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Judicial Pay Part II - The Non-Salary Benefits of Being a Federal Judge:

In my last post, I argued that the quality of the federal judiciary is not suffering from the fact that most judges could make far more money in the private sector. Why would outstanding lawyers be willing to become federal judges in spite of the lower pay? The answer is that being a judge has tremendous non-salary benefits relative to private practice. When these are taken into account, the total compensation of judges (salary + fringe benefits + nonpecuniary benefits) does not seem inferior to that of top private lawyers. Here are some of the relative benefits of being a judge:

I. Power and Prestige.

Federal judges have tremendous power and prestige. Whether or not the judiciary should have as much power as it does, there is little question that judges have considerable influence over law and public policy. Few if any private sector lawyers can even begin to compare.

Being a judge is also generally viewed as more prestigious than being a partner at a big law firm, even one who earns millions of dollars. Few doubt that John Roberts increased his level of prestige when he left his job as a partner Hogan & Hartson (one of the nation's best law firms) to become a judge on the D.C. Circuit.

II. Shorter Hours and Better Working Conditions.

As a general rule, judges work far fewer hours than private sector lawyers. This is not to say that judges are a bunch of lazy slackers. Far from it. But few work the 80 or 90 [update: 70 to 80 is probably more accurate] hour weeks that are routine at big law firms. Unlike private sector lawyers, judges also do not have to answer to clients and do not have to cancel vacations or make other painful, sudden changes in their schedules to accomodate client needs or those of senior partners in the firm.

III. More Interesting Work.

Obviously, this is in the eye of the beholder. However, it is fair to say that many federal judges often get to work on extremely interesting constitutional and statutory cases. Even the most highly paid private lawyers often have to spend a large proportion of their time working on relatively boring issues.

This is not to say that all lawyers would find judicial work more interesting than private practice. Tastes differ. But the key point is that a large number of top lawyers surely do find judicial work more stimulating and that is enough to ensure a high quality judiciary.

IV. Job Security.

It is perhaps an obvious point, but federal judges have virtually absolute job security for life. Even the best private law firms take the risk of going bankrupt or suffering a sudden decline in profitability that could lead to layoffs.

V. Extremely Generous Pension Plans.

As noted in my previous post, a federal judge who has reached the age of 65 and served at least 15 years can retire at full pay. Very few if any private sector law firms are equally generous.

I realize, of course, that many of these same points (except the one about power!) could be made about law professors. They help explain why our salaries are lower than those of law firm lawyers too. Fair enough. For what it's worth, I don't think that our pay is systematically inadequate either. But here at GMU, it is too low, dammit:)!

UPDATE: For the benefit of non-lawyers (and fearful law students!), I should make it clear that the 70-80 hour work weeks I referred to are prevalent only at big firms in several major markets. Lawyers in secondary markets or at smaller firms typically work fewer hours (though still quite a lot). On the other hand, these other types of lawyers typically earn lower salaries than federal judges do. According to the US Department of Labor, the median lawyers' salary (as of 2004) is just under $95,000. I am NOT arguing that judges should be paid the same salary as the median lawyer. But it is important to understand that those lawyers who earn far more than the median (and especially those who earn far more than federal judges) typically work far longer hours than judges do.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Judicial Pay Part II - The Non-Salary Benefits of Being a Federal Judge:
  2. Are Federal Judges' Salaries too Low?
Steven:
In all fairness, you should state that federal appellate judges have more power and prestige in the eyes of academics. As a practicing corporate lawyer, Judge Luttig has far more power and prestige as GC of Boeing than he did as a member of the Fourth Circuit.
5.12.2006 3:40pm
SLS 1L:
few work the 80 or 90 hour weeks that are routine at big law firms

Are such hours actually routine? An 80-hour week is being at the office 9-to-8:30 every day including weekends, and that's counting lunch as work. I find it implausible that big-firm lawyers really work all day every day without a break on weekends.

Of course, as a 1L, I know nothing, but this kind of claim smacks of people exaggerating how hard they work. Or endemic fraudulent billing (which probably exists).
5.12.2006 3:44pm
Ilya Somin:
Are such hours actually routine? An 80-hour week is being at the office 9-to-8:30 every day including weekends, and that's counting lunch as work.

At big firms in large markets, yes they are. Not all the hours are billable, but they are hours spent at the office or working at home. Many of my classmates at big NY firms routinely bill over 3000 hours per year, which translates to 60-70 billable hours per week. And that doesn't count nonbillable hours spent on administrative duties, pro bono work, etc.
5.12.2006 3:50pm
anonassociate:
Professor Sornin, you said
"Many of my classmates at big NY firms routinely bill over 3000 hours per year, which translates to 60-70 billable hours per week."

