The market for U.S. Supreme Court clerks remains hot, with Jones Day announcing that it has just hired its sixth former law clerk from the last term of the high court. That may be the most clerks signed up by a single firm from a single term.
The firm acknowledges that it abides by the prevailing one-time hiring bonus of $280,000 for high court clerks, which means that Jones Day has spent $1,680,000 on last term’s clerks, apart from their salaries and benefits. Several lawyers who often hire former high court clerks said their firms had never matched the mark set by Jones Day.
"It is working out fabulously for us," said Beth Heifetz, a Washington partner in charge of Jones Day’s clerk recruitment, turning away suggestions that the investment might not be worthwhile. With one of the six hires in Columbus, Ohio, another in Atlanta, and the rest in Washington, she said the hiring burst reflects the firm’s policy of "involving appellate lawyers throughout the country at all levels" of a case. Putting the lawyers to work on cases at earlier stages also is a way of dealing with the ethical rule that bars former clerks from handling Supreme Court work for two years.
The latest hire is Rachel Bloomekatz, who clerked for Justice Stephen Breyer. She is following in the footsteps of some other notable former clerks by heading to Ohio, not Washington, to join Jones Day’s appellate practice.
Columbus is where Jeffrey Sutton, now a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, built a bustling outside-the-beltway Supreme Court practice for Jones Day. He had clerked for justices Antonin Scalia and Lewis Powell. Richard Cordray — a former clerk to Justice Anthony Kennedy — also once practiced in Columbus. Cordray is currently director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. (Scalia once worked for the firm in its founding office in Cleveland.)
Eric Murphy, a former Kennedy clerk, is based in the Columbus office as well, as is Chad Readler, who argued a case before the high court just last month in McQuiggin v. Perkins. Readler was not a high court clerk.
"We’re a well-kept secret," said Liza Kessler, partner in charge of the Colum­bus office, boasting of the "unique powerhouse appeals practice that we are building here." Approximately 65 lawyers work in the Columbus office, she said.
Last year, the hiring bonus for Supreme Court clerks grew to $280,000, and Heifetz confirmed that that figure is still what the market supports. She said the firm has no regrets about the bonuses.
"We usually manage to recruit a goodly number of clerks, but we’re thrilled this year to have attracted so many of these outstanding young appellate lawyers," said Glen Nager, chairman of Jones Day’s issues and appeals practice. "It is an ongoing imperative in our issues and appeals practice, and throughout the firm, to recruit and foster talent in these areas and give our young lawyers significant work to do." Nager clerked for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.
The other five clerks from last term, listed with the names of the justices they clerked for, are Brian Lea (Justice Clarence Thomas); Jeffrey Johnson (Justice Elena Kagan); Anthony Dick (Justice Samuel Alito Jr.); Christopher DiPompeo (Chief Justice John Roberts Jr.); and Ryan Newman (Alito).
Not all practitioners are happy about the gilded status of clerks as they enter the job market. Some grumble that they are "trophy hires" and that they sometimes take the money and run to academia or other pursuits after a couple of years at a big firm. A glut of clerks one year might also turn into a drought the next.
Last fall, after Jones Day announced its first round of clerk hires, scholar Todd Peppers said, "It’s an alarming amount of money, and, at some point, one wonders what the law firms think they are purchasing." Peppers, author of two books about Supreme Court clerks, added, "Of course, they are getting top-notch lawyers. But they are still green and relatively untrained lawyers." He also worried that the high bonuses might increase pressure on former clerks to violate their pledge to the court of confidentiality by giving clients "an insider’s view."
In fact, Jones Day’s hiring of six clerks from the court’s historic 2011-2012 term gives the firm another distinction. It now has the highest concentration, outside of the court building itself, of people who are knowledgeable about the behind-the-scenes intrigue leading up to the decision upholding most of the Affordable Care Act.
Heifetz quickly shot down any suggestion that people curious about what happened should talk up the new Jones Day associates. "Every clerk I’ve ever known is scrupulous about confidentiality," said Heifetz, herself a former clerk to Justice Harry Blackmun.
Heifetz confessed with a laugh that "I’m as curious as the rest of the world" about how the Affordable Care Act decision came about. But she did not ask the clerks during the hiring process, and never would. "I don’t know the answer. We would never try to undermine that confidentiality in any way."
Tony Mauro can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.