New York Times, Law Firms Pay Supreme Court Clerks $400,000 Bonuses. What Are They Buying?:
Supreme Court justices make $265,600 a year. The chief justice gets $277,700.
Their law clerks do a lot better. After a year of service at the court, they are routinely offered signing bonuses of $400,000 from law firms, on top of healthy salaries of more than $200,000.
What are the firms paying for? In a profession obsessed with shiny credentials, a Supreme Court clerkship glitters. Hiring former clerks burnishes the firms’ prestige, making them more attractive to clients.
Still, the former clerks are typically young lawyers just a couple of years out of law school, and the bonuses have a second and more problematic element, said Stephen Gillers, an expert on legal ethics at New York University. “They’re buying something else: a kind of inside information about how the court is thinking and how individual justices might be thinking,” he said.
The Supreme Court appears to recognize that this is a problem. Its rules impose a two-year ban barring former clerks from working on “any case pending before this court or in any case being considered for filing in this court.” (The rules also impose a permanent ban on working on “any case that was pending in this court during the employee’s tenure.”) ...
A new study in Political Research Quarterly suggests that the ban has not been completely successful [Ryan Black (Michigan State) & Ryan Owens (Wisconsin), The Influence of Personalized Knowledge at the Supreme Court: How (Some) Former Law Clerks Have the Inside Track.].
It examined about 3,600 Supreme Court arguments over two decades, controlling for many factors, and found that former clerks making arguments before the court were no more likely to persuade most justices than other lawyers. Another study last year came to a similar conclusion [Michael Nelson (Penn State) & Lee Epstein (Washington University), Lawyers With More Experience Obtain Better Outcomes].
But the new study identified one striking exception. Former clerks were 16 percentage points more likely to attract the votes of the justice for whom they had worked. The relationship increased their chances of obtaining their former boss’s vote to about 73 percent, from about 57 percent.
National Law Journal, Former SCOTUS Clerks Are More Likely to Win Their Justices' Votes, Study Asserts