LAW clerks are the latest lawyer group to feel the squeeze of the financial downturn as law firms refuse to pay the escalated rates of the recent past.
The price for a well qualified law clerk reached US$250,000 ($309,685) in recent years, but with the falling economy even they will be looking at lower pay packets.
Over the next few weeks law firms across the country will start approaching Supreme Court clerks, who will be free to leave their positions once all cases are closed.
Last year a clerk could have easily negotiated a salary in excess of US$200,000 ($247,000) an impressive feat given that it was only five years ago the bonuses broke the US$100,000 ($123,000) barrier.
However, this year when the clerks sit down with partners during the summer to talk about job openings, it’s unlikely the US$250,000 will be on the table, reports The National Law Journal.
Many firms have suffered throughout the economic downturn, which means salaries everywhere are being downsized. However, some of the healthier firms among the big players in Supreme Court practice indicate they'll still do whatever it takes to snag a high court clerk.
"A Supreme Court clerkship is a recession-proof credential," David Frederick said. The Kellogg, Huber, Hansen, Todd, Evans and Figel partner declined to say specifically how much of a bonus his firm will offer this year, but added, "We're hoping to hire a couple of clerks this term."
Former solicitor general, Paul Clement, from King and Spalding agrees: "The clerks will still be in great demand," he said, though he added, "I don't think the bonus is going up."
But Clement, who sent the letters to all 36 clerks last month, is still trying build an appellate practice. And Frederick says his midsize firm is very busy and, "knock on wood, has not been affected" by the downturn.
At firms that have been shaken by the downturn, however, such sizeable bonuses will be hard to pass, practitioners say.
"Intuitively, it doesn't feel right to pay that kind of bonus when you are trying to make economies wherever you can at the firm," said Carter Phillips, managing partner at Sidley Austin's Washington office.
At Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer and Feld, which has made cuts, Thomas Goldstein agrees that it's tough to justify such bonuses when a firm is considering letting go a staff person paid US$50,000.
The recession may also force high court clerks into more of a buyer's market than they've ever faced before, added Sidley Austin's Phillips.
"If I were a clerk now, I would not assume that every firm I send a resume to would beat down the door to hire me, and historically they could."
That said, Phillips states that clerks remain "a pool of very talented lawyers, and it would be foolish to say we didn't want to talk to them."