Brennan Center symposium addresses workplace challenges for law clerks

In a two-session virtual symposium on March 4 and 5 hosted by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law, panelists focused on the judiciary, not as a legal institution, but as an employer called to advance issues of equity, inclusion, and accountability in the workplace.  The event, “Behind the Bench: The Treatment and Selection of Law Clerks,” was co-sponsored by the National Women’s Law Center, the NYU Law Review, and the NYU Law chapters of the American Constitution Society, the Latinx Law Students Association, the South Asian Law Students Association, and the Black Allied Law Students Association. 

The first session addressed ways to prevent and respond to sexual and other forms of harassment in the judiciary. In the second session, speakers explored the lack of diversity among law clerks and how stakeholders such as law schools can play a role in diversifying the hiring pool.

Selected remarks from the discussion:

Deeva Shah, co-founder of Law Clerks for Workplace Accountability
“I’ll highlight something that Chai [Feldblum, former commissioner of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] said, which is power disparity [is a risk factor for harassment], and this is highlighted by the fact that so many law clerks were recently law students. And so there’s almost a god-like nature to sometimes meeting these judges, meeting the people whom you’ve read about in your textbooks when you were a law student. And there’s an element of deference that is warranted to judges, for obvious reasons, but it can also lead to deference in employment relationships, and almost an over-deference in thinking about how to report [harassment].”
[Video 7:14]

Associate Justice Goodwin Liu, California Supreme Court
“We thought about [this issue of increasing diversity] as kind of having three gateways…. The first concerns the students. And we hear a lot about—already on the panel, and certainly I’ve also heard it—about self-vetoing. You know, students who just opt out of the [clerkship] process, or they may suffer information gaps, or they may be actively discouraged….The second concerns the schools—what kind of policies, what kind of practices are being used by schools to track, encourage, mentor, promote, you know, historically disadvantaged groups in reaching these opportunities?….And then the third concerns the judges and their hiring practices. And I think these three—the students, the schools, and the judges—we have to think of this holistically, because all three are important parts of the equation and we can probably learn something about roadblocks to diversity from examining each.”
[Video 31:30]

Watch the full discussion on video:

Behind the Bench: The Treatment and Selection of Law Clerks (Day 1)

Behind the Bench: The Treatment and Selection of Law Clerks (Day 2)

Posted 3/24/21