Bench Memos

Law & the Courts

Interview on Simple Justice Blog

On the Simple Justice blog run by criminal-defense lawyer Scott H. Greenfield, David Meyer-Lindenberg presents a 10-question written interview of me that probably tells you much more than you’d care to know about my background and career—plus incidental mentions of Vin Scully, Don Drysdale, Bobby Kennedy, Richard Nixon, and Colonel Sanders. Here’s an excerpt in which I discuss my decision to leave private practice in 1990:

While I was on vacation in September 1990, it suddenly hit me with crystal clarity that I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life doing what I was doing. With my characteristic impatience, I then asked myself why I should do it for one second more—and I couldn’t come up with a good answer. So when I got back to the office, I informed my colleagues, to their surprise, that I had decided to leave the firm. Where would I go work? I didn’t know.

I have made three major decisions in my life that were, by conventional standards, foolish but that I’m so glad to have made. Deciding to leave Munger Tolles right on the cusp of an all-but-certain partnership, and with little idea what I would do next, was the first of the three.

The firm generously allowed me to continue working while I explored other job opportunities. I traveled back to D.C. to interview with two offices in the U.S. Department of Justice and one in the White House, but didn’t see any of those working out. I was all set to accept an offer with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles when I received a call in early December from the head of one of the DOJ offices. I wasn’t surprised at all when he began with, “Ed, I’m sorry to say that we’re unable to make you an offer at this time.” But I nearly fell out of my chair when he immediately followed with, “But would you be interested in clerking for Justice Scalia?”

If you had asked me to set aside the constraints of reality and pick my next job, clerking for Justice Scalia would have been at the top of the list. I had interviewed for a Supreme Court clerkship with him in 1986, just after my Wallace clerkship ended and just before his Senate confirmation vote. It never crossed my mind to apply again in 1990, when I was a full five years out of law school, and even if it had, I would have assumed that he had long since completed his hiring for the clerkships beginning in the summer of 1991.

In any event, two weeks later, I interviewed with Justice Scalia and his law clerks, and this time things worked out. I owe many people for my good fortune, Judge Wallace high among them. I never did learn just how my unsuccessful application for a job at DOJ ended up in a Scalia clerkship.

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