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How Aliza Shatzman Is Fighting for Accountability and Change In the Judiciary

EP030 - Square Graphic - How Aliza Shatzman Is Fighting for Accountability and Change In the Judiciary
EP030 - Square Graphic - How Aliza Shatzman Is Fighting for Accountability and Change In the Judiciary

You should authentically embody your personal brand, regardless of who you interact with. Your personal brand should also reflect your values and evolve based on your experiences.    

Your brand should show up in your advocacy. 

This is why I invited Aliza Shatzman to be on the podcast. Her personal experiences in clerkship drive her authentic advocacy. Now, as the founder and president of The Legal Accountability Project, she aims to ensure that law clerks have positive clerkship experiences while extending support and resources to those who don’t.

In this episode of the Branding Room Only podcast, you’ll learn about what Aliza’s doing to fight for greater judicial accountability and to arm law students and law schools with more information about clerkship experiences.  

1:09 – How Aliza defines a personal brand, herself in three words, reveals her favorite Hillary Clinton quote.

2:45 – How growing up in a progressive Jewish community in suburban Philadelphia shaped Aliza and her view of the world

5:06 – Aliza’s professional journey, the pushback against change in the judiciary, and her refusal to stay silent

11:35 – The clerkship incident that led Aliza to launch her judicial accountability-focused organization

18:14 – My negative experience interviewing with a judge to be a judicial intern and strong feelings on the need for (and lack of) accountability

25:01 – How law students and young lawyers can start making a difference with judicial accountability right now

29:13 – How a lot of people’s personal brands are very tied to their clerkship (and judgeship) in a dishonest way

32:40 – What drives Aliza and how she aligns her personal brand with her advocacy while maintaining professional integrity and ethics

39:01 – What Aliza does for fun every day, the aspect of her brand that’ll always exist, and her Branding Room Only magic

Connect With Aliza Shatzman

Aliza Shatzman is the President and Founder of The Legal Accountability Project, a nonprofit aimed at ensuring that law clerks have positive clerkship experiences while extending support and resources to those who do not. Aliza earned her BA from Williams College in Williamstown, MA, in 2013 and her JD from Washington University in St. Louis School of Law (WashU Law) in St. Louis, MO, in 2019. After law school, Aliza clerked at the D.C. Superior Court during the 2019-2020 term.  

In March 2022, Aliza submitted written testimony for a House Judiciary Subcommittee hearing about the lack of workplace protections for judiciary employees, detailing her personal experience with harassment and retaliation by a former DC Superior Court judge. The intent of Aliza’s testimony was to advocate for the Judiciary Accountability Act, legislation that would extend workplace anti-discrimination protections to judiciary employees, including law clerks and public defenders. Aliza has also testified before the D.C. Council’s Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety about the lack of judicial accountability mechanisms and workplace protections for D.C. Courts law clerks. 

Aliza’s writing on the subject of judicial ethics has been published in numerous law journals and mainstream publications, including the Columbia Law Review, Harvard Journal on Legislation, Yale Law & Policy Review, UCLA Journal of Gender & Law, Administrative Law Review, NYU Journal of Legislation & Public Policy, Law360, Bloomberg Law, Above the Law, Slate, Ms. Magazine, and Balls and Strikes. Aliza is also a regular contributor at Above the Law. 

The Legal Accountability Project | Twitter/X | LinkedIn

Aliza Shatzman on Twitter/X

Aliza Shatzman on LinkedIn

Mentioned In How Aliza Shatzman Is Fighting for Accountability and Change In the Judiciary

“2024 Intention and Goal Setting Webinar” | YouTube

Sponsor for this episode

This episode is brought to you by PGE Consulting Group LLC.

PGE Consulting Group LLC is dedicated to providing a practical hybrid of professional development training and diversity solutions. From speaking to consulting to programming and more, all services and resources are carefully tailored for each partner. Paula Edgar’s distinct expertise helps engage attendees and create lasting change for her clients.

To learn more about Paula and her services, go to www.paulaedgar.com or contact her at [email protected], and follow Paula Edgar and the PGE Consulting Group LLC on LinkedIn.

Paula Edgar: Welcome to The Branding Room Only Podcast where we share career stories, strategies, and lessons learned on how industry leaders and influencers have built their personal brands. Now, let’s get started with the show.

Hi everyone, it’s Paula Edgar here, your host of Branding Room Only, where we talk to influencers and industry professionals about their personal brands, how they built them, their reflections on personal branding, and anything else I want to talk about because it’s my podcast.

