I wasn’t sure what to do with myself while waiting to see Judge Stinson — normally I’d check email on my iPhone, but that seemed vaguely disrespectful — so I turned my attention to the offerings on the coffee table. There was a reprint of Judge Stinson’s article from the Virginia Law Review, which I thought was odd coffee table fare. I had already read it, so I set it aside in favor of shelter porn: a book of California country-style houses. Feeling my typical pre-interview anxiety, I welcomed the distraction of “seaside estates, canyon villas, and courtyard bungalows.”
I began by admiring the ocean views from the terrace of a Malibu mansion. Then I lost myself in the architectural ingenuity of an ultramodern barn-style house in the Russian River Valley. I’m not particularly materialistic — like many lawyers, I prefer prestige to wealth — but the rewards of wealth cannot be denied.
“You’re reading my favorite book, I see!”
I startled and looked up. Standing in front of me, looking amused, was a petite, stunningly attractive Eurasian woman: the Honorable Cristina Wong Stinson. With her exotic good looks, she looked like a shorter Catherine Zeta-Jones.
I scrambled to my feet. The book, still open to the Malibu estate, dropped with a thud on the table — I had forgotten I was holding it! Did I just damage federal property?
I wasn’t sure what to do first: shut the book and restore it to its proper place, or shake hands with the judge? I decided to go with people over property.
“Judge Stinson, it’s an honor to meet you,” I gushed, flustered. “I’m Audrey Coyne.”
“And I’m Judge Stinson,” she said, smiling and extending her hand. “But you already knew that.”
I shook her hand and chuckled at her quip. The one thing I remembered from Trial Practice class was to always laugh at a judicial joke.
I looked down at the book, splayed out helplessly on the coffee table. I imagined the spine creasing from where I had left it open; every time she saw that crease, the judge would think of me.
I bent down, closed the book with exaggerated delicacy, and placed it precisely where it had been on the table. I then put the law review article back on top of it, which made me think: Should I have been reading the law review piece when Judge Stinson entered? I hadn’t expected her to come out and greet me; I thought Brenda would escort me into the judge’s office. And when the judge said I was reading her “favorite book,” was she poking fun at my taste in reading material? I had already read her law review article, more than once — but Judge Stinson didn’t know that, right?
“Oh goodness, Your Honor, I’m so sorry about your book, I forgot I was holding it, and then when I stood up, you see….”
“Don’t worry about it; I have a dozen copies at home. I wasn’t joking about that being my favorite book — my house is featured in it, and the author gave me plenty of courtesy copies.”
“Well, Judge, if your house is as beautiful as your chambers….”
“That’s very kind of you to say, Audrey, but let’s be honest — this old place?” Judge Stinson waved dismissively at the well-appointed room. “I did the best I could. Unfortunately, the people at GSA — the General Services Administration, they manage government property — have all of these restrictions. And they didn’t give me much of a budget. I had to, well, supplement it….”
She smiled, and I smiled back. Perhaps what they said about Californians was true: everyone I had met so far, from Pervez to Brenda to the judge, was so friendly.
“Did Brenda offer you something to drink?” Judge Stinson asked. This made me feel like a client at her husband’s talent agency.
“Yes, she did. I’m fine, thank you. I had something at the airport.”
“Well then, let’s get started, shall we?”
Judge Stinson led me down a short, wainscoted hallway. Tokens of power and prestige adorned the walls: a group portrait of all the Ninth Circuit judges, both active and senior status; a group portrait of all the judges of the Central District of California, back when Judge Stinson was a trial judge; a glass-encased commendation from a women’s bar association; and, most impressively of all, a photograph of Judge Stinson and her husband with President George W. Bush and Laura Bush. Trailing a few diplomatic steps behind the judge, I admired how the cut of her pearl-gray knit suit flattered her body — a body that, despite the judge being old enough to join the AARP, didn’t need much flattering.
I had to suppress a gasp upon entering Judge Stinson’s private office. It was flooded with sunlight, thanks to a bank of tall windows that offered spectacular views of a high-arched bridge that spanned a green, treed valley. The room’s overall aesthetic could still be described as modern California, but with Asian accents: a handmade Oriental rug, which looked faded enough to be antique; two blue and white vases, made of Chinese porcelain, that were the size of small children; and red lacquered end tables, which flanked a tan couch in a textured fabric. Judge Stinson directed me to the couch — which was, like the one in the anteroom, far more comfortable than it looked — and seated herself in a round tufted club chair.
Intimidated by my surroundings, I felt racked with anxiety. I would have picked at my cuticles, except my manicure left me nothing to pick.
But Judge Stinson quickly put me at ease. Going over my résumé, she asked me standard questions — how I liked Harvard for college, what were my favorite classes in law school, what articles I was currently editing for the law review — and I gave standard, enthusiastic answers. Having been through many interviews of this nature to secure my law firm summer job, I knew the drill.
As an Asian (or part-Asian) woman of a certain age, with a warm and chatty manner, Judge Stinson reminded me of my mother — except with better hair, an unlined face (Botox?), and unaccented English. And, of course, an intricate knowledge of the legal profession’s elaborate hierarchies. She nodded approvingly upon seeing that I had summered at Cravath, murmured “very nice” upon seeing that I had made the finals of the moot court competition in the spring of my 2L year, and raised her eyebrows (in a good way) at my membership on the articles committee of the Yale Law Journal.
But after warming me up with small talk and softballs — and thoroughly charming me, even though I was the one trying to charm her — Judge Stinson shifted gears.
“I noticed your impressive grades,” she said, without even fishing out my transcript from the pile of materials on her lap. “But we receive, through diversity jurisdiction, a fair number of complex commercial cases here in the Ninth Circuit. Your mediocre grade in Business Organizations jumped out at me. How can I be confident that you’d handle these cases competently?”