Bonuses, Clerkships, Money, SCOTUS, SCOTUS Clerks Are Fair Game, Supreme Court Clerks

SCOTUS Clerkship Bonus Watch: Still at $250K?

Supreme Court hallway Above the Law Above the Law Above the Law.JPGThe National Law Journal suggests that the down economy could be hitting the pockets of the Elect. Some firms are suggesting that the $250,000 bonus to hire a former Supreme Court clerk is just too expensive in today’s economy:

At firms that have been shaken by the downturn, however, a $250,000 bonus will be hard to sell, some practitioners say. “Intuitively, it doesn’t feel right to pay that kind of bonus when you are trying to make economies wherever you can at the firm,” said veteran advocate Carter Phillips, managing partner at Sidley Austin’s Washington office. Thomas Goldstein of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, where there have been cuts, agrees that it’s tough to justify a $250,000 bonus when a firm is considering letting go a staff person paid $50,000. Because of that juxtaposition, he predicted bonuses will shrink — though he said it’s too early in the hiring season to say how much. “The number of firms willing to pay that amount of money will be down.”

But surely these firms aren’t talking about collusion, are they? SCOTUS clerks command top dollar, and firms that are struggling can’t artificially deflate the price for this top talent — even if they want to:

Firms won’t be sorry to wave goodbye to what Goldstein calls the “incredible escalation” that the $250,000 bonus represents. Even before the recession, firms were grumbling about it because of a recurring pattern: Some clerks grab the bonus, work at the firm for a year or three, then skip off to academia with loans paid off and kids’ tuition in the bank. “Firms are going to be more interested in clerks staying around and practicing law,” [former solicitor general Paul] Clement said.

While some firms might be priced out of the Elect market, we are still talking about a “recession-proof” set of credentials.

More after the jump.

Even if the bonus doesn’t go up this year, clerks should still be able to find some suitors willing to meet their demands:

“A Supreme Court clerkship is a recession-proof credential,” David Frederick said firmly. The Kellogg, Huber, Hansen, Todd, Evans & Figel partner declined to say specifically how much of a bonus his firm will offer this year, but added, “We’re hoping to hire a couple of clerks this term.”

King & Spalding’s Paul Clement, the former solicitor general, concurs. “The clerks will still be in great demand,” he said, though he added, “I don’t think the bonus is going up.”

Comparatively speaking, SCOTUS clerks should do just fine. Their employment prospects are beyond solid, and you’ll be hard pressed to find other lawyers without a book of business that can command a signing bonus of any description.

But the Elect might want to show a little humility in today’s economy. You just don’t want to hear anybody complaining about only receiving a $200,000 signing bonus. Not when people are getting fired to help firms save $50,000 here or there.

Less buck for their bang [National Law Journal]
Fewer Law Firms Expected to Pay $250K Hiring Bonuses for High Court Clerks [ABA Journal]

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