Clerkships

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!

Alex Kozinski Alex S Kozinski Judge Above the Law hot hottie superhottie federal judiciary.jpgYesterday we put up a post about the mishaps of a federal judge and her family on a recent plane trip. You can read that post by clicking here.
A number of you found it amusing. But not everyone was so pleased.
This morning we received an email from Judge Alex Kozinski, of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Judge Kozinski is one of the most highly respected members of the federal judiciary. He is a brilliant thinker, a great writer, and a colorful character. He is a top-ranked feeder judge, and a former Supreme Court clerk himself. Most importantly, he is the reigning Superhottie of the Federal Judiciary.
We reprint Judge Kozinski’s letter below (and after the jump). We are running the letter without interruption, in unredacted form. In a later post, we will reprint his letter again, but with our paragraph-by-paragraph commentary.
And now, Judge Kozinski:

Dear David:

I’ve been a long-time fan of your efforts to demystify and humanize the federal judiciary. Which is why I was so shocked and disappointed by your recent posting about my colleague, Judge [Marsha] Berzon. The part dealing with the incident on the airplane is a vicious and wholly gratuitous personal attack on Judge Berzon and her family. Assuming it bears some nodding resemblance to the truth, which I seriously doubt, it is so laden with pejoratives and half-witticisms that it seems designed only to wound and deride, rather than to enlighten. Federal judges may be public figures who must endure whatever criticism is leveled at us for our work product, but what possible justification is there for holding up members of our families for public ridicule?

Will a single one of your readers have been enlightened or helped in any way by learning what a lawyer who may be nursing a grudge against the judge based on his appearances before her, thinks about her family’s airplane demeanor?

We reprint the rest of Judge Kozinski’s letter after the jump.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Flying the Friendly, Federal Judicial Skies: An Open Letter from Judge Alex Kozinski”

supreme court hallway.jpgYesterday we put up a list of all the Supreme Court clerk hiring news that we have so far (for October Term 2007). We will update this post, or republish the list in a full post, as we receive more information.
After we put up the list, we received several corrections and additions (for which we thank you). We’ve revised the original list accordingly. But for those of you who haven’t looked back at the list since we first published it, we’d like to highlight these changes:

1. We’ve added the information that Stephen Cowen, a future clerk to Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, is currently clerking for Chief Judge Douglas Ginsburg (D.C. Cir.). This is information we already had, since Cowen was featured a few months ago in Legal Eagle Wedding Watch. We apologize for omitting it on the first go-round.

(Bloggers work quickly, and we don’t have a separate fact-checking department. Mistakes were, are, and will be made. Sorry.)

2. We’re advised that William Consovoy is now clerking for Justice Clarence Thomas in October Term 2008 (a possibility hinted at in the Wiley Rein press release). So that leaves Eric McArthur, Carrie Severino, Heath Tarbert and Leila Thompson — who has “awesomely fun hair,” we’re told — as the CT clerks for OT 2007.

3. Heidi Bond is a 2006 grad of Michigan (not a 2005 grad, as originally reported). Also, she used to blog at Letters of Marque. Now that she’s clerking for Judge Alex Kozinski, she has neither the time nor the ability to continue blogging (or sleeping or showering).

Do you have further corrections or additions — maybe some hiring news from Chief Justice John Roberts, on whom we have nothing so far? If so, please email us. Gracias.
Earlier: More SCOTUS Clerk Hiring News: October Term 2007 Hires

