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Meet the Ex-Supreme Court Clerks Suing Jones Day

Vivia Chen

August 22, 2019

Question-2736480_1280Of all the fair law firms in the land, how did Mark Savignac and Julia Sheketoff pick Jones Day to launch their careers? That question must be bugging the hell out of them at the moment.

Not long ago, they were trophy recruits for the firm (Savignac and Sheketoff are both former clerks of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer), trotted out like prized stallions. But now, they are embroiled in a bitter lawsuit against their former firm in which they claim that Jones Day’s parental leave policy discriminates based on gender and that Savignac was fired in retaliation for complaining about the policy.

It’s easy to say they were a mismatch with the firm now, but I can’t help asking this question: How did Jones Day’s Supreme Court and appellate practice group win them over, when they could have gone to any firm that their heart desired?

Was it the money? Inevitably, that had to be a big draw. Jones Day, as everyone knows, pays big bucks for Supreme Court clerks. According to their complaint, Savignac started at the firm in May 2017 with a $375,000 salary plus a $350,000 Supreme Court clerk bonus; then in July, his salary rose to $405,000. That’s a grand total of $755,000!

But monetary rewards were probably not the only seduction. (Firms such as Susman Godfrey reportedly pay more than Jones Day for Supreme Court clerks.)

From their complaint, what comes through is a sense of personal disappointment and betrayal—something akin to a promising relationship gone toxic.

So why are these two young lawyers (Sheketoff, 36, is now working at the Federal Public Defender’s Office and Savignac, 32, is an associate at Steptoe & Johnson) with their futures in front of them taking on a big, powerful law firm like Jones Day? And how do they think this will affect their career trajectory?

I posed these questions and more to them during several phone calls. Below is an edited version of our conversation. (Jones Day responded to inquiries by referring to its previously issued statement.)

Jones Day issued a statement in response to your complaint in which you were both assailed. Mark, the firm calls your views of its leave policy “false and self-indulgent,” then it suggested that you acted like an ingrate for making demands “that no reasonable person would view as anything but exceptionally generous.” What’s your reaction? We strongly believe our view of the policy is correct.

Julia, your complaint says that you got good reviews except for the partner you had a run-in with—the one that you said expected deferential behavior from women. But the firm claims that you got mixed reviews from a bunch of partners. I got a raise for $85,000 the last year I was at the firm and my final salary was $525,000. If [managing partner Stephen] Brogan thought so little of me, I wonder what he thought about all the women that he paid even less. [The firm pays a wide range of salaries, as evidenced by the documents in the pending class action suit for gender discrimination.]

I can’t imagine what it must be like to sue a big firm. How did you decide to start the lawsuit? Julia: Mark’s firing was devastating to us. Mark: It was illegal act, and I don’t see how you can not sue them when that happens.

Mark, you didn’t expect to be fired for complaining, did you? Mark: We were completely shocked and never thought they would do something that’s retaliatory and illegal. We felt exposed and stunned.

Parts of your complaint read like a novel. The lawsuit also seems very personal in that Beth Heifetz [who heads the firm's appellate and Supreme Court group] recruited you, gave you advice, then, according to your telling, turned against you by making it virtually impossible for Mark to get a reference. Julia: I don’t want to say it’s personal or not. After I finished my clerkship, a huge reason I went to Jones Day was because of Beth. She seemed like a progressive person and I thought she would look after me.

Why are you doing this pro se? Mark: We care about these issues and we’re both lawyers.

Are there any discussions to settle? Mark: We can’t comment on that.

Do you regret going to Jones Day? Julia: We regret that we were treated illegally.

It seems Jones Day was perhaps not a good fit. Julia: It’s fair to say that it’s run by Steve Brogan and that [structure] affects a lot of decisions. I think that’s what distinguishes it from other firms. It’s more of an autocratic structure rather than a democratic one.

Do you think Supreme Court clerks are paying attention to this case and that this will affect their choice of jobs? Mark: It certainly would have affected me.

 

Contact Vivia Chen at vchen@alm.com. 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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