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Going Rate for Supreme Court Clerks Hits $500,000!

Vivia Chen

August 27, 2013

It's the waning days of summer. So how about some gossipy, quirky news?

Girl with Money © Sehenswerk - Fotolia.com(1)1. Enough to make a down payment on a New York apartment. They are different from you and me. And, apparently, a lot richer too—right from the get-go. I'm talking about that most rarefied of rarefied birds: the 39 U.S. Supreme Court law clerks.

Big firms are killing themselves to lure them to their lair. The seduction fee (I mean signing bonus) for newly-minted clerks is now a staggering $300,000. Combine that amount with the going rate salary of at least $160,000 (not counting the annual bonus) and you've got yourself a pretty nice nest egg—enough to make the 25 percent down payment on a cozy $2 million co-op apartment in New York.

So who's offering such riches? Above the Law says the firms offering these packages include Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher; Jones Day; Munger Tolles & Olson; Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison; Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom; and Sullivan & Cromwell.

Are these clerks really worth the money? As The National Law Journal notes, Supreme Court practices aren't big money makers. What's more, some of those firms coughing up the huge sign-up bonuses don't even argue much before the high court:

Paul Weiss lawyers have argued only occasionally before the Supreme Court over the years, although its latest at-bat was a big one: the same-sex marriage case U.S. v. Windsor, a win for partner Roberta Kaplan. It is also notable that all three women on the Supreme Court—Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan—were once summer associates at Paul Weiss in New York.

Funny, that Paul Weiss is now regarded as the breeding ground for the female justices, considering that Sotomayor didn't even get an offer from the firm after her summer stint. Oh well.

In any case, firms playing the Supreme Court clerk game seem to think it's all worth it. "It's a good investment," said Lisa Blatt, the head of appellate and Supreme Court practice at Arnold & Porter, to NLJ.

Law firm vanity does not come cheap.

2. Isn't it shocking? Imagine this: Law school deans lying about admissions data. Two former law deans—Villanova's Mark Alan Sargent and University of Illinois's Paul Pless—have been disciplined for their roles in falsifying data about incoming students. Reports Karen Sloan of The National Law Journal:

Both men were involved in schemes to inflate the LSAT scores and grade-point averages of incoming students their schools reported to the American Bar Association and U.S. News & World Report. The deceptions were intended to bolster their schools’ rankings.

Sargent has been suspended for three years by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court for dishonesty, and fraud among other charges. Pless was reprimanded by the Washington State Bar Association also for fraud and other charges.

According to NLJ, "some [law school] administrators likely will view Pless and Sargent as isolated cases."

Isolated cases? Really?

3.  Alternative career of the week: Lawyer/healer. Prominent bankruptcy lawyer Kenneth Klee is also a New Age practioner. He says he "can talk to spirits, mend broken bodies and wounded souls and, if necessary, perform exorcisms." Yes, he's from California. (The Wall Street Journal)

4. Best reason to move to New York: The city wins the top prize for being the most rude and arrogant in the nation. Hey, you got a problem with that? (Business Insider)

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: [email protected]

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