Clerkships

100 dollar bill Above the Law Above the Law law firm salary legal blog legal tabloid Above the Law.JPGApparently Sullivan & Cromwell is no longer the only Biglaw shop paying a $50,000 clerkship bonus. According to multiple sources, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett — which in January kicked off the latest round of base salary increases for associates — has followed suit.
If S&C were the only member of the $50K club, competitor firms could afford not to follow suit. We agree with what this tipster had to say (prior to the Simpson Thacher match):

“What I gather from this general reluctance on the part of NY firms to match S&C’s $50K clerkship bonus is that there’s an emerging view within the legal market that S&C’s decision to ‘surge’ their bonus rate is, in some sense, an anticipation that they’re going to have a tough recruiting season this fall.”

“This clerkship bonus craze has nothing to do with clerks — and anyone who thinks otherwise is mistaken. What firms do care about is a bunch of newbie 2Ls (who are a month or so away from wrapping up 1L year right now), with nothing more than a pedestrian understanding on how Firm A differs from Firm B, going to S&C’s website and seeing that they offer $50K and then going to, say, Davis Polk’s and seeing that they offer less than a third of that.”

“My hunch is that if one more top firm matches S&C, then the rest will soon follow. The big question is who moves first — and when.”

We concur in this analysis. Now that Simpson has joined Sullivan & Cromwell, resisting the clerkship bonus trend will prove more difficult (at least for other top ten New York firms). Expect places like Cravath, Davis Polk, and Cleary Gottlieb to fall into line.
Have you heard of anyone else matching? Please email us (subject line: “Clerkship Bonus”). Thanks.
Earlier: Skaddenfreude: A Clerkship Bonus Special Report

100 dollar bill Above the Law Above the Law law firm salary legal blog legal tabloid Above the Law.JPGThis is the rather belated update to our earlier report on the clerkship bonus policies of large law firms. We apologize for the delay, and we thank you for your patience and your tips.
A summary of our findings:

1. No large law firm has matched the new Sullivan & Cromwell clerkship bonus of $50,000 for one clerkship, at least as far as we’ve been able to confirm.

(a) But if you have two years of clerkship experience, think about Weil Gotshal. They would pay you a bonus of $70,000 ($35,000 x 2).

(b) In saying that no big firm has matched S&C, we aren’t counting Kellogg Huber, which pays a $100,000 clerkship bonus, and Susman Godfrey, which pays a $50,000 clerkship bonus, since they’re really boutiques.

(c) We aren’t counting intellectual property firms, some of whom pay $70,000 bonuses for Federal Circuit clerkships, because they are a world unto themselves.

2. Any firm worth its salt should offer a clerkship bonus of at least $35,000. This is what numerous big firms already do, and it should be considered the “market” rate. A bonus of anything less than $35K is chintzy and lame.

A firm-by-firm rundown, after the jump.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Skaddenfreude: A Clerkship Bonus Special Report”

100 dollar bill Above the Law Above the Law law firm salary legal blog legal tabloid Above the Law.JPGLast week, we asked you for information about the clerkship bonus policies of large law firms. We also made a few phone calls and sent out a few emails, to obtain information from the law firms themselves.
A summary of our findings:

1. No large law firm has matched the new Sullivan & Cromwell clerkship bonus of $50,000, at least as far as we’ve been able to confirm.

(a) There was a rumor about Paul Weiss matching S&C, but no one has confirmed it to us.

(b) We aren’t counting Kellogg Huber, which pays a $100,000 clerkship bonus, and Susman Godfrey, which pays a $50,000 clerkship bonus, since they’re really boutiques.

(c) We aren’t counting intellectual property firms, some of whom pay $70,000 bonuses for Federal Circuit clerkships, because they are a world unto themselves.

Update: As this commenter notes, if you have two years of clerkship experience, then Weil is where it’s at: $70,000 ($35,000 x 2).

2. As one Biglaw partner pointed out to us, it’s early to be thinking about clerkship bonuses, because we’re not yet at the point in the year when law clerks change over (typically in the summer or fall). So hopefully some firms will match S&C before it’s all over.

3. Any firm worth its salt should offer a clerkship bonus of at least $35,000. This is what numerous big firms already do, and it should be considered the “market” rate. A bonus of anything less than $35K is chintzy and lame.

