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Obama's Lawyer Picks Take Pay Cuts, Temporarily

Many of the high-powered lawyers joining the Obama administration will be taking substantial pay cuts for the privilege of public service, reports the Washington Post. (See The American Lawyer's previous coverage here). But with expected salaries between $150,000 and $196,000, they're not likely to garner much sympathy from other lawyers or the general public. Moreover, a number of the lawyers joining the administration will receive generous severance packages from their previous employers, which will cushion the blow of pay cuts.

Take Eric Holder, for example. As partner at Washington, D.C.-based Covington & Burling, Holder earned $3.3 million, and he reported severance pay of $1.3 million in documents filed with the Senate Judiciary Committee. Presumably, the extra cash will make life on his new salary of $196,700 more palatable. Likewise, Jeh Johnson, a partner at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison who currently earns $2.6 million, will get severance of $1 million if confirmed as top lawyer in the Department of Defense, where he'll make $153,200.

Thomas J. Perrelli is eligible for an estimated "withdrawal payment" of $768,200 from Chicago-based Jenner & Block if confirmed as associate attorney general. As a partner, Perelli earned $1.4 million; his salary as associate attorney general will be $162,900. Finally, Ron Kirk, Obama's choice for U.S. trade representative, would receive a $150,000 bonus from law firm Vinson & Elkins, of Houston, which would also accelerate the vesting of his defined contribution plan. Kirk will earn $196,700 as trade rep.

At most, these lawyers will keep their positions anywhere from four to eight years, depending upon the length of the president's term. Moreover, unless they find themselves involved in Alberto Gonzales-type scandals, they'll have multiple employment opportunities and command an even higher salary when they leave the government. Seems like for these fortunate lawyers, public service may certainly be a privilege, but it's hardly a sacrifice.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on February 10, 2009 at 12:09 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

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