Okay, this will be of interest just to lawyers. Just Philadelphia lawyers, probably. There's a new book out:
Saira Rao, 33, graduate of New York University Law School, daughter of Indian American parents, is a former news producer for Washington's CBS affiliate and Miami's Fox News station. She held a prestigious clerkship from 2002 to 2003 with Judge [Dolores K.] Sloviter, 75, of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia.
Rao, who grew up in Richmond, Va., has just published Chambermaid (Grove, $22), a highly entertaining, often insightful, frequently sarcastic and at times extremely nasty first novel about folks at the Third Circuit.
It's narrated by Sheila Raj, an Indian American graduate of Columbia Law School, and former TV news producer from Reston, Va., who serves a year as law clerk to famously liberal Judge Helga Friedman of the Third Circuit. It depicts Judge Friedman as a "sociopathic, homicidal, bipolar jurist" and "toxic bitch." ...
Raj describes Friedman as "definitely insane," the "craziest person" at the federal courthouse at Sixth and Market, a "robed rascal who wouldn't hesitate blowing up anybody who failed to give her due respect."
Okay, if you don't know Sloviter is ... difficult, you don't work in the Third Circuit. She yells at clerks. She gets pissed off if someone leaves an F.3rd volume unshelved. She's a sweet little old lady in public and in chambers she will not hesitate to cut you down to size. Okay?
The problems here are threefold:
- Sloviter's personality wouldn't even merit a mention if she were a man. He'd be called tough and demanding. She's called a bitch.
- Sloviter was the first woman ever to be appointed to the Third Circuit. Midge Rendell and others can be all sweetness and light because of what Dolores Sloviter put up with back in the 70s. Let's give the women pioneers a break on being nice-nice when they had to be hard as rocks to deal with the all-male culture back in the day, shall we? And you know what I especially don't want to hear about? I don't want to hear complaints from some 30-something female lawyer who got a clerkship with then-Chief Judge Sloviter, a great resume item, and who probably hasn't experienced one one-hundredth of the opposition in her career because of her gender.
- Highly pampered, privileged lawyers from places like NYU and Penn walk into their first jobs - like clerkships - and expect people to kiss their asses. But you know what? That's not how it fucking works. Especially in litigation. You can't take being yelled at? Go into tax.
Apparently, Rao is aware enough of this last problem to mention it - and paint herself as some kind of crusader:
If Friedman is both a witch and a word that rhymes with it, Sheila Raj gives the judge a run for her money. Late in the book, Sheila lies to the ACLU about her experience with Friedman to get a post-clerkship job.
Rao agrees that Sheila Raj is over the top, but makes no apologies for Chambermaid. Chatting at a Greek restaurant in Manhattan, she stresses the serious impetus for her novel: outrage that federal judges aren't held accountable for behavior toward coworkers, and anger that prospective clerks can't get negative information about federal judges because law schools fear the judges.
Dude, please. You can't get negative information about federal judges? You have heard of the internet, right? And no one at NYU ever worked for Sloviter before?
"I actually just got pissed off," said Rao, who left her New York law firm, Cleary Gottlieb, in November when the subject of her book became known, and, she said, the firm made her feel unwelcome.
Aww, poor baby. Cleary found out she likes to tell tales about people above her who she has personality conflicts with, so they threw her out on her ass. Big fucking shock. Cleary's in front of the Third Circuit all the time. Good luck finding another big firm job. Hope that book does well, because your legal career is about done.
"I understand why law clerks can't talk about case deliberations," she said. "But why can't law clerks talk about the personalities, the cultural aspects, of being a clerk? Why is there a huge blanket of silence over the third branch of our federal government? . . . I just became obsessed with this idea."
Yeah, you're obsessed with your petty grievances. A clerkship is a year. I bet Sloviter wrote her a good recommendation, too. You know, it's unsurprising when you consider Rao worked at local news stations before law school. Her martyr pose is the kind of shallow, self-serving attempt at vindication you'd expect from some local news program.
Update 7/25/07: So, I am informed by someone who knows that Rao's book has already been translated into 17 languages and she's sold the movie rights; i.e., she got paid very well for her bullshit. Well, good for her. Writers, even whiny-ass titty-baby writers, who write well should get paid. I hope it's enough to keep her in the style to which she's become accustomed; NYC Big Law outfits such as Cleary paid around $200,000 in 2006 for a mid-level associate like Rao before she got canned. You know what a federal appellate court judge, even one with almost 30 years on the bench, made that year? $175,100.
Here's my assignment for any NYTimes.com Style section writer: First The Devil Wears Prada, now this. Why do book publishers have it in for powerful women?
Update: Um, maybe she's not such a good writer after all:
The book is an abomination, one of the worst novels I have ever read, both artistically and morally. The affected style, which runs the gamut from “cutesy” to “bench memo,” would be forgivable if the substance weren’t so dreadful. ...
Helga Friedman is a tragic figure, a top-notch judge whose body is breaking down, increasingly alone, and tormented at every turn by a narrator intent on stripping every shred of dignity from her. Why do we need disgusted descriptions of this poor woman’s dental bridge, or her orthotic shoes, or her hairbun, or the sight of her half-clothed body, or her husband’s underwear? Chambermaid invites the reader to see a human being as physically and spiritually ugly—and then to laugh. By the end, the only humane response is to turn and walk away. Perhaps this is the response Rao wishes her readers to have, but I doubt it.