New Database Lets Law Clerks Rate How Judges Perform As Bosses


Imagine a workplace in a field with minimal regulation or oversight, with managers treated with reverence and respect by all manner of law enforcement. Managers whose job is to interpret the law and weigh in on matters of guilt or innocence.

Now imagine one of those managers harasses or belittles an employee — or worse — and with impunity, threatens their career if they complain.

Attorney Aliza Shatzman knows exactly how it feels, and she’s made it her mission to help prevent anyone else from having the same experience. That’s why, after sharing her story in congressional testimony to lobby for more protections for clerks and other judiciary employees, she started the Legal Accountability Project.

This month, LAP launched a new database for law clerks to leave reviews of their experiences working for their powerful bosses: state and federal judges.

Judges gone wild

From local jurisdictions to the Supreme Court, judges nationwide conduct their business with little regulatory oversight. They are supervisors of both their courtrooms and the clerks they manage. Still, despite their tremendous authority and a long history of abuses of power in the judiciary, judges are all but immune from disciplinary action due to misconduct.

“I wanted to formalize some of the informal resources and networks out there that exist,” Shatzman told Business Insider, who said clerks — who are usually law students and recent graduates at the beginning of their careers — often rely on word-of-mouth referrals and warnings about their prospective bosses to decide where to work. “There’s a lot of fear surrounding the judiciary, there’s a real culture of silence, and so our resources and our work are aimed at combating that.”

The database collects both positive and negative evaluations from clerks, and it is protected from liability issues stemming from the reviews by a law known as Section 230, which prevents sites like Yelp and Glassdoor from being held liable for the user-generated content hosted on their platforms.

“There could be two sides to any of these stories,” Judge Douglas Nazarian, a state appellate judge in Maryland who sits on LAP’s board, told The Washington Post about the database. “The purpose is to democratize and improve the clerkship experience, not to find ways to get judges in trouble.”

Accountability born from congressional testimony

Shatzman said LAP’s review database is the resource she wished existed when she was a student at Washington University in St. Louis School of Law applying for a clerkship and later, as a law clerk experiencing mistreatment and unsure where to turn for help.

In her 2022 congressional testimony about the need for statutory change to protect federal judiciary employees, Shatzman said the judge she clerked for from August 2019 until May 2020 would call her names, describing her as “aggressive,” “nasty,” and a “disappointment,” and berate her for what he described as her “personality issues” when no one was around. Shatzman said the judge gave her unfavorable work assignments, regularly made her stay late in the office after her colleagues had left to yell at her, and ultimately terminated her clerkship early, saying she “lacked respect” for him.

The judge Shatzman clerked for has not made any public statement regarding her clerkship or complaint or his subsequent retirement. Emails from Business Insider seeking comment sent to accounts associated with the judge bounced back, and phone calls went unreturned.

But it didn’t stop there. She testified to Congress that the judge she worked for later gave a prospective employer a negative reference despite assuring Shatzman he’d be neutral if contacted about her in the future.

The job offer was revoked.

“I could not believe that one person could have such enormous power and influence over my career and reputation,” Shatzman testified, adding that the US Attorney’s Office, where she’d been hired, would not disclose what the judge had said about her, even after she told them that she had been the victim of gender discrimination and harassment. The office refused to reconsider its position, and, she said, “the damage had been done.”

Human resources for the courts told her nothing could be done because “HR doesn’t regulate judges,” Shatzman testified. The federal judiciary is exempt from protections offered by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act — which means employees like clerks can’t sue if they experience employment discrimination based on race or sex.

While Shatzman submitted a complaint with the District of Columbia Commission on Judicial Disabilities and Tenure about the judge’s conduct toward her, the complaint was ultimately dismissed. According to disciplinary records reviewed by BI, the judge was later removed from the bench for unrelated conduct violations and health reasons in an “uncontested order of involuntary retirement.”

A whisper network legitimized

Since beginning to collect reviews in 2022, LAP has gathered over 800 surveys from former law clerks about their experiences working for state and federal judges nationwide.

Shatzman personally vets each review. While reviews can be published to the database anonymously, she confirms the identity of each reviewer via their verified law school email addresses and work history before adding the reviews to the index.

The database collects information about the overall clerkship experience, as well as how each judge performs as a manager, gathering information about their overall conduct as well as what Shatzman calls the “mundane stuff” like hours and assigned tasks, which helps potential clerks identify the right work environment for them.

“We’re getting the full range of clerkship experiences because there is a full range of clerkship experiences,” Shatzman told BI, adding that the database is not intended to be a list of judicial misconduct incidents but encourages positive reviews as well.

“Anybody who wants to say that clerkships are universally positive is untruthful or deluded at this point,” she continued, adding, “I think many clerkships are actually pretty neutral and nuanced. And that’s why our survey elucidates a lot of that great nuance.”

Current law school students and recent alumni can access the database for $20 — with no judges, circuit executives, or reporters allowed in. Shatzman plans to partner with law schools to bolster participation and said she has already seen a higher rate of involvement in the project than students can typically expect from their alumni networks.

“I hope that judges will take this to heart. I know I have spoken with judges who’ve heard about the project and gone back to their clerks and said, ‘So, how do you feel about the chamber’s culture? How am I as a manager? How can I do better?'” Shatzman said. “And that’s important because absolutely everybody can improve. And this is a really important relationship, so it’s important to get it right.”


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