Anyway, I’m so excited to have Aliza Shatzman here today with me. She is the president and founder of The Legal Accountability Project, which is a nonprofit aimed at ensuring that law clerks have positive clerkship experiences while extending support and resources to those who do not.

We’re going to talk much more about why, the how, and the what in just a minute. But as you all know, we’ve got to get through my important questions, really important questions at the beginning first, and then we jump into the conversation. Aliza, welcome to The Branding Room.

Aliza Shatzman: Thanks for having me on the podcast.

Paula Edgar: Thank you. All right, so we start off with a couple of the same questions. One is, what does a personal brand mean to you? How do you define it?

Aliza Shatzman: I think of it as how you promote yourself and how you show up in the world, but it can be quite intentional. It’s how you want to show up in the world.

Paula Edgar: Oh yes, it can definitely be quite intentional. Hopefully, by this time, everybody knows that I expect for all of your brands to be intentional. Okay, how about this? How would you describe yourself in three words or phrases?

Aliza Shatzman: Tenacious, assertive, persistent.

Paula Edgar: Ooh, I like that.

Aliza Shatzman: I have persist tattooed on my wrist, so it works.

Paula Edgar: It’s like my favorite words whenever women use them are assertive and ambitious. I’m just like–

Aliza Shatzman: Oh, that too, give me a fourth word.

Paula Edgar: Done, done, done and done. Okay, do you have a favorite quote or motto that you live by and love?

Aliza Shatzman: Yes. When there are no ceilings, the sky’s the limit. It’s a Hillary Clinton quote from her Convention speech and it’s tattooed on my left rib.

Paula Edgar: Wow. Okay. All right.

Aliza Shatzman: Lots of tattoo references so far.

Paula Edgar: That’s what I was going to say. I went with my daughter this past holiday break to get her first tattoo. That was an interesting thing. I was like, “Look how I’ve grown up as a mom when I turned 18 and got tattoos and my mother was furious with me,” but anywho. All right. Let’s talk about where did you grow up and how did that shape you?

Aliza Shatzman: So I grew up in suburban Philadelphia. My parents still live in my childhood home. I visit them and their puppy in conjunction with law school events for The Legal Accountability Project.

It’s an interesting question you ask because now of course there’s a lot of foreign policy conflict in the Middle East, the humanitarian crisis in Israel. I’m Jewish, but it’s something I don’t talk much about though I have posted a couple of times about my grandmother who’s a Holocaust survivor who passed away within the last two years.

I grew up in a progressive and very Jewish community. I didn’t really encounter anti-Semitism but now, and I mean since I was in college and in law school, it’s become clear that there’s a divide between being a progressive, which I don’t consider myself a progressive anyway but being even a Democrat and being supportive of Israel.

It shaped me a lot in that way, my views on foreign policy, my views on religion. I was fortunate to have a lot of privileges. Now, as I’m taking these very, very assertive stances on clerkships and the judiciary, and I have been doing so for several years, I know that I’m in a very privileged position, dating far back to where I grew up.

I was privileged to pursue the career I wanted because my parents paid for law school and I had no loans, for example, so it gave me great privilege and I think that with privilege comes a responsibility to use it in a way that benefits others.

Paula Edgar: Oh, with privilege comes responsibility. Yes, yes, and all of the yeses. I just did a presentation where I was talking about how privilege impacts language, the things that we say, things that we assume. Getting people to understand the concept of privilege is one challenge, but then understanding the responsibility that I think comes from it is another one. So I love that you leveraged that and elevated that in terms of the conversation because I do think that should we care about equity and advancing, like fairness, that there’s responsibility for those who haven’t and those who don’t to navigate differently.

All right. You’ve already then said that you were an advocate and you are doing all of these things. Tell me how you got here. What’s been your professional journey?

Aliza Shatzman: I graduated from WashU Law in 2019, five years ago. I aspired to be a homicide prosecutor in the DC US attorney’s office so I decided to clerk in DC’s peer court during the 2019 term. That is the jurisdiction where I wanted to practice law.

The messaging around clerkships at my law school, like at all law schools, is just uniformly positive. This is going to be a lifelong mentor-mentee relationship. This position will confer only professional benefits.

So I pursued a clerkship to check off that necessary box. As we’ll probably talk about, I had a very negative experience where I was harassed, fired, retaliated against by now former judge, I filed a judicial complaint and pursued the limited avenues of address available to me, and then began to advocate for workplace protections and judicial accountability to correct injustices I experienced as a law student and a law clerk.