That is just untrue at any place other than Wachtell Lipton. A member of my wife's immediate family is a senior partner at an NY mega firm (over 1,000 lawyers) and told me that, over the last 5 years, perhaps 20 associates each year billed over 3,000 hours, and perhaps 2-3 partners, and always junior partners at that. I am certainly the last one to downplay the stress and hard work associated with practicing law at a major firm, even when partnership is achieved, but to say that people " routinely bill over 3000 hours per year" is not accurate.

Again, to the extent you were talking about Wachtell Lipton, perhaps it is true, but no where else, certainly not on a routine basis, and most of all certainly not on a routine basis for partners.

Regards.
5.12.2006 3:56pm
e:
I have some respect for academics and their value in society, but the key difference is that judges are public servants, and that their extremely generous salaries are being debated shows how far out of touch lawyers can be. I was able to live a modest lifestyle on military pay, and I never heard fellow officers griping about not being able to send kids to university or afford a vacation mansion on their pay. I want judges who feel a call to duty, not those bitching about "civilian" opportunities lost. It's always a choice to life within your means or not.
5.12.2006 4:00pm
Public_Defender (mail):
How do these factors apply to low-level government lawyers whose pay is pushed down when top-level pay is low?

<blockquote>
I. Power and Prestige—No one can say PD's have much of either.
II. Shorter Hours and Better Working Conditions--Granted, few of us work 70 hour weeks.
III. More Interesting Work--OK, we have many private sector lawyers beat hands down here.
IV. Job Security--these days it's not what it used to be. Local governments have budget problems, and paying criminal defense lawyers is not always at the top of the list.
V. Extremely Generous Pension Plans--Most of us get a good pension plan, but it's not nearly as good as judges get.
</blockquote>

As I said in the original post, "low" judge pay pushes down the pay of all government lawyers. Imagine trying to run a company as big as the American judicial system where the CEO makes only $210K a year, and everyone else must make incrementally less as you go down the line.

For example, a staff PD must make less than a supervisory PD who must make less than a chief PD who must make less than a local trial judge who must make less than a local appellate judge, etc., etc., etc.

Professor Somin misses a critical argument when he fails to consider how the salaries of judges affect the rest of the judicial system.
5.12.2006 4:13pm
Northerner (mail):
it is fair to say that many federal judges often get to work on extremely interesting constitutional and statutory cases.

Often? Try "occasionally." Federal judges don't have a discretionary caseload, and they can easily get mired in an endless stream of immigration appeals, diversity contract disputes, and drug sentencing cases.
5.12.2006 4:17pm
Public_Defender (mail):
A corollary to my point about how judges' pay affects other government salaries is that the price of a judicial pay raise is greater than simply multiplying the amount of the raise by the number of judges. It would have a ripple effect throughout the system.

I remember a few people opposing the 2000 presidential pay raise on that basis—raising the President's pay raises the cabinet pay which raises the sub-cabinet pay which raises etc., etc., etc.

My point isn't that I deserve a raise, but it's that the discussion of $160K-$210K judicial salaries affects the $30K-$40K attorneys at the bottom of the government system.
5.12.2006 4:24pm
SLS 1L:
Public Defender: That, unlike "judges' salaries are too low to attract good judges" and "you can't afford to live in a metropolitan area on a paltry $170k," is a decent reason to raise judicial salaries. I think the correct lesson is that the salaries of members of the civil service should be decoupled from the salaries of elected officials and political appointees. But given that that's not going to happen, raising judicial salaries may be a reasonable idea.
5.12.2006 4:46pm
SLS 1L:
anonassociate: and are the few people who really do bill 3000 hours actually working those 3000 hours for clients? Or are they just defrauding the client?
5.12.2006 4:50pm
Tom952 (mail):
a judge has tremendous non-salary benefits relative to private practice
I wonder what it is like to shop for a new car when one is a sitting judge?

But here at GMU, it is too low, dammit:)!
Losing faith in market forces when it becomes personal, huh?
5.12.2006 4:52pm
Steve Lubet (mail):
Ilya omits one of the biggest differences between large firm law practice and federal judging: STRESS. Big firm lawyers are under constant pressure not only to maintain the billables, but more significantly to keep the client bases. Thus, even your partners are potential competitors, and you can almost never relax. Poor producers, including equity partners, are routinely downsized. Clients may become disaffected, or they may be wooed away, or they may disappear due to takeovers or mergers. Federal judges have none of those worries.

Regarding pensions, Ilya says that "few if any private sector firms" are as generous as the federal government. That's a serious understatement. The real answer is that absolutely no private sector law firms are that generous, because all of the pensions are self-funded (where do you think the money comes from, if not fees?). And of course, the continued payments (other than 401Ks and the like) depend on the viability of the firm, which is no sure thing these days, and also the continued willingness of the active partners to support the retirees.
5.12.2006 4:52pm
Ilya Somin:
My point isn't that I deserve a raise, but it's that the discussion of $160K-$210K judicial salaries affects the $30K-$40K attorneys at the bottom of the government system.

