Owing to my co-ELS bloggers' modesty, it falls to me to highlight a recent paper by Henderson (IU-Bloomington), Zorn (Penn St.), and Czarnezki (Vermont). In the spirit and growing tradition that distinguish empirical work, their paper, Working Class Judges, builds on prior work (by Scott Baker) and leverages the dataset that Baker makes publicly available (an emerging norm that fuels empirical work).
In a prior paper, Baker concludes that "higher judicial salaries would have virtually no effect on the performance of federal appellate judges." After reanalyzing Baker's data, Henderson, Zorn, and Czarnezki "qualify Baker's interpretation of his results, at least with regard to judges located in the 'Top Five' legal markets of New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.
In his original analysis, Baker relies upon the average law firm partnership compensation, adjusted for years in practice and region, to estimate the forgone income - and hence opportunity costs - of each federal judge. Baker explicitly anticipated the possibility that this variable would understate the opportunity cost in large legal markets; thus, he included a Top Five variable plus an interaction term, which captures the effect of forgone earnings when a judge is located in one of the nation's five largest legal markets. Baker's discussion, however, does not formally address the significance of the interaction term, which requires some additional steps to properly interpret.
Based on our reanalysis of Baker's specifications, it appears that judges in the largest legal markets often behave differently than their smaller market counterparts. Specifically, the lower judicial salaries in Top Five markets strongly correlate with behavior Baker characterizes as "ideological" or "influence-motivated." Conversely, while lower judicial salaries in small markets correlate with longer delays in issuing opinions, the exact opposite effect describes the behavior of judges in Top Five metropolitan areas."