I did not graduate from law school intending to launch and lead a judicial accountability-focused nonprofit, yet here I am and I mean, not to put too fine a point on it, but I don’t know, I think I was born to do this type of work and the response has been very positive. As we’ve talked about, with privilege comes responsibility to advocates so that’s what I’m doing now.

Paula Edgar: First of all, there’s, I don’t know, a joy that I get when people are advocating, when you know something is wrong, and you’re doing something about it because there’s a lot of people who know something is wrong and do nothing about it, right? It is when I think about the brand piece of this, which is to say, “Here are the winds that are blowing against me and here I am coming right back at them,” and that is hard.

That is hard. Hard in that you have to be able to say, “I got to do something that no people are not going to love. But then I know that’s important to get done,” so number one, thank you, because there’s a privilege that happens whenever there are discriminatory issues, whenever there’s sexual harassment, whenever there’s any kind of harassment.

I practice in labor and employment law so I’ve talked about this in a lot of spaces, and a part of that is the actual position, the position that you have and the privilege that it affords and people then using that power and privilege to impact others detrimentally.

I want to hear what and how, what your experience was and how that brought us to be here.

Aliza Shatzman: Yeah, I definitely will go into that, but I do want to say that it is hard work every day even though the response has been very positive because there are always going to be people who are very, very invested in maintaining the status quo.

Some of these law school clerks, chief directors, and deans, some of these judges are so entrenched. They hate the word entrenched, but it is the appropriate word. The headwinds are very much against change, but I identified an enormous void, unmet need, and a real hunger for candid dialogue about the judiciary, and as we’re going to talk about the branding aspect, I mean, my brand is these strong accountability-related statements and yet the response is so overwhelmingly positive showing that there really is a desire.

What’s hard is the handful of people who push back. But as we’re going to talk about my own experience, I never for one second doubted that I would file a complaint that I would try to hold this judge accountable and I’ve never for one second doubted that I’m doing the right thing, that my mission to correct these injustices is right, is just, that we are doing right, and I’ve just never doubted that.

I think that’s what galvanizes me, despite the fact that it’s hard. It makes it hard to empathize with those who do not want to speak out, and I know that I need to do better. But it is hard when clerks tell me every day that they’re mistreated, and they will never file a complaint, tell their law school, warn other clerks, speak out.

They’re perpetuating these problematic behaviors. That’s not the most sensitive thing to say and I’m sure there are some people who don’t love me saying that but it doesn’t make it less true. I’m fine taking on a lot of the risk, taking on a lot of the blowback, not that there’s so much, but it’s hard. But it’s sad when others won’t step up to the plate too.

Paula Edgar: Yeah, and I think everyone’s individual and also collective experience to the point of who you’re trying to help, I mean, we all know this from just having experienced a global pandemic together, the way we navigate trauma, it’s individually different and collectively different as well and in silos. So I hear you.

I think there’s so much injustice right now in so many different ways in our society that it is hard to, number one, speak up because I think everybody’s exhausted. I think everybody is like, “Ooh, child, there are so many things that are going on.” But on the other hand, it is, I think, spirit-sucking to not identify with something.

Never an ally and a victim blaming but also that we need to collectively garner ourselves as much as we can, to the extent that we can to make change in little spaces and big spaces, which is what you’re doing.

Aliza Shatzman: Yeah, I mean, I could never have stayed silent when all these clerks tell me they don’t run a report. It’s like, “If you don’t report, they’ll never be held accountable but just continue on with their bad behavior,” and that could never ever sit right with me. When I see mistreated clerks and how the experience weighs on them years, decades later, I just try to convey how much better they’ll feel, how healing it is to speak out, and how empowering.

Paula Edgar: Talk to me about as much as you would like to share in terms of your experience and then how that led to The Legal Accountability Project.

Aliza Shatzman: Yeah, so I did all the things my law school instructed me to. I applied broadly and accepted the first clerkship I was offered. While I, of course, tried to do my research about the judge I’d be clerking for, there just wasn’t much information available about him, like with most judges.

We started clerking in August 2019, and unfortunately, it went downhill very quickly. The judge would kick me out of the courtroom and tell me that I made him uncomfortable and that he just felt more comfortable with my male co-clerk. He told me I was bossy and aggressive and then I had personality issues.

The day I found out I passed the DC bar exam, big day in my life, he calls me into his chambers, gets in my face, and says, “You’re bossy, and I know bossy because my wife is bossy.”

Paula Edgar: Jeez.

