The Legal Accountability Project is partnering with multiple law schools to create a post-clerkship survey that allows them to share their experiences (both positive and negative) through a database which will be shared with future clerks so they are better informed on what to expect from the clerkships. The idea is to use the data collected to quantify any issues and to craft effective solutions.
AALL Crystal Ball Question: Emily Janoski-Haehlen
Marlene Gebauer 0:22
Welcome to The Geek in Review, the podcast focused on innovative and creative ideas in the legal industry. I’m Marlene Gebauer,
Greg Lambert 0:28
And I’m Greg Lambert. Well, Marlene, before we get into the episode itself, I wanted to say congratulations, Stephen Poor’s Pioneers and Pathfinders episode just dropped with you on it. So make sure that we put some links out there so people can can listen to you without me being in the background.
Marlene Gebauer 0:48
Well, thank you, Greg. It was a really, really wonderful experience talking with Stephen and I’m really honored to be on his podcast. He has a great podcast and some great guests.
Greg Lambert 0:58
Yes, he does. Yes, he does. So well. Back on this podcast this week, we talk about the experiences that law students in recent law grads have in their internships or summer associate positions, and their judicial clerkships. And while most of us work very hard to make sure that these associates and clerks enjoy and learn from their experiences, today’s guests understands firsthand that not all of these experiences necessarily go that way. So Aliza Shatzman, the co founder of the legal accountability project, talks with us about her judicial clerkship, which essentially derailed her legal career before it even gets started.
Marlene Gebauer 1:37
Just like some of our previous guests like Sonja Ebron. At courtroom five, at least it took her negative experiences and use it as a motivation to launch the legal Accountability Project, which is designed to help law students and judicial clerks better understand and prepare for the environment of those law clerkships along with a handful of law schools. The legal accountability project is using interviews, surveys and technology to help students and recent grads make more informed decisions on where they want to clerk and then share their own experiences with
Greg Lambert 2:07
others. You know, one of the issues that we discussed in the interview is what law schools are doing after their students returned from their summer jobs or internships. And in most cases appears the schools are done practically nothing or very little. Yeah. So as part of our AALL crystal ball question series, I actually get to ask the dean of Akron Law School Emily Janoski-Haehlen, what questions they are asking their students and the law firms or the judges for whom they clerk once the students return to school? We’ll hear Emily’s answer first, and then we’ll just launch straight into our interview with the Lisa Shelton.
Emily Janoski-Haehlen 2:50
Hi, I’m Emily Janoski-Haehlen. I’m the Dean of the University of Akron School of Law. In law schools in the next two to five years, I see a much more emphasis on legal skills training, legal research, legal writing, with the future of the next gen bar exam changing and us focusing more on teaching our students the skills of law practice. I really see law schools focusing more on that. And I think there’s a direct correlation between that and what’s going to happen in law libraries. I think that law librarians will be instrumental in teaching law students those skills that will be tested on the next gen bar exam.
Greg Lambert 3:26
So how are you finding out more about when you’re when your students come back from their summer associate positions or their clerkships? Are you doing any type of follow up with both of them, and maybe even the companies or firms that they’re working with? To see what skills are lacking? And you could be helping with?
Emily Janoski-Haehlen 3:45
We do we do law firm visits with my assistant dean of career services, where she and I will visit the firms and talk to the managing partners about how are students did that summer, and what we could do better for those students better prepare them. We do a prepare to practice series with those students then in the spring, before they go on to their next either job or summer associate position. And we also have a series of events for students where we do roundtables about their experiences, so we asked them, how was your experience in the firm or at the clerkship or in the judges office? And we really learned from the students what it was like where they worked and whether it worked for them or not worked for them and and what they can do to really hone those skills that they learned in the summer.
Greg Lambert 4:31
Emily, thank you very much. Thank you.
Marlene Gebauer 4:37
We would like to welcome Aliza Shatzman, President and co founder of the Legal Accountability Project. Thanks for being on The Geek in Review, Aliza.
Aliza Shatzman 4:44
Thanks for having me on the show.
