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Meet the Fat Cat Who Made $810,000 as a 6th-Year Jones Day Associate

Vivia Chen

June 26, 2018


Of the many alleged indignities described in Wendy Moore's complaint in her gender discrimination lawsuit against Jones Day, this one popped up at me like a crazy jack-in-the-box: A sixth year associate—male—took home $810,000—about the same amount that Moore made as an eighth-year partner at the firm. 

Holy Toledo! (Or should I say Cleveland?) That's a hell of a lot of money for an associate with only a half-dozen years under his belt. That would be an amazing sum for a 10th year associate, even a junior partner at most firms. (At Cravath, the top associate base salary is $340,000.)

So who is this super-awesome Jones Day associate who's worth this kind of dough? Is he the unsung wunderkind of Big Law? And what voodoo did he perform to justify these sky-high earnings?

His awesomeness is James Burnham, a rising star of the Trump administration who now serves as a special assistant and senior associate counsel to the President. A 2009 graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, he completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Texas. He also clerked for Alex Kozinski, the brilliant but controversial former judge of the Ninth Circuit.

I know what you're thinking: Burnham must have clerked for the U.S. Supreme Court after his Kozinski's stint, then landed at Jones Day with a big fat $300,000-plus bonus—which would explain his inflated earnings.


While his academic pedigree is solid, it does not evince superstardom. Still, he did work on some very high-profile matters, like representing former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell in his corruption case and the Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign committee. 

Much more intriguing about Burnham is what's not on his official resume.

Which brings me back to Moore's complaint. Remember, how she alleges that she was paid unfairly at Jones Day because the firm "operates as a fraternity" and that "male senior partners mentor male associates and assist them in climbing the ranks to partnership"?

Burnham arguably exemplifies that exclusive male order. He married right into it: In 2010, he wedded a law school classmate, whose father Robert Mittelstaedt, was the head of Jones Day's San Francisco office. Mittelstaedt is now of counsel. (Oh, the things you learn from the New York Times wedding archives!) 

Is Burnham the Jared Kushner of Jones Day? Did his marriage to the daughter of a muckety-muck at the firm pave his career path, setting him up with powerful mentors like White House counsel Don McGahn (and Jones Day alum), flashy assignments, that $810,000 pay day and possible judgeship on the coveted Ninth Circuit (Above the Law's David thinks he's a leading contender)? Who knows?

I mean, it could be a total coincidence that he's the golden boy of the firm. Maybe he does walk on water. 

But let's go back to the big question: What exactly did Burnham do to deserve the $810,000? I'm still unclear. (We've asked for comments from Burnham and Jones Day, but have not heard back.)

And what does David Sanford, Moore's lawyer, think of Burnham's family connections? Do they reaffirm Jones Day's fraternity model? 

Interestingly, Sanford says that he didn't know about Burnham's personal connection at Jones Day until I told him. (You're welcomed, Mr. Sanford.) But Sanford says in an email that he's not surprised, adding, "there is a much bigger story to be told and it will be told."

Well, that sounds a bit ominous.

Anyway, you connect the dots. 

Email me: vchen@alm.com

Follow me on Twitter @lawcareerist


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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: VChen@alm.com

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