- Gibson Dunn
- Jones Day
- Munger Tolles
- Paul Weiss
- Skadden Arps
- Sullivan & Cromwell
AMERICA’S chief justice earns $224,618 a year. The other eight Supreme Court judges pocket $214,969. Nice work if you can get it, but paltry compared with the sums law firms are offering to the judges’ clerks—lawyers in their mid-to-late twenties who take a year-long post—to secure their services.
Earlier this month two big firms, Skadden Arps and Sullivan & Cromwell, set a new record in the bidding war by offering signing bonuses of $300,000. Combined with the base salary for third-year “associates” (the rank at which they typically enter a firm) and a modest end-of-year bonus, clerks can now take home $500,000 in their first year of private employment.
Perhaps the main reason for the ongoing bidding war is the inflexibility of pay scales at the law firms. The industry has barely budged from an age-old practice in which those on the lower rungs of lawyerdom are paid strictly according to their years of experience. This rule does not apply to court clerks’ signing bonuses, so these are a means of buying in talent without breaking a professional taboo. It would of course be more sensible to scrap such “lockstep” pay scales entirely. Jones Day, a prominent Washington firm, has done so. But lawyers are creatures of habit, and few other firms have followed.