr by speculating about a hypothetical duty to report that OP didn't ask about.

I'm not "encouraging OP to become a martyr." I'm merely raising a possible consideration that may influence OP's decisionmaking. Certainly, if OP doesn't have a professional duty to report, then I think OP should weigh carefully whether they want to report the misconduct. Reporting would obviously be the morally right thing to do, but I acknowledge - and I'm sure OP is well aware of - the potential repercussions to OP of being the one to do the reporting.

Also, obviously OP would know they aren't subject to professional ethics rules if they're not yet admitted to the bar in any jurisdiction. Presumably OP has taken their law school's mandatory professional responsibility course.

I'm drawing a blank on why the judge wouldn't be covered by the ethics rules. Model Rule 8.3 says that "[a] lawyer who knows that a judge has committed a violation of applicable rules of judicial conduct that raises a substantial question as to the judge's fitness for office shall inform the appropriate authority." There is no limitation to certain judges, and there is no requirement that the lawyer be practicing law in the jurisdiction. The duty attaches regardless. Even if OP is barred in a different state and thus isn't subject to the ethics rules of the judge's jurisdiction (due to not practicing law in that jurisdiction), OP would still be subject to the ethics rules of the jurisdiction(s) they're barred in.

Again, I'm not saying OP does have a duty to report. We don't know which jurisdiction, we don't know precisely what the judge actually said or did, we don't know OP's bar status. I am only saying that OP may have such a duty, and that this issue is one that OP may wish to consider.

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Re: HELP - can I quit my clerkship?

Postby Auxilio » Thu Dec 27, 2018 4:18 pm

QContinuum wrote:
BlackAndOrange84 wrote:
QContinuum wrote:You may actually have a professional duty under your state's ethics rules to report your judge's bigoted harassment.


This is likely not true in OP's case, and it's bad advice that's not responsive to OP's concerns. Even in states that have adopted the rule you're alluding to re: discrimination/harassment, there's a separate question of whether the judge and the clerk are both subject to professional ethics such that an obligation to report would be incurred. There are a lot of reasons why one or the other may not be covered (e.g., clerk is barred out of state or not at all and clerking isn't "practice of law," ergo clerk is not subject to professional duties in a state he or she isn't barred in).

OP asked about quitting, obviously wanting to do so quietly. Let's focus on that rather than encouraging OP to become a martyr by speculating about a hypothetical duty to report that OP didn't ask about.

I'm not "encouraging OP to become a martyr." I'm merely raising a possible consideration that may influence OP's decisionmaking. Certainly, if OP doesn't have a professional duty to report, then I think OP should weigh carefully whether they want to report the misconduct. Reporting would obviously be the morally right thing to do, but I acknowledge - and I'm sure OP is well aware of - the potential repercussions to OP of being the one to do the reporting.

Also, obviously OP would know they aren't subject to professional ethics rules if they're not yet admitted to the bar in any jurisdiction. Presumably OP has taken their law school's mandatory professional responsibility course.

I'm drawing a blank on why the judge wouldn't be covered by the ethics rules. Model Rule 8.3 says that "[a] lawyer who knows that a judge has committed a violation of applicable rules of judicial conduct that raises a substantial question as to the judge's fitness for office shall inform the appropriate authority." There is no limitation to certain judges, and there is no requirement that the lawyer be practicing law in the jurisdiction. The duty attaches regardless. Even if OP is barred in a different state and thus isn't subject to the ethics rules of the judge's jurisdiction (due to not practicing law in that jurisdiction), OP would still be subject to the ethics rules of the jurisdiction(s) they're barred in.

Again, I'm not saying OP does have a duty to report. We don't know which jurisdiction, we don't know precisely what the judge actually said or did, we don't know OP's bar status. I am only saying that OP may have such a duty, and that this issue is one that OP may wish to consider.


I'm not saying they should or should not report, and I don't really think they have any obligation to report. But that's a useful cite because if they do choose to report to someone and gets some blow back they can say they felt they were obligated to under 8.3.

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Re: HELP - can I quit my clerkship?

Postby BlackAndOrange84 » Thu Dec 27, 2018 6:38 pm

"Ackshually, you might have a duty to report," was just meant as evenhanded issue flagging when OP in no way had asked about reporting. Right. Sure thing. Maybe think about the effect your words might have on someone in OP's position. Throwing a speculative violation of professional ethics for not reporting into the mix of an already difficult decision is not helpful--especially when it's by design hard to say when a duty to report is triggered (the standard is inherently nebulous and is meant to give wiggle room to lawyers, as the comments make clear) and it's unlikely any disciplinary authority would pursue OP even if the judge were one day outed as a huge bigot. This isn't something OP needs to think about, and just about the only reason to bring it up is to, as you put it, influence OP's decision making and to do so in the direction of what you said you believe is the "morally right thing to do."

OP, do what you need to do for yourself and your career. Don't feel pressure to report if you don't feel you should.

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Re: HELP - can I quit my clerkship?