This is an interesting point, but I am not persuaded. Federal judges' salaries are not part of the general federal civil service pay scale. They are set by congressional statute. Congress could easily raise the pay of the "30-40K" lawyers while holding judicial pay constant or vice versa. And judges are not the "CEOs" of prosecutors or federal public defenders. The latter do not work for the former and do not set their pay levels.
5.12.2006 4:54pm
Ilya Somin:
Regarding billable hours at NY firms, I know several people at firms other than Wachtell who bill 3000 hours/year. Moreover, you would not have to bill as much as 3000 hours in order to have a total work week (including nonbillables) of around 70 hours or more.
5.12.2006 4:58pm
SLS 1L:
Ilya - I suspect there is nonetheless a norm that people should always be paid less than the people who are perceived to be above them, even if they are not literally above them in some hierarchy. Wouldn't the case for raising federal judges' salaries be rhetorically much stronger if their salaries were less than those of public defenders?
5.12.2006 4:59pm
A.S.:
When these are taken into account, the total compensation of judges (salary + fringe benefits + nonpecuniary benefits) does not seem inferior to that of top private lawyers.

That's a pretty subjective judgement, don't you think? I can certainly imagine that others may feel differently.

Responses to a few of the points:

I. Few doubt that John Roberts increased his level of prestige when he left his job as a partner Hogan &Hartson (one of the nation's best law firms) to become a judge on the D.C. Circuit.

But is a District Court judge for the Southern District of Ohio more powerful and prestigious than a senior partner at Cravath? No way.

II. I agree with the shorter working hours. Your update still overstates the hours worked though, in my experience. Of course, that depends on the firm and the partner. I have worked at a top-15 (in PPP) firm in NY, and the halls were pretty quiet on weekends, especially among partners. Of course, that was several years ago, and more work gets done at home now, via internet/blackberry. Partners at my medium sized branch office in NY (including me) hardly ever work weekends.

III. More interesting work? Many of the GCs I know are intimately involved in business decisions, and are not stuck doing law all the time. Even firm lawyers are often very business oriented. Now, I suppose there are enough lawyers who are plenty interested in pure law, but a lot I know are very happy when they can apply their legal skills to business.
5.12.2006 5:02pm
Ilya Somin:
I suspect there is nonetheless a norm that people should always be paid less than the people who are perceived to be above them, even if they are not literally above them in some hierarchy.Wouldn't the case for raising federal judges' salaries be rhetorically much stronger if their salaries were less than those of public defenders?


Maybe, but federal public defender salaries would have to be raised three or fourfold before they surpassed the judges. Congress could easily raise federal PD and/or prosecutor salaries substantially, while still ensuring that they are less than those of judges.
5.12.2006 5:04pm
te (mail):
Battling anecdotes don't settle anything, but in my experience many associates at many firms (not just Wachtell in NYC) do bill 3,000 a year. That is a little over 8 hours a day, 7 days a week.

And by "many" I mean probably the 25 or 30 people I know at large firms in SF, LA, and NYC.

But, again, not to scare off the 1Ls who monitor this list - the chance of you even getting one of those jobs is vanishingly small. Most attorneys working at large and midsize firms I know work 50-60 hours a week on average, esp. after they have been doing it a few years.
5.12.2006 5:04pm
poster child (mail):
SLS1L

When I worked for a big Northeastern firm, I was on deals where I billed literally around the clock, since I was awake and working for several days straight. After a few deals like that, your weekly average can be pretty high, even if you're typically only (!) working 6 days a week.

And trust me, all the associates I know who bill 3000 hours a year are not cheating their clients, they're killing themselves for the client, which is almost as bad.
5.12.2006 5:08pm
Rational Actor (mail):
sls1l - my wife practiced corporate law at a big firm and was billing 2800+ hours + recruiting + other stuff. she was working at least six days a week, and she was working from 9:30am until 12:00 at night most days. nothing like a hot financing market. Until, of course, she came to her senses and quit. Or was it until she married a banker and quit. One or the other.
5.12.2006 5:28pm
anonassociate:
"Many" associates, in the context of all the assoicates in New York and DC, do bill 3,000. But it is not the routine occurence that Professor Somin seemed to be making it out to be. And I am not at all arguing the "working 3,000" point--just the "billing 3,000" point. I would say that most on-track, career-oriented associates at elite firms in busy practice areas (we have just eliminated at least 50% of all Bigfirm lawyers, by the way) bill 2400 or so, which is quite unpleasent, but the difference between 2400 and 3000 is a huge one.

