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High Court Clerks = Law Firm Trophies

In her Washington Post piece yesterday, No Justice In These Pay Scales, Dahlia Lithwick questions the signing bonuses of at least $200,000 that elite law firms will pay this year to recruit Supreme Court law clerks. For the former law clerks, it makes for "an awful lot of Pottery Barn furniture," she writes, but it makes "the already puzzling economics of elite law firm cachet ... truly incomprehensible."

Lithwick cites gossip blogger Davit Lat, of, for calling these hires trophy purchases, "something for a firm to crow about," that stopped making economic sense several decimal points ago. This is particularly so, as Lithwick notes, given that Supreme Court ethics rules prohibit former clerks from participating "in any professional capacity in any case" before the court for two years after they leave.

But what of the potential for compromise before these clerks leave the court? At his blog LawBeat, Mark Obbie poses what he labels the "real clerk-pay scandal":

"[A]ren't they compromised in their SCOTUS jobs by the knowledge that in a few short months, some -- but only some -- of the lawyers before them will be ready and quite willing to shove bags of cash into their paws? Here we have clerks helping justices research and decide cases. Many of the cases come to the Court courtesy of one of these firms."

Several former clerks tell Lithwick these megabonuses are not so wrong. The money gave them the freedom to pay off their loans and then teach or work for the government. But Justice Anthony M. Kennedy thinks otherwise. Last month, he told the Senate Judiciary Committee: "Something is wrong when a judge's law clerk, just one or two years out of law school, has a salary greater than that of the judge or justice he or she served the year before."

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on March 12, 2007 at 05:54 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)


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