Firm by firm details, after the jump.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Skaddenfreude: A Special Report on Clerkship Bonuses”

100 dollar bill Above the Law Above the Law law firm salary legal blog legal tabloid Above the Law.JPGOn the heels of Sullivan & Cromwell’s announcement of its new $50,000 clerkship bonus, we will endeavor to find out what other large law firms are doing on this front.
If you know your law firm’s current clerkship bonus policy, please email us (subject line: “Clerkship Bonus”). We will serve as a clearinghouse for clerkship bonus information. We will collect your tips, organize them, resolve conflicts where they exist, and perhaps do some fact-checking where necessary.
(Our preference is for you to email this information to us, rather than to post it in the comments. Email allows us to pose follow-up questions of sources, which we can’t do with someone who posts a comment anonymously. As always, we do not reveal the names of sources, unless they request attribution. Thanks.)

100 dollar bill Above the Law Above the Law law firm salary legal blog legal tabloid Above the Law.JPGEarlier this week, we wrote about Sullivan & Cromwell’s new $50,000 clerkship bonus. We have confirmed this news with multiple sources, so you can take it to the bank.
This message about the S&C clerkship bonus bump included an amusing digression:

“You may be interested to know that S&C just called its incoming associates who are clerking to inform them of the 50K bonus. Since I accepted my offer from them, I have never once heard a peep from them about salary.”

“But they did send me a Christmas basket. Which turned out to be pretty pathetic, consisting of a soda pop, a tin of caramel corn, a Hershey bar, and a dvd of The Paper Chase.”

“I’m still puzzling over the last one. Maybe they’re trying to insinuate that firm life isn’t much worse than law school?”

So which S&C partner is the Professor Kingsfield of 125 Broad Street?
Earlier: Skaddenfreude: Sullivan & Cromwell’s Clerkship Bonus

We find this hard to believe, but there are people out there who are even more obsessed than we are with law clerks. Like this person.
The lists are not complete, and the information could be presented in a more user-friendly fashion. But we suspect that some of you will find this blog very interesting anyway. And it certainly has great potential as a future resource — a la the fantastic Wikipedia listing of Supreme Court law clerks.
We’ll be keeping an eye on this site going forward.
I Seek Validation Through Clerkship Placement [main page]

100 dollar bill Above the Law Above the Law law firm salary legal blog legal tabloid Above the Law.JPGWord on the street is that Sullivan & Cromwell is now paying a $50,000 clerkship bonus. In addition to Greedy Clerks, the news has surfaced in comments on this blog, and we’ve also heard about it via email. So the tip seems fairly reliable to us.
We first learned the news from a tipster with two prior clerkships, which raised the possibility that the $50K bonus reflected more than one clerkship. But it now appears that it’s actually a flat $50,000 bonus for anyone with a prior clerkship (i.e., a second clerkship doesn’t give you a second clerkship bonus (unless it’s a Supreme Court clerkship)).
Considering that a significant number of S&C associates come to the firm after having clerked, this rather large clerkship bonus is almost like a second pay raise (on the heels of the recent Simpson Thacher-induced salary bump). It appears to be second only to Kellogg Huber’s $100,000 clerkship bonus, and certainly the largest such bonus in New York.
So who cares about a few nasty partners? Sullivan & Cromwell is telling former clerks: “There’s $50,000. Bend over and pick it up — I’m sure you like that.” And many clerks will probably respond, “You bet we do! Fifty grand is pretty much equal to a law clerk’s annual salary.”
Feel free to discuss this development, or other clerkship bonus news and rumors, in this open thread.
S & C Raises Clerkship Bonuses! [Infirmation / Greedy Clerks]

Supreme Court hallway Above the Law Above the Law Above the Law.JPGOr, perhaps more importantly, their $200,000 signing bonuses? That’s the question Dahlia Lithwick takes on in her recent Jurisprudence column for Slate.
The sums in question are even larger than Lithwick notes. She writes:

That will be [a] $200,000 [bonus] on top of a starting salary of $145,000 to $160,000. Which adds up to an awful lot of Pottery Barn sectional furniture for someone who is, on average, 26 years old and just two years out of school. As Chief Justice John Roberts pointed out recently, that $360,000 beats the heck out of the $212,100 he’s taking home for, well, chief justice-ing the entire nation.

