But I knew who she was.
Her blog ("Letters of Marque", now long defunct) was one of several law school blogs I read regularly when this site was first starting out. I found her a fun and engaging writer, and she seemed to be succeeding first as a law student and then a legal professional. I knew she had gotten prestigious clerkships, for example, first with Ninth Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski and then on the United States Supreme Court. For awhile it looked as if she was headed toward legal academia.
Then she seemed to drop off the map. Much later, I learned she was writing romance novels as "Courtney Milan." A bit weird, but hey, good on her. Sometimes the best law graduates are those who manage to escape law altogether. I still consider the most successful graduate of my law school class to be Natalie Shapero, who's now a professional poet.
Heidi has now written an account of her time clerking for Judge Kozinski. It is a harrowing read, but I encourage you to do it. It is an account of gender harassment that chills precisely because it didn't ever escalate to physical abuse or violent behavior, and because it involves a young woman who seemed to exemplify "elite" credentials, but nonetheless clearly and unambiguously bears the marks of exploitation.
I've never met Judge Kozinski. But like pretty much all law students, I knew who he was.
It's difficult to overstate Judge Kozinski's reputation amongst intermediate appellate judges -- in terms of renown within the legal community, he probably ranks second only to Richard Posner. He was famous for his independence, his sharp legal mind, and his witty, almost casual, style of writing (e.g., his notorious "The parties are advised to chill").
Among law students seeking high-level clerkships, Judge Kozinski had a more specific reputation -- two of them, actually. The first was that he was known as a direct pipeline to a Supreme Court clerkship (the holy grail for ambitious, elite law students). The second was that he was known to be a complete and utter nightmare to work for.
To be fair, the latter part of the reputation didn't (to my knowledge, at least) have a gendered component. It was more of a Devil Wears Prada sort of deal. Kozinski was a brilliant monster, he'd abuse the hell out of his clerks, but if you survived the year he would open every professional door you could possibly imagine.
And while I was interested in a Supreme Court clerkship, I wasn't interested in that sort of experience. I had a friend who clerked for Judge Kozinski while I was still in law school, and every update on his year made him sound like a shell of a human being. So Judge Kozinski wasn't high on my list of clerkship targets (I don't remember if I applied, I certainly didn't get an interview, and I ended up clerking instead for the fabulous Judge Diana E. Murphy of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit).
We can talk about whether "simple" abuse, sans the gender component, should be tolerated in the workforce. That's a separate debate. But as Heidi's testimony makes clear, in Judge Kozinski's case it was not in fact sans gender (the Washington Post collects the accounts of several other female clerks recounting harassment or inappropriate behavior by Judge Kozinski).
This is all a lot of run-up, and you might expect me to have some additional insight on offer at this point. But I really don't. It seems obvious that the clerkship environment is one ripe for abuse -- the exceptionally strong norms of confidentiality, the intense professional pressure, the fact that the person with such power over your life and future career is a judge for crying out loud (and you're probably going to be a lawyer, so you have especially strong reasons not to get on a judge's bad side). It is a sterling example of how vulnerability can still exist among people with degrees from the top schools and access to the most prestigious jobs.
So I'm not really surprised by Heidi's account. But I am sad. In her recommendations, Heidi writes
Law students are often told in glowing terms that a clerkship will be the best year in their career. They are never told that it might, in fact, be their worst—and that if it is their worst, they may be compelled to lie to others in the name of loyalty to their judge.As someone who did have a glowing clerkship experience, this is what gets me. I know how wonderful it can be to be a clerk. I know how rewarding, and how exhilarating, and how enriching, and how inspiring it can be. So when other people have clerkships and don't have that experience, I feel cheated on their behalf. They were stripped of something that should have been wonderful.
Anyway, that's all I have to say. But again, I encourage you to read Heidi's post. It is a powerful and compelling, if sometimes quite difficult read. And while I doubt she knows me, I'll add my voice to the chorus thanking her for posting it.