Aliza Shatzman is a judicial clerkship advocate. After a poor clerkship experience, Aliza created the Legal Accountability Project to bring transparency and accountability to the federal clerkship process. Find out how this pioneer and founder ensures the next generation of clerks is protected from bad judges.
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Clerkships are an important tool for lawyers interested in working in academia, trial lawyers, and Big Law associates, and they are a great way to hone your legal writing and reading skills. During the spring semester of 1L year, many law students participate in on-campus interviewing to work for large law firms or with governmental agencies. Kyla Denanyoh was surprised to learn that judicial clerkships are not “pitched” or hold job fair-type events at law schools to find law students.
Improving the clerkship process requires law students and alums must understand what judicial clerkships are and who the judges are. The messaging about clerkships is uniformly positive, and that's a big problem. Law students are not being honest. Law schools need to share their limited information about judicial clerkships. The judiciary is not holding unfair judges accountable for their malicious actions.
Law schools can pay to have law students take surveys about their treatment during a judicial clerkship. Law schools keep these records private, and many law students are dishonest on the surveys. Aliza Shatzman created a Clerkship Database which allows law students to share information about their treatment during their judicial clerkship, whether the work environment is hostile, and students can access the database.
To participate with the Clerkship Database, law schools pay a fee then request that current law students and alums complete anonymous surveys about their clerkship experiences.
“Homogenizing clerkships has implications for fairness in judicial decision-making, whose writing, researching, and advising on the opinions also impacts the future of the [legal] profession, explains Aliza Shatzman in Episode 96 of the You Are A Lawyer podcast.
It depends. One of the many reasons Aliza Shatzman created the Legal Accountability Project is the lack of transparency in clerking. Aliza shares that many judges need to announce their clerkship vacancies, and judges need to share what they are looking for in a judicial clerkship. So these roles as judicial clerks will make a LARGE impact on a lawyer’s career, skillset, reputation, and access to networking and other lawyers when these clerkships magically appear.
As a transfer law student, Aliza didn’t have many grades from Washington University in Saint Louis when applying for clerkships and found a clerkship with the Southern District of Illinois. A few days a week, Aliza Shatzman would extern with the Southern District of Illinois.
Professors and clerkship directors will encourage students to seek a judicial clerkship. However, there is a common and familiar story of clerkships being challenging but character-building. Aliza relied on her clerkship and the guidance of the clerkship directors to steer her on the correct path and toward a reputable judge.
Considering the outsized influence that a clerkship and the relationship with your judge have on your future career success, there really needs to be more transparency in clerkships, explains Aliza Shatzman in Episode 96 of You Are A Lawyer.
However, until law schools and law students understand how to identify a damaging clerkship, there needs to be more transparency. Aliza Shatzman created the Legal Accountability Project to demand and expand upon transparency and the "democratization of data." And spoiler alert: harassment and discrimination are unacceptable, period. As a judicial clerk, perks are vast networking opportunities, career advancements, and professional gains from judicial clerks. But it's irrational that a judicial clerk must endure a volatile workplace in exchange for a glowing reference letter.
Aliza told the HR department about the harassment and gender-based discrimination she faced during her judicial clerkship. The HR department didn’t do anything. Then Aliza contacted her law school and was informed that the judge’s conduct had not raised any flags or concerns.
There are multiple levels of harassment - Aliza received harassment and a poor reputation with a job revoked. But there are also issues that a lawyer would face when they appear before a judge. Judges have enormous power, and judiciary workplaces are exempt from Title VII of the Fair Employment practices that regulate workplace conduct, which is backward and impractical. There are state and federal bar rules and judicial rules of conduct, but other judges need to enforce these rules.
Despite her experiences, Aliza wants to maintain judicial clerkships. Aliza created the Clerkships Database, which allows law schools to pay to have their law school participate in the database and leave true and honest references about
“Schools should not have a monopoly on all the judges. Schools have a ceiling of [which judges] they can keep track of,” explains Aliza Shatzman on the You Are A Lawyer podcast.
Aliza Shatzman did not have a positive judicial clerkship experience. Aliza received negative references when her clerkship ended, and her employment position was revoked. However, Aliza took the unfair situation and decided to rally for every future judicial clerk.
When Aliza Shatzman created the Legal Accountability Project, she wanted to ensure that other clerks would learn from her terrible clerkship experience. Aliza is frequently contacted by members from affinity student bar associations, for example, LGBT, Haitian-American, Arab-American, Deaf, and Hard of Hearing, Japanese-American, and Black American bar members.
“Judges are notoriously unwilling to discipline their own colleagues,” shares Aliza Shatzman on the You Are A Lawyer podcast.
Although Aliza Shatzman has always enjoyed public speaking and writing, traveling to law schools, teaching CLEs, and sharing her experiences are valuable assets to revolutionizing the clerkship process.
There have been a few bumps and pivots in the entrepreneurship process. Still, Aliza is grounded in reaching every regional or top 5 law school to ensure that every law student understands the clerkship process.
“I’ve reached a lot of people, but I haven’t reached everybody,” explains Aliza Shatzman about why she travels and talks to everyone she can about judicial workplace misconduct and unfair practices in clerkship hiring.
As Aliza tours different law schools and talks to students about their experiences and the availability of clerkships, she finds that the process varies wildly based on the law school's resources.
“Take the leap. Pursue the idea. It’s always possible to pivot if something doesn't go your way,” explains Aliza Shatzman while discussing entrepreneurship and being a solo founder.
Aliza Shatzman is the founder and chief advocate of the Legal Accountability Project. Learn more about the Clerkship Database and contribute to their fundraising here: https://www.legalaccountabilityproject.org/
Follow the Legal Accountability Group on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/thelegalaccountabilityproject/
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Kyla Denanyoh hosts the You Are A Lawyer podcast.
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