Law firm demand for federal clerks is growing. So are bonuses

  • Susman Godfrey offering $125,000 bonus to associate hires with one federal clerkship
  • The firm, which exclusively hires associates with federal or state supreme court clerkships, faces increased competition for fresh attorney talent

(Reuters) – A federal clerkship is an ever-more valuable credential on a new lawyer’s resume, with a handful of specialized litigation and trial law firms bolstering the one-time bonuses they pay to hires who have spent a year or more in judges’ chambers.

Susman Godfrey, a 140-attorney Texas-based trial firm, said Tuesday that it will pay a $125,000 bonus to new associates with a yearlong clerkship under their belts, and $150,000 to those with two or more years of federal clerk experience. That’s up from $105,000 and $125,000 depending on experience.

Co-managing partner Vineet Bhatia said Tuesday that spending a year or more with a judge provides “invaluable guidance” to new associates.

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“We find it’s a significant benefit to their legal writing and analysis, and to their exposure to legal disputes,” said Bhatia, noting that Susman Godfrey only hires associates with a federal clerkship or state supreme court clerkship.

Susman Godfrey’s new clerkship bonus structure brings it in line with California litigation firm Hueston Hennigan, which raised its clerkship bonus last month. Founding partner John Hueston said Tuesday that federal clerks bring “a developed sense of judgment and honed writing skills” to the firm.

Trial firm Robins Kaplan offers a $100,0000 bonus to federal clerks, while boutique litigation firm Selendy Gay Elsberg pays $75,000 to associates with one federal clerkship and $100,000 to those with two.

Clerkship bonuses tend to hover around $50,000 at large corporate law firms, with some exceptions. Boies Schiller Flexner in March raised its clerkship bonus to $110,000. Litigation giant Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan offers a $105,000 bonus to associates who have completed one federal clerkship and $125,000 to those with two clerkships.

Some firms offer significantly higher bonuses to U.S. Supreme Court clerks, with payouts reaching $400,000 or more.

Just 3% of the J.D. class of 2020 landed federal clerkships, according to recent data from the American Bar Association. And a small cohort of top law schools supply the bulk of federal clerks each year, with the University of Chicago Law School; Stanford Law School; and Yale Law School posting the highest percentage of recent graduates working as federal clerks this year.

More firms are prioritizing federal clerk hiring these days, according to Bhatia.

“Now that there is significant competition for clerks, if we are only hiring from that more limited pool of people, we felt it was necessary to increase our clerkship bonus so that we can attract top-tier talent,” he said.

Read more:

University of Chicago Law is on a federal clerkship hot streak

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