When I went in for my job interview with the federal judge that I wound up working for I was obviously extremely nervous. Apparently, the judge had pretty much made up his mind when I walked in that he was going to hire me (based on my grades, my resume and the extensive background checking he did). I didn’t know that though, so I was nervous.
Since he already had most of the key information he didn’t ask too many questions. The last question, though, was the outcome-determinative question. He asked me if I smoked. I told him I didn’t, at which point he told me I was hired if I wanted the job.
As I later learned, judicial chambers are an intimate working environment, and if everyone doesn’t get along it can be trouble. The judge wanted to make sure that I would fit in; he had no tolerance for power hungry law clerks (we weren’t even allowed to talk to attorneys who called the chambers). My entire clerkship (which lasted two years) was a humbling experience, but the brief job interview still stands out as a poignant moment in my legal career. And the last thing I expected was a question about whether I smoked or not.
At least he didn’t ask me what my shoe size was, which is what one local federal judge supposedly used to ask propective clerks. Why? Because he wanted to hire clerks with roughly the same size feet as he had so that he could have them break in his new shoes.
P.S. If you want a better practice, start using the 80/20 Principle.
No, it’s not a typical rule. But one of the things that my judge told me when I got hired was that he didn’t allow his law clerks to talk to attorneys; he found it created more trouble than anything else. But the clerks in the other chambers thought couldn’t imagine not being able to “lord over” attorneys (that’s half the fun of a clerkship some of them thought). I’m going to make my next “Law Clerk Chronicles” post about this topic so I’ll expand on my experiences then. But, to answer your question, most judges let their law clerks talk to the attorneys; those that don’t will usually let their secretary or clerk handle the discussions.