Actually, the starting salaries are even higher, since pretty much all firms give Supreme Court clerks seniority credit for their two years of clerking. So a clerk who went straight through to a feeder judge, the SCOTUS, and a private law firm would be paid like a third-year associate: $170,000 in Washington, or $185,000 in New York (or in the D.C. office of a New York firm).
Lithwick interviews Walter Dellinger and Carter Phillips, who offer various justifications for the outsized bonuses as an economic matter. We have our doubts — and are quoted as a dissenting opinion:

On his legal gossip blog, Abovethelaw.com, David Lat tracks lawyer salaries with the glee most of us reserve for American Idol. And according to him, the hefty law clerk bonus stopped making any real economic sense several decimal points ago. Lat notes that these new associates just don’t bill extraordinary hours; that boutique appellate practice isn’t that lucrative; and a good many former clerks have academic aspirations. “They’re billing 1,800 hours, not 2,500, and a lot of them are probably already working on their job talks,” he says, referring to their sales pitches for the academic market.

The real allure of the Supreme Court clerk, says Lat, is that they are trophy purchases, “something for a firm to crow about in their recruiting materials.” Ouch. If Lat is correct about this, the boutique firms are buying former Supreme Court clerks when they might be better off investing in something more enduring, like new leather sofas for their lobbies.

We stand by these remarks, but maybe we’d remove the “Ouch.” These bonuses don’t make pure economic sense (in our opinion); but neither do many other things that law firms spend gobs of money on. If a firm wants to drop $200,000 on a SCOTUS clerk, or on an Alexander Calder for the lobby, that’s their prerogative.
We’re quoted later in Lithwick’s piece:

[S]ome firms, notes Lat, have decided to stop pursing the Supreme Court clerks and spend their recruiting dollars on what he characterizes as the near misses. “For every one of the 36 smartest law kids,” he says, “there is another equally smart law kid who just had a bad interview [for a Court clerkship].” And if law firms make the economic decision to give bonuses to them, “they get all the benefits of a knock-off Prada purse: They perform the same function, they look great, and you know they’ll do a great job.”

We’d single out Kellogg Huber of D.C. as one such firm. Some of you have expressed curiosity about who pays the biggest clerkship bonuses. We believe it’s Kellogg Huber. This tiny, super-elite Washington litigation boutique is rumored to pay clerkship bonuses of $100,000 to federal appeals court clerks — and for that kind of money, combined with the firm’s small size, it can afford to be picky. The non-SCOTUS clerks at the firm tend to be those who came thisclose to landing a job at One First Street (e.g., feeder-judge clerks who interviewed unsuccessfully for Supreme Court gigs).
Update: Do you have an opinion on whether Supreme Court clerkship bonuses are too high, too low, or just right? You can express it by voting in our poll. To vote, click here.
What to make of those astronomical Supreme Court signing bonuses? [Slate]

Federal Judges on a Plane.jpgSome time ago, we posted an anecdote about the family travel mishaps of Judge Marsha Berzon, of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
Many ATL readers enjoyed the story. But Judge Berzon’s colleague, Judge Alex Kozinski — one of the federal judiciary’s most brilliant thinkers and talented writers — was less pleased. He sent us an open letter criticizing the story and our decision to publish it.
We posted Judge Kozinski’s letter here, and we promised a more detailed response.
We intended to publish a response much earlier. But having to respond to a benchslapping at the hands of a brilliant federal judge tends to induce “writer’s block.” Who’d have thunk it?
Anyway, we finally got over our writer’s block. Our response appears after the jump.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “A Response to Judge Alex Kozinski”

100 dollar bill Above the Law Above the Law law firm salary legal blog legal tabloid Above the Law.JPGWe have to step away for a bit. So we’ll do what we typically do under such circumstances, and set up an open thread.
Earlier today, a number of you expressed an interest in chatting about Biglaw clerkship bonuses. Feel free to use this thread as a forum for that conversation. You can compare notes on what different firms offer, voice complaints about insufficient bonuses for law clerks, etc,
If there’s enough interesting material, then perhaps we’ll do some follow-up coverage, too. Thanks!

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