supreme court hallway.jpgWe’re continuing to profile the current class of Supreme Court law clerks. We’ve written up the Alito clerks for October Term 2006 already, and we’re working on profiles of the Breyer clerks.
(We reiterate our prior request for tips about the SGB crew, especially Thiru Vignarajah. We probably have enough material about the other three.)
Looking ahead to the future, here’s what we know so far about the justices’ hiring of law clerks for October Term 2007. Most of it is taken from Wikipedia.
Caveat lector: Wikipedia, of course, can be edited by pretty much anyone. So please note that much of the information appearing below is UNCONFIRMED. We have added links to additional, confirmatory sources where available, so you can weigh for yourself the reliability of the information.
Justice John Paul Stevens
1. Todd Gluth (Boalt Hall 2005 / W. Fletcher)
2. Sara Klein (Cardozo 2005 / Barry (3d Cir.) / Lifland (D.N.J.))
3. Kate Shaw (Northwestern 2006 / Posner)
4. Abby Wright (U. Penn. 2006 / Boudin)
Justice Antonin Scalia
1. Aditya Bamzai (University of Chicago/Sutton/OLC)
2. John Bash (Harvard 2006 / Kavanaugh)
3. Bryan Killian (Harvard / Niemeyer)
4. Rachel Kovner (Stanford / Wilkinson)
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy
1. Michael Chu (Harvard / D. Ginsburg)
2. Stephen Cowen (U. Chicago / D. Ginsburg)
2. Andrianna (“Annie”) Kastanek (Northwestern 2005 / Ripple)
3. C.J. Mahoney (Yale 2006 / Kozinski)
Justice Clarence Thomas
1. William S. Consovoy (George Mason 2001 / E. Jones)
2. Eric McArthur (Chicago 2005 / Luttig)
3. Carrie Severino (Harvard 2005 / Sentelle)
4. Heath Tarbert (U. Penn 2001 / D. Ginsburg)
5. Leila Thompson (NYU / Lambert (D.D.C.) / Sentelle)
Update: Upon information and belief, William Consovoy is now scheduled to clerk for Justice Thomas in October Term 2008, not October Term 2007. For more, see here.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
1. Brian Fletcher (Harvard 2006 / Garland)
2. Zack Trip (Columbia 2005 / Kearse)
Justice Stephen G. Breyer
1. Eric Feigin (Stanford 2005 / Wilkinson)
Justice Samuel Alito
1. David H. Moore (BYU 1996 / Alito)
2. Jessica Phillips (Northwestern 2006 / Flaum)
Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (retired):
1. Heidi Bond (U. Michigan 2006 / Kozinski)
(Random observation: WOW. This is shaping up as the best Term ever for Northwestern Law School, with three of its graduates landing SCOTUS clerkships so far. And U. Penn is doing quite well, too.)
As we all know, Wikipedia is not infallible. So if you have corrections (or additions) to any of the OT 2007 law clerk information appearing above, please email us. Thanks.
Update: SCOTUS Clerk Hiring News: An Errata Sheet
List of law clerks of the Supreme Court of the United States [Wikipedia]

Chambermaid cover art Saira Rao Chambermaid Saira Rao.JPGSaira Rao, who wrote the New York Post article we discussed this morning, has a juicy debut novel coming out this summer. Check out the blurb for Chambermaid:

The devil holds a gavel in this wickedly entertaining debut novel about a young attorney’s eventful year clerking for a federal judge. Sheila Raj is a recent graduate of a top-ten law school with dreams of working for the ACLU, but law school did not prepare her for the power-hungry sociopath, Judge Helga Friedman, who greets her on her first day. While her beleaguered colleagues begin quitting their jobs, Sheila is assigned to a high-profile death penalty case and suddenly realizes that she has to survive the year as Friedman’s chambermaid — not just her sanity, but actual lives hang in the balance.

With Chambermaid, debut novelist Saira Rao breaks the code of silence surrounding the clerkship and boldly takes us into the mysterious world of the third branch of US government, where the leaders are not elected and can never be fired. With its biting wit and laugh-out-loud humor, this novel will change everything you think you know about how great lawyers, and great judges, are made.

Saira Rao is well-equipped to write about the world of the federal judiciary. She previously clerked on the Third Circuit for Judge Dolores Sloviter — who has been described as a “judicial diva” and a “tough cookie”.
After clerking for Judge Sloviter, Saira worked at Cleary Gottlieb. She’s a graduate of UVA and NYU Law School.
“Chambermaid” sounds delicious. We’re counting down the days until July 2007!
Chambermaid: A Novel [Amazon.com]
Saira Rao bio [Findlaw]
Saira Rao profile [Friendster]
Update (4:55 PM): The WSJ Law Blog has put up a post that also links to Saira Rao’s NYP article and the Amazon blurb for her forthcoming novel.
Earlier: Biglaw Associates: Take the Money and Run

michael lee mike lee christopher paolella chris paolella matthew schwartz matt schwartz gordon todd.JPGsamuel alito jr samuel a alito jr justice alito.jpgSorry it has taken us so long. As promised months ago, we now begin our series profiling current Supreme Court clerks (aka the “October Term 2006″ or “OT 2006″ law clerks).
We’ll be going chambers by chambers, starting with the most junior justice. Here are the four law clerks to Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr.:

1. Michael S. Lee (BYU ’97/Benson (D. Utah)/Alito)

2. Christopher J. Paolella (Harvard ’99/Alito)

3. Matthew A. Schwartz (Columbia ’03/Alito)

4. Gordon D. Todd (UVA ’00/Beam)

As a member of the Alito extended family explained to us, here’s the key to understanding the Alito chambers: 3:1. This golden ratio perfectly captures the demographics of the OT 2006 Alito clerks. Consider:

1. Familial status: three are married with children, one is not (Chris Paolella — married, but no kids yet).

2. Undergraduate institution: three are Princetonians, one is not (Michael Lee — BYU).

3. Prior Alito clerkship: three previously clerked for then-Judge Alito on the Third Circuit, one did not (Gordon Todd).

4. Religious affiliation: three are Christian,* one is not (Matthew Schwartz — he’s Jewish).

5. College debate: three were gods of the parliamentary debate circuit, and former presidents of the American Parliamentary Debate Assocation (APDA); one was not (Michael Lee).

But we wouldn’t want such commonalities to overshadow the individuality of these gents. Check out our profiles of Messrs. Lee, Paolella, Schwartz, and Todd — after the jump.
* Mitt Romney footnote: Michael Lee is Mormon, which we consider to be Christian. Presidential candidate Romney hopes that evangelical Christians voting in the Republican primaries will agree with us.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Justice Alito’s OT 2006 Law Clerks”

Last week we asked you for funny Halloween-related stories, including descriptions of wacky costumes or festivities. We were disappointed by your responses.
So we had to turn to our neighbor to the north. These days, Canada is ascendant. Canadians are beating out Americans for jobs at top U.S. law firms. They have Supreme Court justices cool enough to take nude cruises.
And now they’re winning the Halloween costume arms race. Check out this photo:
halloween costumes tax court of canada.jpg
Who are these people? Why, they’re none other than the costumed clerks of the Tax Court of Canada. An explanation of their attire, from TaxProf Blog:

Back Row (from left to right): Captain Income Splitting, Canada Revenue Agency Collections Agent, the Proposed Tax Credit for Child Fitness, Scientific Research Deduction, and Farmer Gunn (of Gunn v. R., 2006 FCA 281).

Front Row (left to right): Valuation Day 1971, Tax on Royalties, and the Competent Authority for the Canada-Barbados Tax Treaty.

Canada: Even their tax lawyers are cooler than our tax lawyers.
Halloween and Taxes, Part II [TaxProf Blog]
Earlier: Prior Above the Law coverage of Canada (scroll down)

While we were in Portland, Oregon, for the law clerk reunion in celebration of Ninth Circuit Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain’s 20th anniversary on the bench, we took oodles and oodles of pictures. We shared two of them with you yesterday.
We’ll be publishing more photographs from the reunion in the near future. Unfortunately, it’s taking us hours — literally — to review, resize, and upload dozens and dozens of pics (another reason why we’d love some help around here).
For the time being, here’s a (slightly fuzzy) photo, along with some Supreme Court clerk hiring news:
Marah Stith and AJ Bellia.JPG
The hottie on the left, with the beautifully toned arms (even more buff in person), is current O’Scannlain clerk Marah Stith. The motorcycle-riding Marah has just been hired by Justice Clarence Thomas for an October Term 2009 clerkship. Congratulations, Marah!
The boyishly cute gentleman on her right: Notre Dame Law School professor AJ Bellia, also one of the Elect. Professor Bellia clerked at all three levels of the Article III judiciary, for Judge William Skretny (W.D.N.Y.), Judge Diarmuid F. O’Scannlain (9th Circuit), and Justice Antonin Scalia (OT 1997).
Professor Bellia is married to another legal academic superstar: fellow Notre Dame law prof (and member of the Elect) Patricia Bellia (nee Patricia Small). After graduating from Yale Law School, where she was editor-in-chief of the Yale Law Journal, she clerked for Judge José Cabranes of the Second Circuit, followed by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (OT 1996).
Here is their NYT wedding announcement (of course). The Bellias, in addition to being brilliant and well-loved by the ND student body, have two adorable daughters: Katherine and Molly.
Katherine is only three years old (almost four), and Molly is not even a year old. But given the impressive pedigrees of their parents — A.J. and Tricia Bellia, the Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf of the legal academy — we expect Katherine and Molly to go on to greatness.
Chief Justice Roberts, Justice Alito: Do either of you have clerkship openings for OT 2026 and OT 2029?

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