Greg Lambert 4:45
So Aliza, you are not necessarily new law grad. I think he graduated in 2019 from WashU in St. Louis. And then you went and joined the DC bar a few years ago as well. Now you’re president and co founder of the legal accountability project. So congratulations on that. But that wasn’t always your professional trajectory. And I think that you really actually wanted to become a prosecutor. Is that right?
Aliza Shatzman 5:15
Yes. I just desperately wanted to be a homicide prosecutor and the DC US Attorney’s Office. That was the goal for many years. Yes.
Greg Lambert 5:21
Wow. That is, that’s quite the goal. So but, you know, I know that things changed. Can you tell us a little bit about how you decided to dedicate yourself to the mission that is the legal accountability project?
Aliza Shatzman 5:35
Sure. So as you mentioned, I wanted to be a homicide, a USA and the DC US Attorney’s Office. So after I graduated from Washington law in 2019, I decided to clerk in DC superior court during the 2019 to 2020 term, because I knew that DCA USA has appeared before DC superior court judges. Unfortunately, pretty early in the clerkship, the judge for whom I clerked, began to harass me, and he would kick me out of the courtroom when I was scheduled to be in court with him, telling me that I made them uncomfortable, and he just felt more comfortable with my male co clerk. And I was just devastated. I mean, this was my first job at a law school, I was a brand new attorney, there was just an enormous power disparity between myself and the judge. I wanted to be reassigned to a different clerkship, but my workplace didn’t have an employee dispute resolution plan that would have enabled me to be reassigned. So eventually transitioned to remote work during the pandemic, in March of 2020. I moved back home to stay with my parents in Philly. And the judge basically ignored me for six weeks before he called me up one day and told me he was ending my clerkship early because I made him uncomfortable and lacked respect for him. So I reached out to DC courts HR, and they told me there was nothing they could do because HR doesn’t regulate judges, and that judges and law clerks have a unique relationship. And then they asked me didn’t I know that I was an at will employee. So I drafted a judicial complaint that I intended to file with the DC commission on judicial disabilities and tenure, which is the regulatory body for DC judges. But I decided to wait to file it till I had a new job because I already feared the judge was going to retaliate against me, took me about a year to get back on my feet. But I did secure my dream job as a prosecutor and the DC US Attorney’s Office moves back to DC. And I was two weeks into training and July of 2021. When I was told the judge of a negative statements about me during my background investigation, that I wouldn’t be able to obtain a security clearance and that my job offer was being revoked. And then a couple days later, an interview offer for a different job with the same office was also revoked based on that same negative reference. I was at this point two years into my legal career and the judge just seemed to have enormous power over my life, career and reputation. I was eventually able to read the negative reference, which was outrageous and misleading, but the damage had been done to my life and career. And I was pretty much blackballed from what I thought was my dream job at CCUSA. Oh, and I was partway through the investigation when became aware of proposed legislation called the judiciary Accountability Act, or j that would extend Title Seven protections to judiciary employees. The entire federal judiciary is currently exempt from Title Seven, meaning that law clerks can’t sue their harassers and seek damages. So a house judiciary hearing about the J happened in March of 2022. And I submitted a statement for the record or written testimony for that detailing my personal story and advocating for an amendment to the J to cover the DC courts, which is where I clerked, in the weeks following that it was received a very positive response. And I began throwing around some ideas to further that advocacy work with my friend, law school classmate and now co founder Matt Goodman, and then eventually the legal accountability project was born. We officially launched on June 1 of 2022.
Marlene Gebauer 9:02
So you mentioned you that you created the legal accountability project with your WashU classmate to help all judicial clerks have a positive experience. According to the website, the project does this through data collection, analysis, programming and partnerships with law schools and other stakeholders. Can you explain how it works?