Aliza Shatzman: This is, of course, all the stuff that would only be said about a woman. I was devastated. It was my first job out of law school, this judge was clearly singling me out for mistreatment. I remember crying myself to sleep at night, crying on the walk to work in the morning.

I wished I could be reassigned to another judge. My workplace did not allow for that to happen. I confided in some attorney mentors and they advised me to stick it out. So I tried because I knew I needed a full year of work experience to be eligible to work as a prosecutor in the U.S. attorney’s office, the entire reason I’d accepted this terrible clerkship.

During the pandemic we transitioned to remote work, I moved back to Philly to stay with my parents and the judge ignored me for six weeks before he called me up and told me he was firing me because I made him uncomfortable and lacked respect for him, but he didn’t want to get into it and he hung up on me.

Then I tried to use the limited channels that I thought were available to me called DC Courts HR. They told me there was nothing they could do. HR doesn’t regulate judges. Judges and law clerks have a unique relationship. Then they told me I should have known I was an at-will employee.

So then I reached out to my law school WashU Law seeking I guess advice or support and I found out the judge had a history of harassing his clerks that law school administrators, including the clerkships director who still works there and several professors, knew about when I’d accepted the clerkship and they had decided not to share that information with me because they wanted another student to clerk.

It was obviously all really devastating. I connected with some professors and a judge who directed me to file a complaint or directed me to where I would, decided to wait to file it because I was worried the judge would retaliate against me. So I thought wait till I have a new job.

Takes me about a year to get back on my feet. Of course, as I interviewed for jobs, people asked, “Why did your clerkship end early? Why isn’t the judge a reference?” Secured my dream job in the DC US trainees office, moved back to DC in the summer of 2021 to, I imagine I would have put all this behind me.

I was two weeks into training. I’d already started working there when I received some really devastating news that altered the course of my life. I was told the judge had made negative statements about me on my background investigation, that I wouldn’t be able to obtain a security clearance, and that my job offer was being revoked.

Paula Edgar: Wow.

Aliza Shatzman: I remember crying on the phone with USAO leadership, DC courts leadership. Nobody would tell me what the judge had said. They just said the decision was final. I filed a complaint, hired attorneys, and participated in the investigation into the now-former judge.

Partway through that, we found out he was already under investigation and on administrative leave for other misconduct, which the US attorney’s office was never alerted about.

My complaint was dismissed. The judge was removed from the bench for other reasons and we pursued private settlement negotiations. I received a copy of the outrageous negative reference that led to the revocation of my job offer.

Then in January 2022, the judge issued a clarifying statement addressing some of his outrageous claims about me, but either the damage had been done, it had been too long and I was pretty much blackballed from what I thought was my dream job.

I share this experience a lot now on law school campuses, podcasts, legal scholarship, everywhere. I always seek to underscore that my negative experience is not rare, but it is one that is rarely shared publicly due to the culture of silence and fear surrounding the judiciary.

Paula Edgar: Ooh.

Aliza Shatzman: How that relates to what I’m doing now is that I was going through the judicial complaint process that summer, and I discovered that law clerks are exempt from Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Folks like me cannot sue our harassers and seek damages, which is outrageous.

So there is pending legislation called the Judiciary Accountability Act that would correct this injustice for 31,000 judiciary employees so I reached out to House and Senate judiciary offices to advocate for the legislation. When a House judiciary hearing happened in March 2022, I submitted a written testimony advocating for the legislation.

In the weeks following that, the response was very positive, which I appreciated because previous law clerks had testified before Congress and the response was not so positive. I began thinking about some ideas to further my advocacy work on behalf of clerks, which led me to launch the nonprofit to correct injustices I experienced as a student and clerk.

It’s really based on increasing access to candid transparent information about judicial clerkships, premised on conversations with several dozen law school deans and clerkship directors about the resources they use to help students get information about judges, find a good clerkship, avoid judges who mistreat their clerks, and spoiler alert, regardless of where you go to law school, there is no information about judges accessible to students right now, which is a real injustice for aspiring attorneys.

Paula Edgar: Wow. Oh, so, okay, that was a lot. I want to go back a bit and just call something out. Because obviously, I am so sorry that you had the experience that you had, and it just reminded me of something that I always share and I share it flippantly about the experience that I had when I was in law school interviewing with a judge.

I went on an interview to be a judicial intern and I showed up. I remember I had gone shopping and I had gotten this nice suit at Macy’s. It was a pantsuit. I looked good. I get there and it was at the lunch break. He was talking to someone, he was talking to somebody. Then he looks at me and he looks at his court attorney and says, “If that’s my interviewee, tell her to come back when she’s in a dress.”