Postby objctnyrhnr » Thu Dec 27, 2018 7:33 pm

OP, I would stick it out I hate to say. I do, however, say that with the caveat that I do not know exactly what you’re going through. I also definitely think reasonable minds could differ here.

Ultimately, you need to ask yourself whether you want this to be a question mark on your resume for life. Everybody knows clerkships are supposed to last a year. Do you really want to be explaining this away for interviews? Before I was a lawyer, I experienced some brutal job situations, but it was imperative that I continued them for some time for one reason or another.

I would think hard before ruffling feathers, here.

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Re: HELP - can I quit my clerkship?

Postby Quichelorraine » Fri Dec 28, 2018 11:13 am

I know many people who had difficult clerkship years, so I fully understand how extraordinarily tough it can be, especially because there's nowhere to hide. It can have lasting effects, too. Even if you "survive" the year, you will be expected to put a positive spin on your experience for . . . well, pretty much forever. "Oh, wow, my clerkship year, it was great! I really learned a lot. Character building!" Having to mislead others about your experience can itself be painful.

What makes this different for me, I think, is the fact that the harassment and bullying is based on racial and religious identity. Often, when we talk about "difficult" judges, we mean judges who don't understand boundaries, or who are screamers, or who are otherwise standard-type emotionally or professionally abusive. These are, sadly, pretty prevalent archetypes in our profession, and there is some value to learning how to put up with them or to developing a thick skin. But out-and-out bigotry is another level. Anything beyond a kind of out-of-touch, oh-grandpa-we-don't-use-that-word-anymore-and-you're-not-being-clever kind of thing should be a flashing alarm for any potential applicants of color or minority religious backgrounds. If it's relentless, and your in-chambers reporting is being dismissed without serious consideration, that's a big problem.

Tl;dr: while ordinarily I would say "try to tough it out," this really does feel different based on your description. Without knowing the identity and reputation of your judge (and whether your judge is state, federal, etc.), I think there is more weight favoring your trying to get out of there than there might ordinarily be.

But is there anything reporting structure you can take advantage of? A JA or other member of chambers staff who can provide insulation or protection? A competent HR person? (The HR person where I clerked took this kind of thing very, very seriously.) Heck, are there even previous clerks you can reach out to? There are several potential steps before you try to get out that could be worth pursuing.

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Re: HELP - can I quit my clerkship?

Postby HillandHollow » Wed Jan 02, 2019 10:12 am

OP, is this a state or federal clerkship?

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Re: HELP - can I quit my clerkship?

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Jan 02, 2019 1:04 pm

HillandHollow wrote:OP, is this a state or federal clerkship?


Federal district clerkship in a state where I will not be practicing in the future. I previously had a federal appellate clerkship (which was a lovely experience).

I appreciate everyone’s thoughts. After consideration, I do not believe I have any duty to report the situation under the applicable rules, so at least that is not at issue.

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Re: HELP - can I quit my clerkship?

Postby HillandHollow » Wed Jan 02, 2019 1:18 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
HillandHollow wrote:OP, is this a state or federal clerkship?


Federal district clerkship in a state where I will not be practicing in the future. I previously had a federal appellate clerkship (which was a lovely experience).

I appreciate everyone’s thoughts. After consideration, I do not believe I have any duty to report the situation under the applicable rules, so at least that is not at issue.


I don't think you have any obligation to do so either, fwiw, though many are probably wondering if your judge is capable of ruling impartially.

Has your district been sharing the recent changes in the procedure for reporting misconduct and mistreatment? Most courthouses have some sort of chain of command now that allows "anonymous" reporting (though maintaining that anonymity seems difficult in your case) in order to determine whether some steps need to be taken. I have heard of a few cases in which a clerk who complained of abuse/harassment was placed with a different judge for most of the remainder of their term (not in my district, and only rumors).

Not sure if helpful, but if none of the above sounds familiar to you, feel free to PM and I will look for the resources that were shared around my district.

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Re: HELP - can I quit my clerkship?

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Jan 02, 2019 2:04 pm

Anonymous in case this is the same judge I'll be working with.


I think that, given you have a COA under your belt, quitting wouldn't be as huge of a deal. So, if it's necessary for you, do it. Nothing is more important than your mental health and physical safety.

BUT, rather than reporting, I would encourage you to ask for a private meeting with the judge. Be very formal, and explain to them in no uncertain terms that they have hurt you and that their words have made you consider quitting. I think sometimes people like this don't realize how hurtful they're being, and by sitting down in a formal way, it's possible it could improve the situation. Then, if this improves the situation, it's possible you won't need to quit.

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Re: HELP - can I quit my clerkship?

Postby QContinuum » Wed Jan 02, 2019 3:17 pm

Anonymous User wrote:BUT, rather than reporting, I would encourage you to ask for a private meeting with the judge. Be very formal, and explain to them in no uncertain terms that they have hurt you and that their words have made you consider quitting. I think sometimes people like this don't realize how hurtful they're being, and by sitting down in a formal way, it's possible it could improve the situation. Then, if this improves the situation, it's possible you won't need to quit.