Aliza Shatzman 9:20
Yes, so we are a new nonprofit basically seeking to ensure that as many law clerks as possible have a positive clerkship experience and then extending support and resources to the ones who don’t. We are working on two major initiatives beginning in fall 2022, in partnership with law schools, but I should probably back up and kind of explain the process by which law students and recent grads apply for clerkships. Right now there is no way for law students to know to watch out for judges with a history of misconduct. It’s basically a series of whisper networks whereby Current Students are encouraged to reach out out to current former clerks who may or may not give them the full scoop about judges who mistreat their clerks. Very few schools have any sort of post clerkship survey or create any kind of records about judges with a history of misconduct. And what I’ve seen as I’ve spoken to about 50 law schools is that law schools are enormously disincentivized to keep track of that information because they’re incentivized to funnel as many students as possible into clerkships, even clerkships with notoriously misbehaving judges. So we seek at the legal accountability project to kind of combat those whisper networks, and also combat the problematic silo effects whereby some law schools have information about misbehaving judges, they may or may not warn their students, but even if they warn their own students that does nothing for the law clerks, prospective clerks and current students at law schools across the country who are unwittingly walking into hostile work environments because they don’t have access to that information. The first of our initiatives that we’re partnering with law schools on is a centralized clerkships reporting database, whereby former and current clerks will be able to create an account with us and write a report about their judge and their clerkship, good, bad or medium, we want to hear everything. And if your law school is partnering with us, than all the students at that law school be able to read all the reports, but not just the reports by their alumni, or reports from the alumni of all the partnering institutions. And we’re going to do this by working with law schools to send our survey database via email to the past 10 to 20 years worth of law clerk alumni beginning in fall 2022. We know that law schools are not just going to turn over the data turn over those email addresses, which is one of several reasons why we’re working with law schools to send out our survey link. Additionally, that means that the law students and clerks can create accounts using the email address they’ve already provided to the school. So that’s how we’ll verify that they are students or alums. The second initiative we are working on is a workplace culture assessment of the federal and state Judiciary’s. So the federal judiciary has been notoriously unwilling to conduct any kind of climate survey to elucidate data on the scope of the problem of judicial misconduct. So we’re trying to pick up the slack for them. Our workplace assessment, again, will be sent to the past 10 to 20 years worth of law clerk alumni via email in partnership with law schools. And it’s really going to quantify the scope of the problem, which I think is the first step toward crafting effective solutions. It’ll lose, say, data on the types of clerks who are facing mistreatment, the availability of resources in their courthouses and their concerns about reporting to their law schools and to the judiciary. So this type of data has never been conducted on a wide scale before, it has never been reported on a wide scale before. And we’re incredibly excited about it.
Greg Lambert 12:51
And so I wanted to go back, you mentioned the the Whisper networks. Well, actually, I want to even go back a little further than that. One was that you had mentioned that very rarely do law schools and their career placement offices, do a follow up survey on the students after they’ve gone, I would say, regardless of it’s a law firm or a court or in house, whatever, that they’re not pulling information and getting kind of an after action review of what’s going on. I mean, that just sounds like a basic thing that law school should be doing. But But you’re saying very few, if any do
Aliza Shatzman 13:37
that’s correct, few do. Fewer than 10, probably bout seven of the 50 to 60 schools that I’ve spoken with conduct any sort of post clerkship survey, and not even all of those schools compile it in a searchable database. I think there are a couple of reasons for this. I mean, I want to give law schools the benefit of the doubt, and we want to partner with as many schools as are willing to work with us. But the issue is law schools are disincentivized to maintain this information. They want as many students as possible to clerk and I’m concerned that many schools are prioritizing the procedure, the clerkship over a positive experience. There are some some law schools that legitimately don’t have the resources to do those post clerkship surveys. But at this point, law students are so in the dark when they are applying for clerkships about the good judges to apply to and the bad judges to avoid.
Greg Lambert 14:29
So the incentives are more on number of placements than it is on actually getting a review of how well
Marlene Gebauer 14:37
successful placements No.
Greg Lambert 14:39
Yeah, and I would say, you know, there’s there’s a couple of things I think that schools would be missing out on that. One is obviously what you’re talking about. If there’s if it’s a bad situation, you want to make sure you’re not putting more people into that situation. But two, I think it’s been one of the things that Marlene And I’ve talked about on on previous shows is that you would like to get feedback from, you know, the people that are working with your students to determine whether or not is your teaching pedagogy going in the right direction? Are you producing students that actually can go to work for these orders, there’s something that needs to be shifted over. So I’ve seen seems like a, you know, an after action review or a post clerkship survey. It’s kind of a no brainer on that. So,
Aliza Shatzman 15:32
right. I mean, there are other questions that should be asked, and that we will ask about clerkships. I mean, our focus is on judges with a history of misconduct. But there are other things you need to know about a clerkship? How does the judge provide feedback? What are the hours? Can I take vacation? Can I work remotely? Does the judge give me a lot of in court experience? What about writing experience? How does he or she provide feedback on my writing? There’s so many things we need to know. And some schools justify this by saying, well, the response rate is low. But other schools have a good response rate. And I would say, you know, it’s the way you structure your surveys. It’s the message you send to students about this is how we view clerkships. This is how we view a negative report about a clerkship, I think it’s the way that law schools are marketing these is creating a low response rate enables them to justify stopping the post clerkship surveys, but they’re incredibly important.
