The method to grow to be a clerk to a Supreme Court docket justice varies by chamber, however the reward for many who make it there may be monumental. The usual hiring bonus for an affiliate coming from the Supreme Court docket is now $400,000 on the high regulation corporations (plus the $190,000 annual wage). Former Supreme Court docket clerks are on the high of the listing for judgeships later in life, and such a clerkship is all however required to show at a high regulation college or to work in locations just like the Workplace
Till the 1970s, most Supreme Court docket clerks got here straight from regulation college. In that decade, it turned extra customary for graduates to use to a SCOTUS clerkship after clerking for a decrease courtroom decide first. And for the reason that mid-’90s, each Supreme Court docket clerk has already labored for one more decide for no less than a yr.
However there’s a new hiring pattern effervescent up on the Supreme Court docket: the expectation of not only one, however a number of decrease courtroom clerkships earlier than attending to One First Road.
Utilizing information from a number of sources, together with David Lat’s reporting on Above the Legislation, the authorized information web site he based, Wikipedia’s record-keeping, and my very own analysis, I used to be capable of doc this radical pattern that has obtained scant consideration even throughout the authorized neighborhood.
From 1996 to 2016, 16 % of Supreme Court docket clerks had clerked for a couple of decide earlier than making it to SCOTUS. Up to now seven years, that quantity has skyrocketed to 61 %. The truth is, simply as a matter of uncooked numbers, there have been extra multiyear clerks since 2016 than the earlier 20 years mixed.
And this information doesn’t even take into consideration the Bristow Fellowship—a yearlong place throughout the U.S. Solicitor Common’s workplace lengthy seen as one other post-clerkship path to getting a SCOTUS clerkship. Of this yr’s 5 Bristow Fellows, each single one has clerked for no less than two years within the decrease courts.
Some may ask: The few hundred younger legal professionals who compete for the 40 or so SCOTUS clerkships have already jumped by so many hoops, what’s one or two extra years? But when the credential opens the doorways for future alternatives, altering the sport may have long-term penalties for who practices regulation on the highest ranges and who’s on the brief listing for future judgeships.
Let’s take only one instance: It’s practically unattainable to reap the advantages of a yearlong clerkship with any type of maternity go away. So, if a number of clerkships are actually a brand new requirement to clerk on the Supreme Court docket—and get that $400,000 bonus afterward—girls who take circuit courtroom clerkships should steadiness a roughly 1 in 20 shot at a SCOTUS clerkship towards the organic actuality that they’ve a restricted variety of years to have a household. The ladies who’re calling me are asking whether or not it’s definitely worth the sacrifice; whether or not a shot on the Supreme Court docket is value spending one other yr or two away from family and friends, delaying the follow of regulation and laying aside beginning a household.
After 4 years of school, three years of regulation college, no less than two years of a number of decrease courtroom clerkships (many district courtroom clerkships require two years; appellate courts require one), perhaps even a further yr as a Bristow Fellow, and one yr on the Supreme Court docket, many ladies are properly into their 30s by the point they even begin at a regulation agency. If you wish to grow to be an fairness companion, that may be no less than eight or 9 extra years at most corporations, and maternity go away—to the extent it isn’t frowned upon to start with—is commonly subtracted out of your time working towards companion. Some regulation corporations depend additional clerkship years towards a lawyer’s companion monitor or enhance beginning wage after a number of clerkships. However some don’t. Having one child is hard on that timeline. Having three or 4? Neglect it.
After which there’s the financial concern. What concerning the individuals who went to regulation college to assist assist their households or who took on $300,000 in debt to attend the Harvards or Yales within the first place? It varies a bit by location, however clerks are sometimes paid round $70,000 a yr—and lots of in deep debt is likely to be reluctant to spend one other yr on that wage earlier than heading off to a profitable job at a agency. Or, what about these which can be the primary within the household to go to varsity—not to mention regulation college—and don’t have somebody to information them by the evolving passageways of the status labyrinth?
So, it must be no shock that white males nonetheless dominate the ranks of Supreme Court docket clerks. As of 2017, 85 % of all of the justices’ regulation clerks had been white and a 3rd had been feminine. 2018 was the primary yr that girls made up half of the clerks when Justice Brett Kavanaugh hired an all-female group of regulation clerks. However by 2019, males had been again to 68 %. And the overwhelming majority are white—85 % as of 2017. (Most Bristol Fellows this yr, too, are males, as they had been final yr … and the yr earlier than.)
The kind of particular person almost certainly capable of forgo a regulation agency wage to clerk for 3 to 5 years after regulation college goes to be somebody with each the time and the cash to pursue that path. Justices are incentivizing this method and, in some instances, explicitly encouraging it. And the outcomes of doubling down on the sort of clerk will reverberate all through the authorized occupation—the listing of candidates for judgeships or the varieties of legal professionals practising earlier than the Supreme Court docket will probably be more and more drawn from regulation college students who had been already privileged in any variety of methods.
