Tuesday, January 30, 2024

More on SCOTUS clerks and academia

A propos yesterday's post about the new half-million dollar signing bonuses for SCOTUS clerks and Professor Gordon's suggestion that this probably explains why we seem to be seeing fewer former SCOTUS clerks on the academic job market, Professor Sarah Lawsky (Northwestern) shared this useful graphs based on the data she collects on the rookie job market:

SCtClerks (002)

Obviously the total numbers are small, but it's clear there are fewer clerks taking law teaching jobs in the last few years than a decade ago.



Of Academic Interest, Professional Advice | Permalink


Do you think it’s possible that—in addition to the other factors you mentioned—a modest contributing factor could be the rightward tilt of the Court in recent years? With many caveats, it seems plausible that the right-leaning subset of SCOTUS clerks might tend to (i) take a marginally more favorable view of the private sector and associate fewer ideological tradeoffs with lucrative private practice jobs than more progressive peers; (ii) perceive contemporary university culture as *marginally* less appealing than more left-leaning peers would (in terms of cultural fit or peer group prestige); and (iii) have larger families at younger ages (entailing more overhead and, perhaps, less geographic mobility).

Posted by: Kevin O'C. | Jan 31, 2024 1:58:02 AM

In response to Kevin, there is some evidence that law clerks of conservative Justices have been less likely to go into the academy For example, this paper reports that from 1940 to 1990, "approximately one-third of all the clerks became law professors," but that for clerks of the 4 identified conservatives on the Court in 1990 — Rehnquist, Thomas, Scalia, and Kennedy -- "only Justice Scalia’s clerks have entered teaching at a percentage approaching the average rate of one in three during the 1940-1990 period – 26.5%. The percentage of Justice Thomas’s clerks entering academia is lower – 18.8%, while those of Justice Kennedy’s and Chief Justice Rehnquist’s clerks are lower yet – with Kennedy at 17.7%, and Rehnquist at 15.4%. In all, only 19.4% of the law clerks from the four conservative chambers have become professors at some point since leaving the Court."


Still, that difference doesn't account for the change we have seen. Even if "only" 20% of clerks became professors, the average rate for clerks of conservative Justices described above in the period up to 1990, that would still be 7 or 8 clerks entering per year, not 2 or 3.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Jan 31, 2024 5:02:59 PM

Perhaps another explanation is faculties care more about outputs rather than inputs. In terms of shaping outputs (publication quality), other indicia are better predictors of success such as fellowships and advanced degrees.

Posted by: D. Daniel Sokol | Feb 3, 2024 6:12:43 AM

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