The Huge Signing Bonuses Offered To Ex-Supreme Court Clerks Have Reached An All-Time High

Supreme Court clerksReuters/Larry DowningFormer law clerks of Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito listen as U.S. President George W. Bush praises their former boss on the White House complex in Washington January 25, 2006.

Supreme Court clerks only make about $US75,000 during their year in America’s top court, but these days they’re receiving $US300,000 bonuses just to joina major law firm afterward, Above the Law reports.

Clerks often come from top law schools and other prestigious clerkships. They work directly with the Supreme Court justices, helping them research case law and even draft opinions.

Lawyers who’ve worked with America’s most important judges can be extremely valuable to a big corporate law firm that wants to bring cases to the Supreme Court. Firms can also tell their big corporate clients, “Look at how many former Supreme Court clerks we have.”

Signing bonuses for these valuable lawyers are one of the few law firm perks that didn’t go away with the recession. Last year, former clerks got signing bonuses of $US280,000. This year, here are all the firms handing out $US300,000 bonuses, according to Above the Law: Gibson Dunn, Jones Day, Munger Tolles, Paul Weiss, Skadden Arps, and Sullivan & Cromwell.

A recent article in the Washingtonian suggested law firms might be taking a big gamble by handing out these bonuses, though.

The story noted that former Clarence Thomas clerk Elbert Lin became West Virginia’s solicitor general after less than a couple years at Wiley Rein. And ex-Ruth Bader Ginsburg clerk Keith Bradley was at WilmerHale for less than a year before he left for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

That article failed to note, however, that many firms make former Supreme Court clerk lawyers sign contracts promising to repay their bonuses if they leave too early, Stanford Law professor Will Baude pointed out in the Volokh Conspiracy.

Even if public service calls them, many ex-clerks might have an incentive to stick around their corporate digs — at least for a little while.

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