Greg Lambert 16:28
And then you mentioned the the Whispernet, which is basically just, I mean, I guess that’s a polite way of saying the rumor mill, you know, you’re having to hear from other people or reach out, maybe even reach out to other people or third parties that know people that work for them in order to get any information.
Aliza Shatzman 16:47
Yes, but I would caution against the word rumor because we do not have a culture of false allegations against judges. We have a culture of gross under reporting and fear of judges due to the enormous power disparities between judges and clerks, fears of retaliation, fears of reputational harm and illegal community. But yes, the system right now is one where it’s law schools encouraging students to reach out to law clerk alumni, providing sometimes a list of alums who are willing to speak about their clerkships. But the alums who have had bad experiences, sometimes remove themselves from that list. That’s correct. They’ll remove themselves from the list, which should be a red flag to follow up with them. But I’ve had law school officials tell me nope, that’s not a red flag, or Nope, we don’t follow up. So yes, there’s really a disconnect between the folks who have the information, the former clerks and the students who need the information before they apply these clerkships.
Marlene Gebauer 17:42
So in terms of the data that you’re gathering for the survey, you know, you mentioned that you’re, you know, you’re doing this through through law schools, and you’re, you know, checking to see whether this is an alarm or whether this is a student, like, how do you verify that it’s the actual individual who’s providing the information? And is this anonymized? It’s, you know, at some point or from the very beginning, because, you know, clearly what we’re talking about is very sensitive information. And I’m sure people, you know, have a concern about that.
Aliza Shatzman 18:12
Yes, and I definitely want to differentiate between the database survey, which is people reporting on their clerkship, and then and that’s going to be an ongoing thing each year. We hope more schools will partner with us, and folks will report on their clerkships and the workplace culture assessment, which is a one year climate survey of the past 1020 years worth of clerks. So yes, we’re working with law schools, and they will email the former clerks the survey, that’s how we can confirm that they are who they say they are, they will create an account using that email address and a password so that we can send them the survey link and they can see their responses and read the database, they won’t be asked to provide their name on either the database or the workplace assessment. We want folks to report anonymously, we are committed to maintaining their confidentiality, I am incredibly sensitive to fears of retaliation and reputational harm based on my personal experience, we are not looking to put law students or clerks at risk, or we’re looking for is the information. We’re confident we can maintain everybody’s confidentiality. And what I want to underscore for folks who are concerned is that if you are a mistreated current or former clerk and you do not report even just anonymously to us in a centralized database, the judging mistreated you will probably mistreat other clerks as well. So we really see it as the very best way to both protect law clerks, let them report anonymously and also ensure that workplaces are safe for the next generation of students.
Marlene Gebauer 19:43
Is that something that in terms of the survey results that you plan to share with the judiciary as well? Oh, yes,
Aliza Shatzman 19:49
absolutely. Yes, we will be creating reports and reporting to the judiciary, to the ABA to lawmakers. Absolutely. And that’s what differentiates our workplaces. assessment from so the there’s a workplace conduct working group created by the Judicial Conference the United States and they make recommendations each year. And they have recently floated the idea of a workplace assessment. The issue is they have not committed to releasing any of those results publicly. And they have notoriously conducted these surveys internally on small scales and not reported any results. That doesn’t help anyone we are committed and to and excited about reporting these results publicly. And we believe they really will quantify the scope of the problem,
Greg Lambert 20:32
the reports that you’re creating, how will you analyze the information that you have? And what will the reports look like? And what was some of the content of the report?
