The start of the new Term of the Supreme Court of the United States is about a month away. So now is a good time to do a new round-up for Supreme Court clerk hiring. As it turns out, there are more than enough unreported hires for a fresh story.
And there’s other SCOTUS clerk news to share as well. Remember last year, when law firm signing bonuses for SCOTUS clerks hit a new high of $300,000? Well, try to stop yourself from turning green with envy, but some firms are now offering even more than that.
How much are these kids — and yes, many of them are kids, in their mid-twenties — taking home in signing bonuses? Yes, signing bonuses, on top of their usual six-figure associate salaries….
Supreme Court clerks are some of the brightest young legal minds in the country. But their talents don’t come cheap. Every year, Biglaw firms fall all over each other trying to woo outgoing SCOTUS clerks, showering them with six-figure signing bonuses (on top of robust base salaries and year-end bonuses, of course).
The going rate in terms of Supreme Court clerkship bonuses is a cool $300,000. Which top law firm just dropped $1.8 million in signing bonuses for a half-dozen SCOTUS clerks?
There hasn’t been much major good news on the associate compensation front over the past few years — since, say, January 2007. But recent weeks have brought pockets of minor good news for limited constituencies. Green shoots, anyone?
Base salaries for Biglaw associates haven’t budged since January 2007, when Simpson Thacher led the charge to $160k. Year-end bonuses have remained fairly static since 2007 as well, the year of Cravath’s special bonuses. The 2012 bonuses represented an improvement over the 2011 bonuses, but only if you ignored the 2011 phenomenon of spring bonuses. On the whole, associate compensation is treading water.
But for Supreme Court clerks, aka “The Elect,” compensation continues to climb. In 2011, the signing bonus for outgoing SCOTUS clerks started to move from $250K to $280K. In 2012, the increase solidified, with $280K becoming the new going rate (and $285K becoming the above-market rate).
Now, just a year later, some firms are offering SCOTUS clerkship bonuses in excess of $280K or $285K. How much are they paying, and which offices of which firms are leading the market higher? The answer might surprise you….
For Supreme Court clerks from October Term 2011, the historic Term of NFIB v. Sebelius (aka “Obamacare”), the hot firm to go to was Jones Day. As Tony Mauro recently reported, the firm hired six SCOTUS clerks from the OT 2011 class, which “may be the most clerks signed up by a single firm from a single term” (although Ted Frank suggests that Kirkland & Ellis might have had seven clerks back in 1995).
UPDATE (3/17/2013, 1 p.m.): Per Mauro, K&E has never had six or seven clerks from a single Term.
Leading litigatrix Beth Heifetz — a former SCOTUS clerk herself (OT 1985 / Blackmun), and a Tina Fey doppelgänger — confirmed that Jones Day paid the going rate in terms of SCOTUS clerkship bonuses: $280,000 (on top of the usual base salary and year-end bonus). One of the new hires, Rachel Bloomekatz, is joining JD’s office in Columbus, Ohio. She should be able to survive out there on half a million (the SCOTUS clerkship bonus plus a fifth-year associate’s salary; she’s a 2008 UCLA Law grad).
But what if you’re in the Columbus office and not a SCOTUS clerk? Don’t expect to be shown the money; instead, you might be shown the door….
The last time we covered the lavish signing bonuses for Supreme Court clerks who head to law firms after their time at the Court, the bonuses were flirting with $280,000. We say “flirting with” because, at the time, only certain firms were offering $280K. That princely sum was not yet the market rate for talent emerging from One First Street.
A little over a year later, we can report some change on this front. Even though regular associate bonuses and partner profits might be flat this year, the price for Supreme Court clerks is going up, up, up….
Last month, the Supreme Court law clerks for October Term 2010 finished their clerkships, turning over their clerkly duties to the October Term 2011 class of clerks. As in past years, many of the OT 2010 clerks are joining private law firms — which welcome them with six-figure signing bonuses. These bonuses are paid on top of base salaries reflecting their seniority (many SCOTUS clerks join firms as second- to fourth-year associates), as well as the usual year-end bonuses.
For the past few years, at least since 2007, law firm signing bonuses for members of The Elect have hovered around $250,000. But this year, at least a few firms are offering even more.
The 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.
In our recent New York Times op-edpiece 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.
Ed. note: The Asia Chronicles column is authored by Kinney Recruiting. Kinney has made more placements of U.S. associates, counsels and partners in Asia than any other recruiting firm in each of the past seven years. You can reach them by email: email@example.com.
Things have changed recently in Korea – a few of our US and UK client firms are looking, very selectively, for a lateral US associate hire. Until just recently, there was not much hiring like this going on in Korea, since US and UK firms started opening offices there. We have already placed two US associates in Korea in the past month at top firms. Most of the hiring partners we work with in Korea do not actively work with other recruiters.
If you are a Korean fluent US associate in London, New York or another major US market, 2nd to 6th year, at a top 20 firm, with cap markets or M&A focus (or mix), or project finance background, and you are interested in lateraling to Korea to a top US or UK firm, please feel free to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. Our head of Asia, Evan Jowers, was just in Korea recently, and Evan and Robert Kinney will be in Korea in a few weeks. We are in the process of helping several firms open new offices in Korea (a number of which are interviewing our partner level candidates) and also helping existing offices there fill openings.
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