100 dollar bills clerk clerkship bonuses Abovethelaw Above the Law legal tabloid.jpgIn our recent New York Times op-ed piece praising lavish signing bonuses for Supreme Court clerks, we wrote that the bonuses “are expected to reach $250,000 this year — paid on top of starting salaries approaching $200,000.”

Some people have inquired into the factual basis for our statement. As it turns out, we did some actual reporting to support it. The reporting never made it into the final op-ed piece, but we’re happy to provide the details here.

If you’re curious, read the rest of this post, after the jump.

By way of clarification, we should note that we chose our language carefully. We said that Supreme Court clerkship bonuses “are expected to reach $250,000,” but not that $250,000 will be the “market rate” — i.e., the bonus that pretty much every firm pays out. This time around, there may be some divergence on this front; some firms may balk at going up this much in a single year (since last year’s standard bonus was $200,000).

Here’s what we learned in the course of our reporting:

1. Sullivan & Cromwell kicked off the move to $250,000, by announcing a bonus at this level in a letter to clerks, and stating that it would not allow itself to be beaten by another firm on this front. Thanks, Aaron Charney!

2. At least one other firm (rumored to be Skadden) agreed to match the $250,000, when a prospective hire pointed out the S&C bonus to them.

3. Some clerks who accepted offers from other firms postponed receiving the bonus (or confirming the amount) because they expected it to rise to the $250,000 level.

4. Contracts between Supreme Court clerks and the law firms that hire them often include escalation clauses, to protect clerks who accept their offers before the bonuses rise to a new (and even more) dizzying level.

At this point in time, with OT 2006 now over, more SCOTUS clerks have probably accepted offers from law firms than when we did our initial digging. If you have any additional information about this subject, please drop us a line, by email (subject line: “Supreme Court clerkship bonus”). Thanks.

The Supreme Court’s Bonus Babies [New York Times]


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