I remember looking at this woman being like, “Why?” and she was like, “Yeah, you have to come back,” and I didn’t go back. But to that end, I didn’t even think that this was something I had to say something about at school. There was so much.

Imagine having a resource such as this one, even acknowledging that wild things like this can happen and have happened, and having an understanding that there are avenues that you can take and there are ways in which to hold people accountable.

Accountability is one of my favorite words because I want it and I believe in being accountable. It just makes everything better, even when it’s hard. But I can imagine that there are a lot of things happening just because my work is primarily with the legal profession anyway, that when I was doing on my own, working as a consultant, investigations or even training, there would be so many times where people would say, “We have a bad actor. They need individual training, but they’re a rainmaker. So not getting rid of them, but they need training.”

A part of it is like the accountability is to stop having this person be leashed on other people, but instead, it was that we want to put a bandaid on it. It really is one of the reasons why I was interested in having you come on the podcast, because your experience in particular, look at how what you experience impacted you and your brand, and your ability to do what you wanted to do.

To that end, yes, too, I think you are the right person at the right time to do this work, but your trajectory was impacted by someone’s bad acting and there was no accountability, well, there was eventually accountability, but not accountability and enough people talking about it to prevent you from even having that experience.

I say all of that because I know some people might be like, “Well, why? Why is Paula having Aliza on the podcast?” It’s because this happens all the time.

Aliza Shatzman: Yes, yes.

Paula Edgar: All the time.

Aliza Shatzman: It is pervasive in the judiciary and judicial clerkships. It is pervasive in the legal profession. We treat judges as untouchable. I mean, federal judges can only be removed by congressional impeachment, which is exceedingly rare. But law clerks so rarely even file a judicial complaint under the Judicial Conduct and Disability Act. They so rarely speak up. It weighs heavily on me that I hear about hundreds of judges mistreating their clerks who will never be held accountable.

But I feel so strongly about everything you just said because look, there are judges now who will say to intern and clerk candidates like, “Come back when you’re wearing a dress,” I know about them and nobody calls them out. I think the perception in the legal profession, even among some judges who generally do the right thing, is that you give up a lot to work as a law clerk.

You shouldn’t have to give up anything, you shouldn’t have to give up any part of yourself to work as a law clerk or judicial intern. I think it’s crazy that that perception is out there, and that judges are not told to stop it and improve. Yeah, the perception is always like, “Oh, we can train them.” Well, training in the federal judiciary is optional.

There is no real accountability. There is no discussion about appointing better judges. I mean, I think about my experience, and somebody said to me the day after the judge who was treating me was removed from the bench, “Aliza, I’m sorry about what happened to you, but it’s too bad we’re losing a progressive sentencer.”

In Washington, DC, as if they could not find another judge to appoint who is a progressive sentencer. That is ridiculous. That is the perception in the legal profession right now, that judges are just untouchable, they’re above the laws they enforce. The first step toward accountability is shining sunlight transparency on this bad behavior.

Paula Edgar: Yeah. I think we see, to your point, across industries that bad actors are often prioritized because of their impact and their skill set, et cetera, and de-prioritizing very often women who also have a skill set and who also should be prioritized because we have gender inequity.

But there’s so much going on societally around the treatment of women and how women are listened to and heard and how their experiences are elevated. It’s one of the things that I am passionate about when I think about my own brand and really we focused on women and uplifting women and making sure that women are heard and then they have voices that they use in very assertive ways and with all the ambition in the world and to make change because if not us, then who? Then what are we then continuing to teach and promote?

At some point, it has to stop or at least we need to say we know this is happening because I think to your point, shining the light is the first step. People have to understand that you can’t hide behind a robe or the tie or whatever you’re wearing, that you are not untouchable and you shouldn’t be. But we have lots of issues with power and privilege societally, that impact the way people feel like they are able to go out and about and do what the hell they want and treat people in the old way without accountability.

That’s bad branding, that’s bad news, and that’s why I’m glad you’re doing what you’re doing. Okay, talk to me about, I think I want to jump, what advice would you give to law students or young lawyers right now in terms of thinking about how they can make a difference?

If specifically they’re thinking about what you’re talking about, like judicial accountability, wanting to be in the space, but wanting to make sure it’s a space that’s safe or brave for them, what advice would you give to them as they entered into or wanted to proceed with maybe perhaps doing a clerkship or making a change in some way?

