The most esteemed job in the United States is arguably that of a Supreme Court Justice. Established in Article III, Section 1 of the Constitution, the Supreme Court of the United States currently holds nine Justices on the Court. To become a Supreme Court Justice, the President must appoint, and the Senate must confirm. Justices then hold office until retirement.
Each Court Justice is authorized to hire between three and four law clerks per Court term. Each year, a mere 36 clerkships are up for grabs. Before applying for these positions, distinguished individuals who have graduated law school typically serve as a law clerk for a federal judge for at least one or two years. Only the best of the best are expected to apply as only the students at the top of their class with letters of introduction from distinguished law professors and impressive reviews from years as a law clerk will be interviewed.
While the work can be quite extensive, previous law clerks explain the notoriety that comes with the position. One former law clerk explained, “You get letters from firms as soon as you start…the level of aggression varies, but generally there’s a two-week period where you get taken to lunch by everyone.”
But what exactly do law clerks for the Supreme Court Justice do? Each week, the Court receives petitions for certiorari or an order by which a higher court reviews a decision of a lower court. These petitions are divided amongst the nine Justices who then distribute their petition load to their clerks. The law clerks then read the petitions, write a memorandum, and make a recommendation for accepting or denying the case. These are given to their Justice who then discusses the memoranda and proposals to the other Justices at a Justices’ Convention. This is the primary task of all law clerks. Petitions received are written by intelligent and persuasive lawyers; it is the clerk’s job to look past the packaging to find the legitimate versus the non-legitimate petitions.
The heavy workload and focused tasks should come as no surprise for such an esteemed position. However, the experience and notoriety aren’t the only rewards received from these coveted positions. The latest round of SCOTUS law clerks received around $300,000 in bonuses, on top of an approximate $185,000 salary by big-name law firms.