And for what? There is no such thing as a doubt that Supreme Court docket clerks can have monumental affect over an important authorized problems with our time. In spite of everything, the justices learn solely a handful of the 1000’s of petitions that ask the courtroom to listen to a selected case. It’s the regulation clerks who make important suggestions of what’s wheat and what’s chaff. Maybe we must always need them to have extra expertise—or no less than one other yr on the planet. And but, of the three regulation clerks who presumably helped Chief Justice Earl Warren draft Brown v. Board of Training within the 1953-54 time period, two had graduated from regulation college that summer season. In 2003, three of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s clerks had only one appellate clerkship when he wrote the bulk opinion in Lawrence v. Texas, hanging down a Texas regulation that criminalized sodomy. By 2015, three of his clerks had two clerkships when he wrote for almost all in Obergerfell v. Hodges, establishing same-sex marriage all through the nation. Taking an in depth have a look at the person justices over the course of this pattern, it’s exhausting to argue that the change in clerkship expertise has essentially—and even perceptibly—altered their jurisprudence.
Among the many justices, this pattern doesn’t fall alongside ideological or gender strains. Earlier than 2016, just one in 5 of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s clerks had spent a couple of yr as a clerk earlier than working for her. However throughout her final 4 years on the bench, practically 90 % of her clerks had a number of clerkships. Chief Justice John Roberts, too, employed a majority of his clerks—68 %—from a number of clerkships. Alternatively, simply 20 % of Justice Neil Gorsuch’s clerks had a number of years clerking earlier than displaying up in his chambers throughout the identical time.
It isn’t apparent why the double (or typically triple) pre-SCOTUS clerkship has grow to be so in style, however I can provide some theories. First, when numerous the highest-ranked regulation faculties removed grades (Harvard, Yale and Stanford had all dropped letter grades by 2009), judges and justices could have began to search for different metrics of success. The issue with this concept is that just about all the hiring on the appellate degree is finished throughout regulation college. So the extra clerkship may present extra coaching, but it surely’s not as if the second decide hires solely after the primary decide has seen the clerks’ work.
Second, and maybe extra convincingly, there was once a voluntary clerkship hiring plan that inspired judges to attend to rent till after the second yr of regulation college. The plan, nonetheless, provided little or no incentive for judges competing for top-tier clerks to observe it, and because of this the plan fell aside in 2014. The ensuing rush to rent the very best clerks earlier and earlier within the first yr of regulation college could properly have contributed to these high college students (those almost certainly to compete for Supreme Court docket clerkships) receiving a number of gives and accepting them. There has, nonetheless, been a brand new plan (which is almost an identical to the outdated plan) in place for the final couple years, encouraging judges to rent after yr two. Nevertheless it doesn’t seem like as universally adopted because the pre-2014 plan and it doesn’t appear to be making any dent within the double clerkship pattern on the higher ends of the appellate ranks both.
Fifth Circuit Decide Gregg Costa, a former clerk to Chief Justice William Rehnquist, bemoaned this pattern three years in the past among the many decrease courts, writing that it was not good for the clerks, the judges or the occupation of regulation. “The discount within the variety of individuals clerking that outcomes from a number of clerkships additionally seemingly contributes to the dearth of demographic range amongst clerks,” he wrote in 2018. Second clerkships, in his view, “seemingly additional focus these jobs amongst graduates from elite faculties,” “scale back the number of authorized views clerks carry to chambers,” and are “far more of a monetary hit,” which means candidates with “monetary considerations could also be out of competition.”
He then admonished judges to consider carefully earlier than contributing to the issue, noting that “giving as many new legal professionals as potential that mentoring and coaching is maybe extra essential than ever” and that “hiring somebody who has already clerked is at odds with that aim and means there will probably be fewer practising legal professionals who’ve had the precious expertise of clerking.”
They haven’t heeded his recommendation.
After I picked up a telephone name from one girl earlier this month, I largely listened and requested questions. I requested her whether or not she thought we would have liked extra mentors for the ladies developing behind her and the way we may enhance the numbers of feminine Supreme Court docket clerks. However I additionally requested her whether or not her husband may stop his job to observe her across the nation for no less than three years whereas she earns a clerk’s wage. I requested her whether or not it was value laying aside making an attempt to have a household with out understanding how exhausting it is likely to be once they do attempt.
However the greatest query is one I can’t reply: What occurs to the authorized occupation when there are even fewer people filling these federal clerkships and when a course of that already advantaged younger males from rich households has even the best-qualified girls calling me to ask me whether or not it’s value it?
Not each feminine lawyer, after all, desires to have kids. And never each feminine lawyer desires to clerk on the Supreme Court docket. However shouldn’t each no less than be an choice?