Aliza Shatzman: Yeah, well, in terms of making change, if you identify an unmet need, a void, an injustice, I mean, take the leap, don’t wait for somebody else to fix it. Fix it yourself, because if you see a problem, others are seeing a problem too, and we have a legal profession-wide intransigence of just looking around and assuming somebody else will fix it, well, no, you’ve got to fix it.

That’s definitely the advice for anyone thinking about making a change. I mean, the legal profession is so cautious. That’s been one of my most disheartening discoveries since becoming an attorney. I’m not sure I would have become one if I’d known that seven, eight years ago. It’s really sad. There’s just a real risk aversion and aversion to accountability.

When I think of law students, and I spent a lot of time on law school campuses for The Legal Accountability Project’s programming and advocacy work, and there’s a lot of awesome student advocacy and a whole host of issues. Then everybody just goes to a law firm and just puts on their little corporate suit and does corporate work and just stays really quiet and doesn’t ruffle any feathers. It makes me so sad, where does that advocacy-minded spirit go?

We think some people say, “Well, they get to do pro bono work.” I love LAP’s pro bono council, we have two wonderful law firms representing us, and that’s great. But that’s a small part of their work. It makes me sad that more people aren’t pursuing that advocacy and change-making work. If you want to do it, I mean, friggin do it. Don’t wait five years to pay off your loans. Don’t wait. You have to do it.

Paula Edgar: Yes. There’s a “just do it” part of it that I think I aligned and agree with you. I also know that in addition to the challenges I mentioned before, there are some people who don’t have the privilege of just doing it. They have to pay the loans off and they have to think about the impact.

But to that end, I do think that no matter where we are, whatever our responsibilities are, even if you just share your story, like if something has happened to you, it doesn’t happen to the next person, then that is a way of advocating and of changing things versus the silence.

I know, because I always get people who will send me messages who listened to the podcast, I also know that yes, we don’t like risk as a profession, don’t like risk. I think people in general, they don’t love risk, but the people who are the change agents, they understand that there’s a little bit or a lot of bit of risk in whatever they do, and speaking out and actually saying, “I’m not going to wait,” is one way.

Supporting organizations that are doing the work is another way. Sharing information, which is why I want to do the podcast, is another way. We’re having this conversation, I don’t want everybody to think they have to take off their suit and march outside and be like, “Rah, rah, rah,” you can if you like, but the advocacy has many different shapes and forms. The point is that we have to do less of sitting and saying, “Oh, there’s nothing we can do.”

I hate when lawyers say that, particularly, I’m like, “Well, if not us, then who’s going to do something? Because we’re the ones who change the laws and we’re the ones who create terrible laws.” There’s all of these things in there. I’ll jump down off of my soapbox and then just say do something, to your point, as opposed to doing nothing. Share this podcast, how about that?

Aliza Shatzman: The interesting thing is that a lot of people’s personal brands are very tied to their clerkships, which is fine, except that the way they message them is uniformly positive and therefore dishonest.

Because right now, today, LAP has gotten a bunch of people to en masse share information about our work on LinkedIn. We have this real campaign going. So it’s not just me with my very strong statements. Unfortunately, there are some people who I know do not have positive clerkship experiences who while sharing information about LAP’s work are still talking about their very positive clerkship experiences and why clerking is the best thing you can do with your life.

That makes me sad. As we talked about, not everybody is in a position to share a very negative experience so publicly like I do, but it’s dishonest and it’s a disservice to students looking to attorneys for information who are role models who are approaching these former clerks and saying, “Well, was your experience positive? I’m applying to the judge you clerked for,” so to withhold that information is just so wrong.

My messaging is very much that everybody should consider clerking but that you have to be mindful about who you clerked for in a way you currently cannot be due to lack of transparent information.

But there are of course judges I dissuade people from clerking for, and it’s sad that so few people are willing to take that next step and say, “Not every judge is somebody you should clerk for.” We are changing the culture through statements like mine and LAP’s work, but there is a lot of work to be done. I mean, the messaging is just bad.

Paula Edgar: Yeah, it’s like the untouchables. It’s important clearly, but why is it even more important that these are the people who are in charge of bringing justice, they have the filter between the constituent and the justice that’s supposed to be, so if they are not even good people, not to be scientific, but good people in who they work with and who they’re supposed to be helping to foster in their careers, then how does that extend to the justice they’re supposed to be providing externally too?

Because it makes me think about their values and who and how they show up. That for me as a lay person is scary. It’s why I think that we should care, that we should be very thoughtful about this because yes of course, it’s the experiences of people but also we need to have an understanding that the people who are not doing the work in the way that it should be done are problematic and we need to hold them accountable. Ooh, wow.

