October 17, 2011
Ms. Audrey Coyne
129 York Street
New Haven, Connecticut 06511
I am writing in confirmation of our understanding that I have offered, and you have accepted, a clerkship in my chambers for the 2012-2013 judicial year. I am delighted to have you on board, and I look forward to working together.
As you plan for the summer of 2012, you should make arrangements to take the bar exam before you start work in my chambers. Please coordinate with your predecessor law clerk to select a start date that is mutually acceptable to you both. Most transitions occur between August 1 and September 15; I leave it to the incoming and outgoing clerks to make suitable arrangements.
As another pre-arrival matter, you should give serious consideration to assembling your materials for clerkship applications to the United States Supreme Court for October Term 2013. I suggest that you submit applications to all nine justices, as is customary when applying to the Court, prior to your law school graduation, and once again after you have arrived in chambers and we have had the chance to work together.
Finally, please be sure to stay in touch with me in the interim and keep my secretary, Brenda Lindsey, apprised of any changes in your contact information.
I wish you the best of luck as you conclude your law school career, and I look forward to seeing you here in Pasadena next year.
Christina Wong Stinson
United States Circuit Judge for the Ninth Circuit
* * *
Before I knew it, it was a sweltering Sunday afternoon in August 2012. Upon landing at LAX, I called my old pal Pervez, the friendly taxi driver who had taken me to and from my interview with Judge Stinson a year earlier. After my two giant suitcases were stashed securely in the back of the minivan, we drove off to Pasadena, where I would be living for the next year.
“So,” Pervez asked, “why did you decide to live in Pasadena?”
“I’m going to be working long hours as a clerk, and I don’t drive,” I said. “So I need to be close to the courthouse.”
“Ah yes, the courthouse I took you to — beautiful courthouse. Anyone who works in that building must have a very important job!”
Although I was glad that Pervez didn’t mistake my job as a law clerk for a purely clerical position, I responded to his impressed-sounding tone with humility. I emphasized that law clerks are there to assist the judge, who is the ultimate decisionmaker, and that everything coming out of chambers would go out under the judge’s name. As clerks, we were like Santa’s elves — essential but unseen contributors to the process.
This limited responsibility was something I was actually grateful for, at least some of the time. I had just graduated from law school (and not a very practically oriented school at that), and I was not even admitted to the bar (New York bar exam results wouldn’t come out until November). What did I know — about law, or life, or anything? It gave me comfort to know that I would just be doing research and making recommendations, which my judge was free to ignore or override as she saw fit.
(On other days, of course — like, for example, the day after I got the clerkship — I felt excited by my proximity to power, as well as confident that I would be an amazing law clerk. But today, for some reason, I felt anxious, like a third grader about to start a new school year. I suspected that this vacillation between anxiety and minimization of one’s role, on the one hand, and confidence and exaggeration of one’s influence, on the other, was something many law clerks experienced.)
There wasn’t much traffic on this Sunday, so it didn’t take long for us to arrive at my new home: a nondescript, somewhat rundown, low-rise apartment complex a few blocks from the courthouse. I had taken the small studio without visiting it in person (because I couldn’t afford another flight out to Los Angeles), so I had seen it only in pictures. Like someone you’ve seen only in an online dating profile, it looked dumpier in person.
Pervez took my heavy suitcases all the way to my door, on the second floor of the open-air building. Once again, as I had done when he drove me to my clerkship interview, I gave him $100 on an $80 metered fare. I was happy to be generous, especially given how nice he was and how much he had to fight with my bags when taking them up the stairs, but I did feel a twinge of money-related worry as I fished the five twenties out of my wallet.
Money worries were why I had gone with this apartment, a unit that had been passed down among a few cycles of Stinson clerks. The place was cheap, under $1,000 a month (including utilities), and it came furnished (with IKEA stuff that was probably on its last legs).
So I wasn’t troubled after I opened the door and surveyed the cramped, borderline grim-looking quarters, which looked like a motel room where a down-on-his-luck movie outlaw might hole up while on the run from the police. This was what I had expected. This was what it looked like to be living on a law clerk’s salary with more than $100,000 in student loans. And this was not where I’d be spending most of my time anyway; the outgoing Stinson clerks, Michael Nomellini and Janet Lee, had joked about how chambers was their real home.
Michael, the prior tenant, had left the apartment very clean (especially for a guy). It didn’t take me long to unpack and tidy up the place. Since it was still quite bright outside, I decided to check out the apartment’s small swimming pool, located in the central courtyard. I just wanted to take a quick look, so I didn’t bother changing into a swimsuit or anything.
The pool itself was clean, well-maintained, and empty. There was only one resident sitting next to the pool, and she was hard to miss. She was a young, large African-American woman; she reminded me of Gabourey Sidibe, the star of Precious. She was wearing a red bikini with white polka dots.
And she was reading a copy of… the Stanford Law Review? There’s nothing wrong with reading legal academic journals, but personally I prefer to go with Us Weekly when working on my tan.
I stood at the edge of the pool area, behind the white metal gate. My neighbor, deeply engrossed in her reading, did not notice my presence. Should I go over and say hello?