Does a SCOTUS Clerkship Matter?

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HYSCCN

Does a SCOTUS Clerkship Matter?

Post by HYSCCN » Mon Oct 28, 2019 4:21 pm

Hello! This is a serious question and not a troll. What are the actual benefits of a SCOTUS clerkship compared to a feeder clerkship on the D.C. Circuit? My school is telling me I have the grades to be competitive for a SCOTUS clerkship but I am not sure if it is the right path for me and I already have a great clerkship on the D.C. Circuit. I have some personal reasons I do not want to stay in D.C. for any longer than I have to, so I do not want to even apply to SCOTUS unless I have a reason. I know it is a long shot even for very qualified people but I would never apply if I was not sure I would accept.

I want to have kids and find a career with some more work life balance, not just climb ladders in big law and I will not be staying in D.C. or working in government. I could go into more specifics about goals but my broad question is how a SCOTUS clerkship will actually benefit my career aside from being an ego boost. What jobs will a SCOTUS clerkship unlock that a feeder clerkship will not?

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Re: Does a SCOTUS Clerkship Matter?

Post by ymmv » Mon Oct 28, 2019 4:47 pm

Your resume will float to the top of every pile it's thrown in. I have no idea whether a SCOTUS clerkship will "unlock" opportunities that wouldn't be available to you from a CoA clerkship, but I have to imagine it will increase your chances of standing out in the crowd almost anywhere.

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Re: Does a SCOTUS Clerkship Matter?

Post by jingosaur » Mon Oct 28, 2019 5:03 pm

Also, the clerkship bonus you get will be much higher

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Re: Does a SCOTUS Clerkship Matter?

Post by Nony » Mon Oct 28, 2019 5:12 pm

If you have any interest in academia, “SCOTUS clerk” looks much better on a university website than DC Circuit clerk does.

Actually, it will look better on pretty much any employer’s website.

I tend to think that if doing a feeder clerkship is going to improve your work options (i.e. you might ever apply to places that care about prestige, so you’re not planning on being a state PD/DA or doing local legal aid or small town wills/trusts or the like where you didn’t need to do a COA clerkship to begin with), then SCOTUS absolutely will. There may not be tons of COA clerks (and fewer DC Cir clerks), but there are even fewer SCOTUS clerks. You’re in a small select inner circle for life, and it will have an appeal to lay people that DC Cir won’t. I mean, sure, plenty of laypeople can’t even name the current justices, but still, even they will have heard of the court.

(And man, how could you pass up the actual experience? That would be FASCINATING. Even COAs are bound by precedent and are going to be dealing with a lot of routine cases, but SCOTUS is different and seeing behind the scenes would be amazing.) (obviously I’ve never come close to having to worry about this, so this is my raw envy showing, but still.)

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Re: Does a SCOTUS Clerkship Matter?

Post by lolwat » Mon Oct 28, 2019 5:49 pm

Lots of people do COA clerkships, even feeder clerkships (which, in many cases, might not be seen as any different than any other COA clerkship if the person reviewing your application doesn't know who the feeders are). Very very few people do SCOTUS clerkships. So, while it'd help to know your goals, I can't imagine the SCOTUS clerkship doesn't get your resume at the top of the pile in any opportunity you'd likely be pursuing--and by on top of the pile, I mean on top of all the other candidates who have also done a feeder clerkship but not a SCOTUS clerkship.

That's setting aside the practical benefits of the interesting work you'd be doing and the gigantic clerkship bonus you'd get at any firm even if you aren't planning to stay long-term. (What is it, like $250k or $300k now compared to the $70k you get for a COA clerkship?)

I'd also consider whether X years down the road this is an opportunity you might regret not pursuing when you had the chance. I know you don't want to be in DC (I don't either) but I don't know if that's a good enough reason to pass on this.

I guess all that being said, to more directly answer your question, a SCOTUS clerkship might not "unlock" any opportunities a feeder COA wouldn't already get you, but it would certainly make it that much easier to get your foot in the door.

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Re: Does a SCOTUS Clerkship Matter?

Post by pancakes3 » Mon Oct 28, 2019 6:51 pm

i'm sure OP's school would be apoplectic if they knew he/she's even asking this question, but i get what the OP is saying. if OP's ultimate goal is to collect checks from a lifestyle firm in a satellite office for a few years before transitioning into a JenDarby-esque role in-house and just wants to cash checks for the rest of their life with zero ego and zero hangups over the preftige of law... what difference would it make?

even then, it's still a difficult question to answer. my first thought was also Nony's - SCOTUS would make academia much easier to break into. and even then, Gorsuch is hiring *from academic ranks* to fill his roster, so that tells you something about the value of SCOTUS clerking.

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Re: Does a SCOTUS Clerkship Matter?