Aliza Shatzman 20:42
Yeah, so it’s going to be both quantitative and qualitative analysis based on the workplace culture assessment questions we asked. I mean, it’s everything from, you know, ratings questions to elucidate How safe are some of these workplaces? We’re asking some open ended questions. And we think those will lend themselves better to forthcoming legal scholarship and to quantitative analysis. But we’re talking about a variety of different ways to report the results, we definitely we just need to see what type of data we receive. First, we’re hoping to get a high response rate. But we need to say, and I mean, we’re working with a variety of law schools that it’s geographically diverse, and a representative sample.
Marlene Gebauer 21:23
Well, speaking of diversity, one of the missions of the legal accountability project is to expand the diversity in the judiciary, from the legal accountability Projects view, what improvements and value does a diverse judiciary do to help those working within the judiciary, and those which have to appear before the judiciary?
Aliza Shatzman 21:43
Yeah, so I think that a more diverse bench leads to better fair outcomes for litigants. I think that it leads to fair outcomes in general. So it’s definitely diversity in general is an important goal. But I think one of the things I see as I’m speaking with a lot of judges is that generational diversity is also incredibly important, because I definitely see a disconnect between the younger judges who get on these issues. They’re excited to support the work we are doing. They’re excited about the database, and then the older generation of judges. And those are the folks where I hear things like nothing’s ever going to change, and judges are going to protect their own till the bitter end. So we’re definitely committed to ensuring generational diversity as well. I think it also makes workplaces safer for clerks. I think it’s better when the bench represents like the lived experiences of the clerks as well. But I don’t think that diversity solves all of our problems. And I’m always concerned when people talk about clerkship diversity. And they also do not talk about workplace protections or judicial accountability, because both Democratic and Republican judicial appointees mistreat their clerks. And it’s a joint conversation about increasing diversity in clerkships and on the bench and protecting the next generation of law clerks from Workplace mistreatment.
Greg Lambert 23:02
Uh, you had mentioned earlier that what you’re doing was working with the law schools, and I had read something where I think the goal this summer was to have 10 or so law schools on board with the project. How’s that going? And how are you getting the schools involved?
Aliza Shatzman 23:19
It’s going really well, we sent our resources to about 40 schools for their review and feedback. So we are excited to announce our partners in late summer, if more than 10 wants to join us for this first year. We’re happy to have them and then we hope the more the merrier. Absolutely, because the third aspect of the legal accountability projects is fall programming at law school. So I’ll be going to I think, like 50 law schools throughout the fall to share my story, talk about these issues, talk about our resources. And as I’m interacting with student leaders, they’re so excited and engaged on these issues. They want our resources, we’re already seeing a bunch of schools where they’ve told us if our administration doesn’t come on board, we’re coming with you to the administration to demand that they sign on. So it’s been going really well. And, you know, I speak to deans and clerkship directors who really get it on these issues and who are excited to make changes, and then I speak to ones who probably are not going to make changes right now. But we’ll be circling back with them next year if they’re not on board.
Greg Lambert 24:19
And is there any role that law firms can play in helping along with the, with the project? So
Aliza Shatzman 24:27
definitely, I mean, I think this is issues of workplace protection in the judiciary and judicial accountability are issues where a larger cultural change in the legal community is necessary. I think one of the issues my story highlights is that the former judge gave me this outrageous negative reference and the USA Oh, basically looked at it and decided we’re going to take the judges word gave me no opportunity to defend myself asked him no follow up questions. And I really think it’s important for all legal employers, definitely law firm employers To really interrogate a negative reference, do not just take it at face value. There’s a real problem in the legal community and certainly among law firm employers, I’ve really deifying judges and disbelieving law clerks. And I think it’s really important to kind of dismantle some of the institutions that protect misbehaving judges.
Greg Lambert 25:20
Yeah, cuz I think it’s interesting because there are a lot of associates that we have that may come in for one or two years and then go and take a one year two year clerkship and then come back or, or not, I think there’s definitely a role for us to play as well.
