Major corporate law firms are now paying recent Supreme Court clerks, many of whom are only two years out of law school and can be as young as 28 years old, a $280,000 signing bonus simply for showing up to their first day of work. That’s in addition to base salaries around $185,000 for the first year out of clerkship and a year-end bonus in the five figures. Lawyers who clerked for lower federal court judges can earn signing bonuses as high as $60,000, and that’s also in addition to base salaries and bonuses similar to their colleagues who clerked for a justice.
Lest there be any doubt, these kinds of big dollar payments can have a significant impact on the shape of U.S. law. Federal law clerks are overwhelmingly drawn from the nation’s top-performing law students, and excellent attorneys can often change the outcome of court decisions. Simply put, there is a reason why every conservative official in the country wants to hire Republican superlawyer Paul Clement to present their most constitutionally indefensible arguments. The kinds of law firms that can afford to pay six figure recruitment bonuses primarily represent major corporations and other well moneyed clients, not the kind of ordinary Americans who are already at a disadvantage in this Supreme Court.