Post by lolwat » Mon Oct 28, 2019 7:11 pm

pancakes3 wrote:
Mon Oct 28, 2019 6:51 pm
i'm sure OP's school would be apoplectic if they knew he/she's even asking this question, but i get what the OP is saying. if OP's ultimate goal is to collect checks from a lifestyle firm in a satellite office for a few years before transitioning into a JenDarby-esque role in-house and just wants to cash checks for the rest of their life with zero ego and zero hangups over the preftige of law... what difference would it make?
I get it, but I mean, OP has the rest of their life to not worry about ego and prestige, but the one-year investment in the SCOTUS clerkship will almost always help them achieve whatever goals they might have in their future legal career versus not having that SCOTUS clerkship. And I imagine that includes that lifestyle firm and in-house job you're referring to.

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Re: Does a SCOTUS Clerkship Matter?

Post by jeff chiles » Mon Oct 28, 2019 7:53 pm

What would you do if you didn’t do (or try for) SCOTUS after the clerkship? If the plan is to do big law for a couple years anyhow it seems better to try for the clerkship and get that big bonus/even better experience for any firm in any part of the country.

Other than the extra time in DC or commuting to DC there’s not a lot of downside unless you are pretty sure the off ramp to a less demanding career path is there immediately after the clerkship.

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Re: Does a SCOTUS Clerkship Matter?

Post by Nony » Mon Oct 28, 2019 8:03 pm

I get the point of the question, too, and totally get wanting decent work-life balance and to get off the merry-go-round of striving. It's probably a super healthy perspective to have (though again, I question why you'd go for a feeder COA in the first place if you don't have any level of aspiration).

I just so couldn't pass up doing it simply for the experience.

OP here

Re: Does a SCOTUS Clerkship Matter?

Post by OP here » Mon Oct 28, 2019 8:23 pm

OP here.

Thank you for the thoughtful responses. Most of the advice I have gotten is something like "there are no cons, it is only a year, just do it."
jeff chiles wrote:
Mon Oct 28, 2019 7:53 pm
What would you do if you didn’t do (or try for) SCOTUS after the clerkship? If the plan is to do big law for a couple years anyhow it seems better to try for the clerkship and get that big bonus/even better experience for any firm in any part of the country.

Other than the extra time in DC or commuting to DC there’s not a lot of downside unless you are pretty sure the off ramp to a less demanding career path is there immediately after the clerkship.
I have an offer at a V-whatever firm in my home market, and I would either go back there and work at the firm for a couple of years or find a government job. I have some compelling reasons to go back there ASAP if possible. The extra year in D.C. really is the main downside.

Outside of academia, are there other unicorn jobs where it really is a quasi-requirement? I am not necessarily interested in those things but I am trying to figure out what doors I am closing before I close them.

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Re: Does a SCOTUS Clerkship Matter?

Post by Nony » Mon Oct 28, 2019 8:46 pm

I think a lot of the people who work for the Solicitor General are former SCOTUS clerks, but if you don't want to be in DC you're not aiming for that.

Ditto some of the appellate sections of the very top firms - again, it doesn't sound like you're into that?

Honestly, I don't think a SCOTUS clerkship is a "quasi-requirement" for anything (except maybe writing a tell-all book about SCOTUS), because there aren't enough clerks for that to be true. But like ymmv said, it's always going to make your application float to the top of the pile. Look at it this way: ~30-40,000 JDs will be awarded each year. Only 36 SCOTUS clerks are hired each year. (Only possible concern: looking "too fancy" for some less-elevated employers, but I think that's easy enough to address.)

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Re: Does a SCOTUS Clerkship Matter?

Post by Hey_Everybody » Mon Oct 28, 2019 11:17 pm

I did talk to a professor who told me they were in your situation (had the grades for SCOTUS, pressure from the school to apply) and chose not to try for it. But that was for principled ideological reasons, not because they just didn't feel like it. I'm more nauseated by the prestige chasing in law than anyone, but at a certain point it's just a year of your life for a credential that'll open pretty much any door you want. Seems worth it to me.

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Re: Does a SCOTUS Clerkship Matter?

Post by jeff chiles » Tue Oct 29, 2019 10:32 am

I think the better way to look at it would be focusing on the definite advantages (dollar amount of clerkship bonus and whatever intrinsic value working this job would have to you) vs what you think you’ll lose or miss out on personally by staying in DC another year.

I don’t think we can answer that for you and you don’t have to defend or explain your reasons.

As someone who has no interest in legal academia, running the law career rat race, or other stuff where this job is a big plus, and who does not like DC or striving generally, I would probably do it for the experience alone unless staying in DC was like risking a relationship with a spouse or missing out on time with a very close relative who was sick or something like that.

Seriously though good for you for thinking about what you want your life to be like and assessing where your priorities are. Just because an opportunity is available and achievable doesn’t mean you have to do it.

