As I arrived at the Ninth Circuit courthouse for my first day at work, I knew I was nervous. My grey Theory skirt suit, a pricey splurge from my summer at Cravath, wasn’t giving me the usual jolt of confidence. I don’t tend to sweat very much, but by the time I arrived at work, I was sweating — and it wasn’t from the seven-minute walk from my apartment to the courthouse, in a still-cool California morning.
This Monday marked the start of my Legal Career. And because I went straight though to law school from college, this was also the first day of my first Real Job. This was a Big Deal….
When I reached the door to Judge Stinson’s chambers on the fifth floor, I pressed the buzzer tentatively, just as I had when I came for my interview. Instead of being buzzed in, the door flew open before me.
“Audrey! It’s so wonderful to see you! Welcome!”
Before I knew what was going on, I was being hugged by the judge’s secretary, Brenda Lindsey — all of Brenda Lindsey. I tried my best to return the hug, although I feared I was doing so too stiffly. Brenda and I had met just once, but as the outgoing clerks had told me, Brenda viewed the clerks like her children.
“The judge is out of town this week for a conference,” said Brenda, “but let me show you to your office and introduce you to the other clerks.”
I was the last of my clerk class to arrive, which was a position I had chosen, to give myself a little buffer period after the bar exam in late July. The downside of arriving last meant that I had the one windowless office, while my co-clerks enjoyed views of the Arroyo Seco valley and the Colorado Street bridge. I consoled myself by telling myself this would be an advantage: a windowless office meant fewer distractions from work. (And I could always go work in the chambers library — yes, the chambers had its own private library, in addition to the main courthouse library on the first floor — if I wanted some sunlight and a view.)
As for my co-clerks, we had already met each other online — i.e., over email and Facebook — but meeting them in person still felt momentous. Would we become fast friends, foxhole buddies in the Ninth Circuit’s jurisprudential war? Would we wind up as rivals for the favor of Judge Stinson, constantly trying to outdo and one-up each other? Or maybe a bit of both, not unlike friends in law school? The legal profession, stocked with competitive overachievers, featured many such “frenemy” relationships.
There was something that made me uncomfortable about Amit Gupta, a graduate of Columbia Law, where he had served as executive managing editor of the Columbia Law Review. (He didn’t mention that when we met, of course; I had looked up all my co-clerks prior to arriving to see if they had served on law review at their respective schools.) Amit seemed intense, energetic, and high-strung; he bowed slightly when he shook my hand and said, in a manner that bordered on fake, “It is a pleasure to meet you!”
We had some things in common — Asian-American, both from New York, both from Queens, even — but I felt there was something Amit was hiding from me, something that made me uneasy. I resolved to keep an eye on him. Maybe I just felt threatened by him because I viewed him as my biggest competition for Judge Stinson’s favor. Amit had won the national spelling bee as a child. Would that kind of quirky honor catch the eye of a justice or a clerk skimming through Supreme Court clerkship applications?
I felt more at ease upon meeting James Hogan, who had a firm but not crushing handshake and a bright, easy smile. He could also be in the running for a SCOTUS clerkship, as a graduate of Boalt Hall (the judge’s alma mater; she generally hired at least one clerk from there a year). His impressive height and striking good looks certainly wouldn’t hurt him in the application process. It seemed to me, based on anecdotal observation, that Supreme Court clerks tended to be better-looking than average; perhaps the justices, faced with so many excellent résumés, used looks as a tie-breaker.
For whatever reason, I didn’t feel as immediately competitive with James as I did with Amit. Maybe it was because James and I were so different; he seemed so relaxed, so Californian, and so tall, making Amit and I look like dark neurotic dwarfs. It felt to me like James was somehow in a different sphere altogether.
I didn’t know what to make of my fourth co-clerk, Larry Krasner. Maybe I was reading too much into the fact that he graduated from a less highly ranked law school — Loyola Law School, a local institution here in Los Angeles — but he didn’t seem to have a very academic air. Maybe he was having a bad day or something, but he greeted me with so little enthusiasm, it seemed like he didn’t even want to be in chambers. He seemed a bit… strange.