Lawyer Pay

Bonuses Pay Off for Legal System

Law firms will soon be paying signing bonuses of up to $250,000 to entice former Supreme Court clerks to join their practices. The bonus is in addition to initial salaries that are close to $200,000 a year.

Some critics say these young lawyers should not be making twice as much as the justice who helped show them the ropes.

But David Lat, author of the Above the Law blog, argues in a New York Times op-ed piece that the bonuses are healthy for the legal system.

The bonuses are a way of encouraging other students to render government service for two years as lower-paid clerks rather than go directly into private practice. And the money helps the ex-clerks pay off school loans quickly, so if they choose they can return to lower-paying areas such as public-interest law or law school professorships.

They bonuses may not be good investments for law firms, though, Lat writes. The new hires are likely to be intellectual types who go into less lucrative work like appellate litigation.

“By harnessing irrational law firm egotism to serve the rest of the profession, enormous clerkship bonuses achieve an impressive, increasingly difficult feat: getting top law firms to contribute to something other than their own bottom line,” he concludes.

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