Aliza Shatzman: If you are mistreating your clerks, you are showing your true self when nobody is watching, what does that say about how you treat litigants? What is a female like a Title VII litigant to think if she knows the judge is mistreating their clerks, they are not subject to Title VII themselves? I mean, it sends a message to the public when we do not hold judges accountable that these people are basically above the laws that they interpret and enforce. It is really, really troubling.

Paula Edgar: Oh, okay. Well, I want to pivot for a little bit. In talking about your advocacy and really thinking about the values that you clearly have and wanting to shine a light on long doing and to have better experiences for folks who are considering working as clerks, how do you align your personal brand with that value proposition and still also maintain that professional integrity and your ethics?

There are a lot of ways that people go wrong in our profession and other professions. But what is your driving force in terms of doing this?

Aliza Shatzman: It’s a great question. It’s one I think about a lot. I launched The Legal Accountability Project 19 months ago. I knew that my experience would be very closely tied not only to my personal brand that I was building, but to The Legal Accountability Project’s work.

It is all very enmeshed. It is my very negative personal experience tied to The Legal Accountability Project, which we are a transparency, accountability, and a diversity nonprofit. But of course, the accountability is in the title. Of course, that is clearly what drives me.

Then our Clerkships Database, our legal tech initiative to democratize information about judges is also very enmeshed with those two things. So I think a lot about how I am sharing my experience while also doing this work, while talking about my negative experience, while still encouraging students to clerk.

I think what drives me is of course my personal values, my quest for justice, for accountability, for transparency. That’s what drives me, that’s what drives the nonprofit.

There are many times when I swallow my personal feelings to engage with people I find unpalatable or challenging. We work with any judge or court that’s willing to engage with us. Some of these judges and some of these law school clerks, directors, and deans are just saying outrageous things about me, about the nonprofit, but we want to help as many clerks and students as possible and so we work with them.

I think there is probably a public perception that, of course, Aliza’s personal values are totally aligned with the nonprofit so she never has an ethical conflict or a moral qualm. I subjugate my personal feelings to the goals of the nonprofit every hour of every day because I know there are so many students and clerks to help and that the goals of the nonprofit are bigger than myself.

Paula Edgar: Yeah, I think that that is hard. Whenever you have an initiative that you’re trying to bring light to or get support for, it is helpful mostly when you can align your personal experience with it.

It also can be challenging when you have to align your personal experience with it. I think we resonate with stories more than we resonate with we shoulds, we resonate with the fact that we can connect to some part of the lack of justice. We can connect to some part of the pain that you must feel for having that experience or the unfairness of all of that. That aligning should happen, but it is also challenging when people equate you with the thing.

Aliza Shatzman: Yeah, when I was thinking about launching this nonprofit and looking around at some of the advocates who were in the space or adjacent to the space, I really felt strongly that nobody was advocating based on their personal experience. That’s what set us apart and that was what was so important.

Nobody can empathize with clerks and students the way I do because nobody else has had and publicly shared and then advocated based on their personal experience. So I thought that was so important. I always wonder how much of the time should be spent sharing my experience versus uplifting others’ experiences. We get that question a lot.

At the end of the day, I speak with a lot of clerks who are all right sharing their experience in the clerkship’s database, but who are not going to speak publicly and that’s okay so I try to speak for them when I advocate.

But I do think the personal experience is certainly what got me in the door in the initial three to six-month period with like 80 law schools worth of clerkship directors and deans. They knew my experience. They knew I was advocating based on it. They suspected I was probably engaging with them in good faith or at least based on real injustices I wanted to correct.

I still think now it’s important to share the experience. Right after we launched the nonprofit, we went on this big fixing our clerkship system tour of like between 20 and 30 law schools and I would always share my personal experience and still do because I wanted to change the messaging around clerkships.

Nobody had ever heard really of a negative experience before hearing mine and so it was important just to set the groundwork for the issues we needed to correct so that people were clear-eyed about asking the right questions before clerking.

But I wanted to make sure we also were coming to students with solutions, coming to law schools with solutions. We weren’t just perceived as out there complaining. We did with this Clerkships Database. But at the end of the day, I think many people who hear my experience just find it empowering to hear me speak because it resonates so broadly with so many people across industries. So I think it’s important to share that too.