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Re: Does a SCOTUS Clerkship Matter?

Post by lolwat » Tue Oct 29, 2019 12:17 pm

Like Nony said, I don't think SCOTUS clerkship is a quasi-requirement for anything. A feeder COA clerkship could already probably get you in the SG's office and into the top appellate groups that generally hire SCOTUS clerks. It's just that much easier (or "less difficult") to get into those practices with a SCOTUS clerkship. So, I would view it as not what doors do the SCOTUS clerkship open that otherwise wouldn't be opened, but what the clerkship helps you get and how much easier it makes your future career path. But if you're literally looking for closed doors, I'm not sure there are any. Maybe SCOTUS justice 25 years down the road but who wants that these days.

And then I don't think I can say what jeff chiles said above better than what he's already said, so I'll just second that post.

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Re: Does a SCOTUS Clerkship Matter?

Post by quiver » Tue Oct 29, 2019 7:26 pm

lolwat wrote:
Tue Oct 29, 2019 12:17 pm
Like Nony said, I don't think SCOTUS clerkship is a quasi-requirement for anything. A feeder COA clerkship could already probably get you in the SG's office and into the top appellate groups that generally hire SCOTUS clerks. It's just that much easier (or "less difficult") to get into those practices with a SCOTUS clerkship. So, I would view it as not what doors do the SCOTUS clerkship open that otherwise wouldn't be opened, but what the clerkship helps you get and how much easier it makes your future career path. But if you're literally looking for closed doors, I'm not sure there are any. Maybe SCOTUS justice 25 years down the road but who wants that these days.

And then I don't think I can say what jeff chiles said above better than what he's already said, so I'll just second that post.
Perhaps this is semantics, but I would probably put job opportunities into three categories: (1) where a SCT clerkship is a quasi-requirement, (2) where a SCT clerkship is preferred but not required, and (3) where a SCT clerkship makes it much easier but is neither expected nor required.

I think it's fair to put OSG in Category 1. Keep in mind that there are only like 16 Assistant SGs, so the pool is small enough, and the practice is specialized enough, that a SCT clerkship can be a quasi-requirement. (Setting aside Bristows here because obviously those are pre-SCT clerkship.) They've even been known to select for clerkships with particular justices in certain circumstances. In any event, OP seems pretty averse to DC, so I assume they are not gunning for OSG.

In Category 2, I'd put elite appellate practices and academia. A feeder clerkship would make OP competitive for both, but a SCT clerkship would be even better. Arguably, academia places so much weight on publishing ability that clerkships (and work experience generally) are secondary concerns, but even there I think it's fair to say that SCT clerkships are both preferable and fairly common. If we're talking long-term dart throws, I may include federal judge in the mix for Category 2 as well. I would put pretty much everything else in Category 3.

This is all setting aside the fascinating experience of working at the SCT for a year, the massive bonus at the end, and the lifelong mentorship of a SCT justice. Like others, I believe a SCT clerkship and all the attendant benefits far outweigh the minimal downside of living in DC for an extra year. While I also appreciate OP's healthy attitude and attempt to avoid striving just for the sake of striving, that seems like a perfect reason to apply for a SCT clerkship and not be upset if it doesn't pan out; not a reason to forego applying altogether.

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Re: Does a SCOTUS Clerkship Matter?

Post by lolwat » Wed Oct 30, 2019 2:36 pm

quiver wrote:
Tue Oct 29, 2019 7:26 pm
lolwat wrote:
Tue Oct 29, 2019 12:17 pm
Like Nony said, I don't think SCOTUS clerkship is a quasi-requirement for anything. A feeder COA clerkship could already probably get you in the SG's office and into the top appellate groups that generally hire SCOTUS clerks. It's just that much easier (or "less difficult") to get into those practices with a SCOTUS clerkship. So, I would view it as not what doors do the SCOTUS clerkship open that otherwise wouldn't be opened, but what the clerkship helps you get and how much easier it makes your future career path. But if you're literally looking for closed doors, I'm not sure there are any. Maybe SCOTUS justice 25 years down the road but who wants that these days.

And then I don't think I can say what jeff chiles said above better than what he's already said, so I'll just second that post.
Perhaps this is semantics, but I would probably put job opportunities into three categories: (1) where a SCT clerkship is a quasi-requirement, (2) where a SCT clerkship is preferred but not required, and (3) where a SCT clerkship makes it much easier but is neither expected nor required.

I think it's fair to put OSG in Category 1. Keep in mind that there are only like 16 Assistant SGs, so the pool is small enough, and the practice is specialized enough, that a SCT clerkship can be a quasi-requirement. (Setting aside Bristows here because obviously those are pre-SCT clerkship.) They've even been known to select for clerkships with particular justices in certain circumstances. In any event, OP seems pretty averse to DC, so I assume they are not gunning for OSG.