Aliza Shatzman 25:37
I think the other issue is, I mean, legal employers might say, Well, we are concerned that if we don’t defer this judge, he will rule against our clients in the future. But I just don’t think that’s a good enough reason to be tossing young attorneys aside, these are worth thinking about law clerks. These are fresh out of law school folks, the next generation of young attorneys next generation of diverse public servants, the idea that we would just be tossing them aside, not protecting them that supporting them is super troubling to me.
Marlene Gebauer 26:07
Yeah, maybe we want to nurture them. Yeah. So at least, you know, we ask all our guests to answer a crystal ball question about what you see in Lille innovation in the next three to five years. Thinking about the legal accountability project, what do you see in terms of, of innovation moving forward?
Aliza Shatzman 26:26
Yeah, so two things. I mean, as we mentioned, we’re hoping to have 10 schools partner with us in the clerkships database this year. So this year, our resources will supplement the resources law schools currently have three to five years from now, we hope the 100 Plus law schools will all be participating in the centralized database, and that we will replace not supplement existing law school resources. Additionally, I am working to create an employment attorney database to connect mistreated clerk seeking judicial accountability going through the EDR process with employment attorneys who can help and we hope three to five years down the road that will very much be up and running. I just think that cultural change is necessary. And it’s time people are engaging on these issues. People are talking about these issues, and it’s time to make some real changes.
Greg Lambert 27:16
So Lisa Shatzman, co founder of the legal accountability project, you know, hey, thanks for taking time to come in and talk with us. how can listeners find out more about the legal accountability project, or reach out to you if they have any questions or even want to get involved? Yeah, so
Aliza Shatzman 27:33
they can go on our website, that’s legal accountability. project.org Or they can reach out to me via email or social media, Aliza.Shatzman@legalaccountabilityproject.org. I’m pretty active on LinkedIn and Twitter so they can engage with me that way. I love hearing from young attorneys. I love hearing from law clerks.
Greg Lambert 27:51
Excellent. Lisa, thanks again.
Marlene Gebauer 27:53
Thank you. Thank you.
Greg Lambert 27:57
It was great having Elisa on here. And I think what she’s doing here with this project at a minimum, you know, to me, the fact that law schools don’t really do a lot of after the clerk’s come back to school to find out what what’s going on. And again, we’ve talked about this before about the finding out more information from the law firm side, just on, are we training them correctly? Are we giving them the skills that they need? Is there anything that we need to change? That I think also, was this a positive or negative experience? And why is also a good question that the law school should be asking?
Marlene Gebauer 28:35
Yeah, I mean, I think it’s a really good learning opportunity and a learning tool that can be used for people in terms of, you know, figuring out what’s, you know, what’s appropriate for them. We have similar things, you know, you have the the almanac of the federal judiciary that, you know, people put comments on and so, this is not a totally, you know, unusual model. So, yeah, I think it’s a good thing.
Greg Lambert 29:02
Yeah. And there’s been a lot of talk, I think, just in DC, in particular, with there being so many young clerks that go out to work in Congress that work in the judiciary, work in the executive branch, you know, in a in a little bit higher need of protection.
Marlene Gebauer 29:21
Yeah, I agree. And this is this is I was thinking this is an example of, you know, we talked to Sonja Ebron a few episodes ago who put together courtroom five and then that was sort of based out of you know, a inexperience that that wasn’t pleasant. And so it’s nice to it’s nice to see that people like Elisa and like Sonia are basically taking a bad experience and making it better for other people.
Greg Lambert 29:50
Yeah, so thanks again to Aliza Shatzman. From the legal accountability project for coming on and sharing your story and and Good luck to you on getting the legal accountability project up and running. Yep,
Marlene Gebauer 30:05
thank you. And of course, thanks to all of you for taking the time to listen to The Geek in Review podcast. If you enjoy the show, share it with a colleague. We’d love to hear from you. So reach out to us on social media. I can be found at @gebauerm on Twitter,
Greg Lambert 30:18
And I can be reached @glambert on Twitter,
Marlene Gebauer 30:21
or you can leave us a voicemail on The Geek in Review hotline. It’s 713-487-7270 and as always, the music here is from Jerry David DeCicca Thank you, Jerry. Thanks, Jerry.
Greg Lambert 30:32
All right, Marlene, I will talk with you later. All right, bye bye. So to rehearse Hey, take me away I can walk back to him. Devils back. Devils back