Ten years is a long time. Ten years can take a kid from birth to fourth grade. I wrote my first blog post ten years ago yesterday; it feels like a lifetime ago.

What does a decade mean in the career of a Supreme Court clerk? One law professor has done some stalking of research into the SCOTUS clerk class of October Term 2004 and what they’re up to today. Here’s what he found out….

Last year, Professor Derek Muller did a ten-year retrospective on the OT 2003 clerks. He followed that up this year with a ten-year retrospective on the OT 2004 clerks. Using publicly available material, he tried to figure out what that class of clerks is up to today. (You can check out the full list of clerks here; if you catch any errors, let him know or let us know.)

What were Professor Muller’s big-picture findings? From his Excess of Democracy post:

Unlike the October term 2003 class, there’s not quite the clear divide upon roles for clerks to “conservative” (Rehnquist, O’Connor, Kennedy, Scalia, Thomas) and “liberal” (Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, Breyer) justices. (These are, of course, imperfect terms.) That gives us 35 clerks, 19 clerking for “conservative” justices and 16 for “liberal” justices.

For those still in private practice, 11 are from “conservative” justices (same as last year), and 7 from “liberal” justices (up from 3), good for 18 placements.

An 11-7 divide is much closer than the 11-3 divide for the OT 2003 class. In both classes, more conservatives than liberals wound up in private practice, which isn’t surprising — especially at the ten-year mark. One could imagine liberal clerks taking the money — $300,000, last time we checked[1] — and then running, abandoning Biglaw after a few years for public interest or academic positions. Conservatives would be more comfortable with long-term careers in the type of private practice that ex-SCOTUS clerks wind up doing.[2]

So are all the liberals trooping off to academia? Not quite, per Professor Muller:

For academia, the interest is down dramatically from the 14 placements last year — there are just 3 in academia from OT2004: two from Breyer, one from Kennedy, two of them at Ivies.

Could the shrinking of the law schools (and their faculties) be hurting SCOTUS clerks who are aspiring academics? Maybe it could affect clerks going on the market today, but OT 2004 clerks probably went on the market in 2007-2009, before things got really tough.

In government/public interest, the total is 7 from “conservatives” (up from 3) and 7 from “liberals” (up from 4).

Is there an inertia to clerk classes? Is there a reason that government employees basically doubled between the OT2003 and OT2004 classes, while those entering academia plummeted 80%? Is comparing anecdata for two years’ sets of clerks worth much more than a few minutes of baseless Internet speculation? Rest easy — it is certainly little more than that.

If you are interested in the career paths of SCOTUS clerks, scholars are conducting additional research. At the Marquette Law conference on clerking that I attended back in April, Artemus Ward and Kiranjit Gill of Northern Illinois University presented a draft paper tracking the legal careers of SCOTUS clerks from 1986 to 2011; that paper should appear in a future issue of the Marquette Law Review.

Let’s close with a quick administrative announcement. We have almost enough new hires to put out a new SCOTUS clerk hiring update. If you have a hire for October Term 2014 or October Term 2015 that we have not yet reported — check this post to see whom we’ve already mentioned — please email us (subject line “SCOTUS Clerk Hiring”) or text us (646-820-8477). Thanks.


[1] We’re hearing rumors that SCOTUS clerk bonuses might go even higher this year. If you have some solid info to share, drop us a line.

[2] Random question: why don’t liberal SCOTUS clerks try to make a killing doing plaintiffs’ work? Yes, some SCOTUS clerks are nerds who don’t have the interpersonal and on-their-feet skills required of great trial lawyers, but there are exceptions — like Steve Susman of Susman Godfrey, a former clerk to Justice Hugo Black who represents plaintiffs and defendants and goes to trial often.

Where are they now? Supreme Court clerks, OT2004 [Excess of Democracy]
Where are they now? Supreme Court clerks, OT2003 [Excess of Democracy]


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