In Category 2, I'd put elite appellate practices and academia. A feeder clerkship would make OP competitive for both, but a SCT clerkship would be even better. Arguably, academia places so much weight on publishing ability that clerkships (and work experience generally) are secondary concerns, but even there I think it's fair to say that SCT clerkships are both preferable and fairly common. If we're talking long-term dart throws, I may include federal judge in the mix for Category 2 as well. I would put pretty much everything else in Category 3.

This is all setting aside the fascinating experience of working at the SCT for a year, the massive bonus at the end, and the lifelong mentorship of a SCT justice. Like others, I believe a SCT clerkship and all the attendant benefits far outweigh the minimal downside of living in DC for an extra year. While I also appreciate OP's healthy attitude and attempt to avoid striving just for the sake of striving, that seems like a perfect reason to apply for a SCT clerkship and not be upset if it doesn't pan out; not a reason to forego applying altogether.
I think this is all very fair.

Scoutsq

Re: Does a SCOTUS Clerkship Matter?

Post by Scoutsq » Wed Oct 30, 2019 8:28 pm

I don't have anything to add on the career impact front, outside of a SCOTUS clerkship being maybe the best legal credential you can have coming out of law school and it putting you in the driver's seat for the rest of your career.

I will say that I've met a few SCOTUS clerks and from what I've gathered it's not a particularly chill job. The hours are long and the you'd likely always be thinking about work. How big of a step up from the D.C. Circuit it'd be, I don't know, but being a first year at a firm would likely be much easier/less stressful.

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Re: Does a SCOTUS Clerkship Matter?

Post by quiver » Wed Oct 30, 2019 10:43 pm

Scoutsq wrote:
Wed Oct 30, 2019 8:28 pm
I will say that I've met a few SCOTUS clerks and from what I've gathered it's not a particularly chill job. The hours are long and the you'd likely always be thinking about work. How big of a step up from the D.C. Circuit it'd be, I don't know, but being a first year at a firm would likely be much easier/less stressful.
No, it is not a chill clerkship. But working at a firm is not necessarily easier or less stressful. The difference is that in a SCT clerkship, you're working on arguably the most fascinating and important cases in the country, and the cases you work on will be etched in legal history for the foreseeable future. That . . . is unlikely to be the case at a firm.

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Re: Does a SCOTUS Clerkship Matter?

Post by necho2 » Wed Oct 30, 2019 10:56 pm

Just to look at the financial benefit side of things alone- the bonus is like 350k now, right? So you're comparing No-SCOTUS earnings (70k clerk + 50k bonus + 200k salary Y2 + 25k bonus)= 2 yr total of 345k vs. Yes-SCOTUS earnings (70k clerk + 85k clerk Y2 + 350k SCOTUS bonus)= 505k earnings. So the extra year in DC is worth roughly 150k (at a fairly high marginal rate, albeit). Does that difference make much of a difference to you? It sounds like you're not even set on BigLaw after, so maybe it doesn't?

1111

Re: Does a SCOTUS Clerkship Matter?

Post by 1111 » Thu Oct 31, 2019 12:45 am

necho2 wrote:
Wed Oct 30, 2019 10:56 pm
Just to look at the financial benefit side of things alone- the bonus is like 350k now, right? So you're comparing No-SCOTUS earnings (70k clerk + 50k bonus + 200k salary Y2 + 25k bonus)= 2 yr total of 345k vs. Yes-SCOTUS earnings (70k clerk + 85k clerk Y2 + 350k SCOTUS bonus)= 505k earnings. So the extra year in DC is worth roughly 150k (at a fairly high marginal rate, albeit). Does that difference make much of a difference to you? It sounds like you're not even set on BigLaw after, so maybe it doesn't?
Market at top appellate shops is 400k bonus right now. So could be a 200k difference

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Re: Does a SCOTUS Clerkship Matter?

Post by lolwat » Thu Oct 31, 2019 2:32 pm

quiver wrote:
Wed Oct 30, 2019 10:43 pm
Scoutsq wrote:
Wed Oct 30, 2019 8:28 pm
I will say that I've met a few SCOTUS clerks and from what I've gathered it's not a particularly chill job. The hours are long and the you'd likely always be thinking about work. How big of a step up from the D.C. Circuit it'd be, I don't know, but being a first year at a firm would likely be much easier/less stressful.
No, it is not a chill clerkship. But working at a firm is not necessarily easier or less stressful. The difference is that in a SCT clerkship, you're working on arguably the most fascinating and important cases in the country, and the cases you work on will be etched in legal history for the foreseeable future. That . . . is unlikely to be the case at a firm.
Yeah, all of this. And I wonder why being in DC is so unpalatable to the OP, since they'd be spending most of their hours either working on SCOTUS cases or sleeping anyway. :P

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