Of course, my experience is very closely tied to why I launched the nonprofit. Someone said to me recently, “If you’d had the clerkship experience people dream about, you’d be a homicide prosecutor right now. There’d be no LAP.” That’s interesting and sad. I like to think I would have found my way to advocating on these issues anyway, but it’s just important to make it clear that the story, the experience is important, but it’s not everything. I use my experience to ground the work, but the work is much larger than me.

Paula Edgar: Yeah. Okay. Well, as we close, I’m going to pivot to a question, to three questions that I ask everyone because my word of the year and my ethos period is always joy. It is clear to me that being in a space of advocacy and living the truth that is true to you is a part of what drives you and hopefully sometimes at least brings you joy, but I have questions.

Aliza Shatzman: It often brings me joy. Yes.

Paula Edgar: Then what do you do for fun?

Aliza Shatzman: I work out every day. I’m on the elliptical every single day listening to music and podcasts. I’m also an aspiring dog owner. Right now I’m just a friend of all the dogs in the building, but this will be the year that Aliza gets a dog or two dogs.

Paula Edgar: Aliza, the aspiring dog owner, I love that. I am aspiring to not have anybody in my house besides me and my husband, but I’m still working on getting the rest of them out. Anyways, okay, a question I ask everybody is stand by your brand, which I think we probably already covered, but I’m going to ask it in a specific way anyway. What is the authentic aspect of your personal brand that you’ll never compromise on?

Aliza Shatzman: This is something I think about a lot, and I know we didn’t talk too much about the personal brand, so I would encourage people to check out my LinkedIn primarily, but also my Twitter to see what I’ve posted every single day for almost two years about accountability and transparency and clerkships and the judiciary.

It is clear that I am making strong accountability-focused statements. That is what drives me. I will never compromise on that. LAP is different things to different people. We do important transparency and DEI work for improving the clerkship system. That is all important.

But at the end of the day, I will always be out there at least every day or two, making a very strong accountability statement directed at either law schools, the judiciary, or the legal profession.

Paula Edgar: I mean, at a minimum, that at least allows for folks who may not be getting the information or support that they need to know that there are resources out there, so that now at least the Google imprint of if you have been wronged or if you have questions can lead in a different space than it may have been for when you were trying to find information and couldn’t.

Aliza Shatzman: Good point.

Paula Edgar: That’s important. It’s important. I always say I am unapologetically an advocate for Black lawyers. I’m also unapologetically an advocate for women lawyers. My values are part of my brand statement. There’s no silence. You also will know that I love prints.

There are just a lot of things that are part of who I am and I think it resonates more for people that they feel like it’s that thing and they care about it because of you and also that thing they might look at differently because of your connection to it, which is what influence is, which is what having a strong brand is.

Aliza Shatzman: We are proud that if you Google clerkship information now, LAP’s Clerkships Database is one of the first search results.

Paula Edgar: We absolutely will be putting the links to everything in the show notes so that folks can have access and hopefully continue to share. Branding Room Only is a play on standing room only, which is when you go to a concert or go see something when everybody wants to be in a room, what is your magic? What is the experience that you bring that people would be standing in a room for because they’re going to experience it about you?

Aliza Shatzman: Oh, that is a good question. We’ve had standing-room-only events for The Legal Accountability Project at some of these law schools. I am a very dynamic speaker. I mean, that might sound too whatever, but I can hold a crowd. I think it is empowering and electrifying to hear me speak, especially when I have the hand gestures going. Definitely don’t need a mic. We are proud of that. We are proud that our programming is really different, that it is unique.

Paula Edgar: Well, tell everybody how they can find you, what’s the best way to connect with The Legal Accountability Project, and/or with you. We’ll obviously be putting links in the show notes, but I love to include them in the voice just in case no one runs back to the show notes.

Our website is legalaccountabilityproject.org. You can join our mailing list, stay up to date, donate, get information about our clerkship’s database. I’m very accessible on social media, particularly LinkedIn and Twitter. But we run all the social media platforms now or via email when people should reach out to you. If you clerked, you should share your clerkship experience with us.

If you’re a law student, you should urge your law school to participate in this Clerkships Database. But whether you’re an attorney or not, and whether you clerked or not, everybody can and should be part of the solution here.

Paula Edgar: Thank you so much for joining me on the podcast today. Everybody, tell someone about this, to the point of us making sure things get a light. I know many of my listeners are lawyers or lawyer-adjacent, that means we know people who are thinking about or have or considering being a lawyer or perhaps clerking.

It’s really important for us to love each other and to protect each other. This is one of the ways we can do so in holding folks accountable and shining the light. Thank you so much for being on The Branding Room Podcast. Bye.

Aliza Shatzman: Thank you.