Not sure... many judges have huge egos, and I'd be especially wary of someone as jerkish as this judge appears to be behaving (implying an especially large ego). I don't think most judges would take too well to being sat down by their own clerk and told of their shortcomings.

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Re: HELP - can I quit my clerkship?

Postby nixy » Wed Jan 02, 2019 4:19 pm

^I tend to agree with this, although if you’re at the point where you’re going to quit anyway, it might be worth trying the come-to-Jesus talk. Because you’ll have to have an awkward convo/arguably piss off the judge just by quitting, so you could consider being clear about why. There’s still a risk though - is a judge more likely to blackball you for quitting without explanation, or for being told they’re racist? It’s a tough situation, OP, I’m sorry you’re dealing with it.

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Re: HELP - can I quit my clerkship?

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Jan 02, 2019 8:09 pm

nixy wrote:^I tend to agree with this, although if you’re at the point where you’re going to quit anyway, it might be worth trying the come-to-Jesus talk. Because you’ll have to have an awkward convo/arguably piss off the judge just by quitting, so you could consider being clear about why. There’s still a risk though - is a judge more likely to blackball you for quitting without explanation, or for being told they’re racist? It’s a tough situation, OP, I’m sorry you’re dealing with it.



First anon here. But I don't think it has to come off as "I'm quitting because you're a racist." Like, the judge likely doesn't consider themselves a racist or sexist as they've hired this person. So by couching things in "I feel" language, I think it's possible to have an OK outcome here.

"Judge, I really appreciate you letting my come into chambers, and I've enjoyed the work immensely. I did want to talk to you about one serious thing, though. I know you made these comments without malice and that you didn't mean to cause me any harm, but when you said A B and C, it really hurt me. I've been struggling with how to talk to you about it, and it honestly has made it hard to focus on the job-- to be honest, at one point I considered quitting. You're an incredible judge, and I really value your mentorship. For my benefit, do you think we could cut back about some of the comments on A and B? It would really make it easier for me to focus on the job, and to provide you with great work."

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Re: HELP - can I quit my clerkship?

Postby nixy » Wed Jan 02, 2019 9:48 pm

I guess I'm assuming that a judge who makes race/religion-based disparaging comments is probably going to read "can you cut back on some of the comments about A and B" as meaning "you're racist," though.

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Re: HELP - can I quit my clerkship?

Postby Auxilio » Wed Jan 02, 2019 10:32 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
nixy wrote:^I tend to agree with this, although if you’re at the point where you’re going to quit anyway, it might be worth trying the come-to-Jesus talk. Because you’ll have to have an awkward convo/arguably piss off the judge just by quitting, so you could consider being clear about why. There’s still a risk though - is a judge more likely to blackball you for quitting without explanation, or for being told they’re racist? It’s a tough situation, OP, I’m sorry you’re dealing with it.


Like, the judge likely doesn't consider themselves a racist or sexist as they've hired this person. So by couching things in "I feel" language, I think it's possible to have an OK outcome here.



Or maybe they've been accused of being racist or something (or even just internal monologue) and hired as a sort of affirmative action thing? (not to disparage OP or anything of course).

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Re: HELP - can I quit my clerkship?

Postby QContinuum » Thu Jan 03, 2019 3:57 pm

Auxilio wrote:Or maybe they've been accused of being racist or something (or even just internal monologue) and hired as a sort of affirmative action thing? (not to disparage OP or anything of course).

Good point, and a possibility worth considering. It's the old "I can't possibly be racist - look, I hired a [minority] employee! I have [minority] coworkers!" defense.

This might be the case particularly if the judge has always appeared much "closer" to others than to OP.

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Re: HELP - can I quit my clerkship?

Postby Anonymous User » Mon Jan 07, 2019 12:34 am

OP: I'm sorry you are going through this. Although not with a judge, I have a very similar situation with a "rainmaker" prominent partner at a prominent firm (I only say this to draw a connection to the concern about lasting consequences of ruffling feathers). Since I am still in this situation and come to work feeling terrible every day, I'm not going to presume to tell you what the right answer is. Quitting sounds great, but given your likely impressive credentials, I suspect you are really worried about leaving and creating any sort of blemish on what is otherwise a great resume.

What I will tell you is to see a therapist. I did so after one particularly brutal holiday weekend, and it has really helped. Not only has it given me an outlet to vent but I've also gained some useful strategies from it. And, most insurance policies will cover behavioral health, although it may take some more work finding a practitioner who can help.

I'll leave you with one exercise that has done wonders for me: write out an index size card with all of your dreams and ambitions that you hope to accomplish one day. They can be insanely ambitious or mundane. Whatever it is, make it something that makes you feel relief when you read it. Maybe it's just the name of your new firm, or a position you want to one day hold, or whatever. Anything that contextualizes this experience for what it is: a year in a life filled with many of them. Keep that index card near you, and whenever you are feeling rock bottom because of your judge, take a look at it and reset yourself. At least for me, it has made my situation a lot better (although there are still tough days).



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