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15 May 2006


lucas law center

That was a good news, my friend work as a clerk.


Geoff McGovern

You're right, Bill. From the firm's perspective, the value of a clerk seems hazy at best--particularly since the associate training program must essentially begin anew. The training and experience of working at the Court probably does not directly translate into firm work.

But I think we might be able to get a better handle on the clerkship question. One avenue might be to gather data on the practice groups these former SCOTUS clerks are joining. Logically, I'd expect many of them to join the appellate litigation groups of the high powered firms (we know who they are). If there is valuable institutional knowledge to be gained from the clerkship experience (knowledge of a justice's prefered argumentation style, knowledge of the political attitudes of the justices on specific issues), appellate practice groups seems to be the outlet for that talent. This, of course, is not a measure of the human capital, per se, but rather a rough measure of the demand for clerks.

Then again, if the clerks are going to more varied practice groups, I struggle to see the value of the clerkship to the firm. These clerks obviously have a stellar academic record and likely have demonstrated themselves to be dedicated and ambitious workers, but those qualities abound in students without clerkships.

William Henderson

Geoff, that is a fair point. The only difficulty is that a CoA appointment is essentially (or has become) a precondition of a SCOTUS clerkship. Clerkship #1 does not pay off financially until Clerkship #2 is landed, which is still speculative even with a feeder judge.

What I wonder about is the economic rationale for the bonus. $200K is one hell of a cliff. I am skeptical (no, completely disbelieving) that there is much qualitative difference between the CoA clerks that won the SCOTUS lottery and those that didn't--except institutional knowledge gained by the experience, which I admit could be useful.

It would be great to figure out a way to measure this type of human capital.

Geoff McGovern

Bill, I'm not surprised at the magnitude of the signing bonus, but we've forgotten to consider the career path to SCOTUS clerkships. My classmates presently at the Court each had CoA clerkships with "feeder" judges, meaning that they are two years removed from graduation. Assuming CoA clerkships pay around $40K (I really don't know how accurate this figure is), the gross two-year compensation plus signing bonus is around $300K ($40K CoA + $63K SCOTUS + $200K Bonus = $303K). That averages out to $150K/yr--about what an associate at the top firms make.

Assuming that those hulking law school loans continue to accrue interest, the clerkship seems more like a short term sacrifice than a boon. Granted, I'm certain that there are more long-term perks available to SCOTUS clerks; but at least in the compensation race, clerks aren't coming out ahead.

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