Monday, January 29, 2024

$500,000 is the new "norm" for signing bonuses for Supreme Court clerks

Wow!  Perhaps some empirical legal studies scholars will examine whether hiring SCOTUS clerks really confers the appellate advantage some firms seem to think they do.

UPDATE:  Professor Jeff Gordon (Columbia) writes:  

Don't you think that one consequence of these lavish bonuses for Sup Ct clerks has been a marked fall off in the number of entry level profs who have clerked on the Court?  Yes, there is an interdisciplinary turn  which is inconsistent with the now 3 year path to the Sup Ct, but -- it's hard to turn down $500K for the $75K (maybe) in an academic fellowship with uncertain prospects thereafter.  

I suspect this is right, and while I haven't scrutinized the data systematically, it comports with my own impression of the rookie market in recent years (the SCOTUS clerks we do see typically have been out for several years).   Thoughts from readers?

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I think (1) the need to do a fellowship and (2) the "uncertain prospects" in Jeff's quote are doing most of the work, and not the bonuses per se. It's very hard to persuade someone who has a comfortable life working at a fancy firm or government)in DC or NYC that it's worth the opportunity cost of a fellowship without any guarantee of a top job, or at least a job in a desirable location. A generation ago law schools interviewed SCOTUS clerks at the Court Building and there was no expectation of having a paper, let alone a two-year fellowship.

Posted by: Dan Epps | Jan 29, 2024 12:50:48 PM

I'm with Dan Epps. I think it's the increased separateness of the tracks, not the bonus, that explains the decreasing number of clerks applying to be academics. It used to be that getting a top clerkship and getting a top professorship were the same track; now, they tend to be different tracks So there is less overlap, for better or worse.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Jan 29, 2024 7:11:53 PM

An additional factor (though I suspect a minor one relative to those identified by Dan and Orin), is that, with a 6-3 conservative supermajority on the Court, and the relative disadvantage (real and/or perceived) of being a conservative on the academic job market, there are fewer liberal former Supreme Court clerks available to enter legal academia.

Posted by: Alan Rozenshtein | Feb 2, 2024 1:21:34 PM

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