Clerks Head Off to $250,000 Bonuses

A Supreme Court clerkship is one of a lawyer’s most coveted credentials, as reflected by the $250,000 signing bonuses clerks can receive after leaving the court.

The June end of the Supreme Court’s term will mark the traditional changeover of the 37 law clerks—the young legal geniuses who help justices pick cases for review, prepare for oral argument, and draft opinions. Each justice hires four clerks, and retired justice Sandra Day O’Connor has one.

A Supreme Court clerkship is one of a lawyer’s most coveted credentials, as reflected by the $250,000 signing bonuses clerks can receive after leaving the court. While traditional powerhouses Yale and Harvard account for almost two-thirds of the 2008–09 clerk class, the three “Georges”—Georgetown, George Washington, and George Mason law schools—placed one clerk each. Will Consovoy will be GMU’s first high-court clerk.

Over the years, the justices have been criticized by Congress and interest groups, including the NAACP, for taking too few minorities and women. This coming term, there appear to be at least four nonwhite clerks, two African-Americans and two Asian-Americans.

Thirteen of the 37 new law clerks are women, roughly the same as in the current term. One of them continues what Legal Times has called “a long tradition” of father/daughter clerk pairings. Clerking for Chief Justice John Roberts will be Porter Wilkinson, whose father, Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III of the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, once clerked for Justice Lewis Powell. President Bush considered Judge Wilkinson a possible nominee to the high court before selecting Roberts.

The incoming clerk class includes valedictorians and law-review editors as well as one clerk with an unusual background: Isaac Lidsky, who will clerk for O’Connor, was a child actor before going to Harvard Law and is best known for playing Barton “Weasel” Wyzell on Saved by the Bell: The New Class. Lidsky is legally blind and chair of Hope for Vision, an organization dedicated to raising awareness of blinding diseases. Surely his old TV nemesis, Principal Belding, would be proud.

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This article appears in the June 2008 issue of Washingtonian. To see more articles in this issue, click here.

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