Regards.
5.12.2006 5:31pm
Closet Libertarian (www):
The 15 year full retirement would actually encourage retirement after 15 years since you are effectively working for free.
5.12.2006 5:52pm
Adam (mail):
Federal judges don't have a discretionary caseload, and they can easily get mired in an endless stream of immigration appeals, diversity contract disputes, and drug sentencing cases.

Ditto. Not everything's handling exciting First Amendment law. District court judges get a heavy load of criminal cases, and under the new law will get even more class actions.
5.12.2006 5:53pm
Public_Defender (mail):
Maybe, but federal public defender salaries would have to be raised three or fourfold before they surpassed the judges. Congress could easily raise federal PD and/or prosecutor salaries substantially, while still ensuring that they are less than those of judges.
But you forget all the people between the judge and the entry-level PD. The head PD (who is paid the same as the US Attorney minus $1) must make more than his chief deputies, who must make more than supervisors, who must make more than 20-year veterans, who must make more than 10-year veterans, who must make more than newbies, who must make more than experienced county PD's who must make more than new county PDs, etc.

And even in the private sector, the comparison to dues-paying associates is inapt. The better comparison is to partners with 10-30 years experience. They pull in a lot more money than associates for a lot less work.
5.12.2006 6:15pm
Ilya Somin:
I remain unpersuaded by Public Defender's point. Congress has absolute authority to raise the salaries of public defenders, prosecutors, and other federal employees without simultaneously changing judicial salaries. It can also change the system under which salaries are based primarily on lockstep seniority. If we need to pay PDs more, there is no logical or legal reason why we can't do that without paying judges more too.

Moreover, I suspect that the salaries of even high-ranking PDs and prosecutors could be raised a good deal without exceeding judicial salaries.
5.12.2006 6:29pm
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
How do these factors apply to low-level government lawyers whose pay is pushed down when top-level pay is low?

I dunno about PDs, but agency attorneys' pay has nothing to do with judicial pay. Sometimes a senior attorney would hold the same GS-15 that his boss did.

An interesting quirk is the compression of salaries near the top. I think a GS-15 or senior 14 now makes around $100K. The head of the entire legal operation at Interior, equal to an Ass't Secretary and #3 in rank in the entire Department makes something over $140K. In between there are the Deputy Solcitors, Associate Solicitors (ES schedule) and Assistant Solicitors (mostly GS-15).
5.12.2006 6:45pm
LawyerJ:
I can think of at least one other benefit a federal judge has: a dedicated staff of at least 4 (for a district judge): secretary, docketing clerk, and two "elbow clerks."

The law clerks, in turn, are generally thrilled at the opportunity to work for you, willing to do so for far less then they'll make the following year in private practice, generally highly motivated, ambitious, self-starting types: i.e., dream employees.

Also, re two earlier points: I'd take SD Ohio judgeship over Cravath partnership any day. Cravath partner doesn't have more influence than the judge. He may hang out with richer, more important people, but if he appears before the SD Ohio judge, guess who has more power. As for stress, see the immediately preceding sentence, and consider that if a scheduled court hearing interferes with the judge's schedule, it simply gets moved; if it interferes with the Cravath partner's schedule, it gets moved only at the judge's discretion. Even at the "paltry" level of a federal district judge's pay, I'd take the job in a NY minute.
5.12.2006 6:50pm
Public_Defender (mail):
Current US Attorney (and therefore head PD) pay is $136K (I found that on a Google answers forum, so I'll stand corrected if someone proves me wrong). That's still 17% less than a federal judge's $165K, but you also have to fit magistrates in there. And a 17% difference between a US Attorney/PD and a judge seems reasonable to me.

You are right in theory that you could raise the salary of prosecutors and defense attorneys without raising judicial salaries. But that ignores the government reality that the people who set government salaries have informal ratios in mind when setting pay. One of the key factors near the top is federal judicial pay, and that works its way down.
5.12.2006 6:55pm
DaveK (mail):
"Many" associates, in the context of all the assoicates in New York and DC, do bill 3,000. But it is not the routine occurence that Professor Somin seemed to be making it out to be. And I am not at all arguing the "working 3,000" point--just the "billing 3,000" point. I would say that most on-track, career-oriented associates at elite firms in busy practice areas (we have just eliminated at least 50% of all Bigfirm lawyers, by the way) bill 2400 or so, which is quite unpleasent, but the difference between 2400 and 3000 is a huge one.

I think that's still a little high, at least for DC--and that the number of DC associates who bill 3000 hours/year is pretty tiny, even at the biggest, most prestigious firms.

My wife is a mid-level associate at the (~150-lawyer) DC office of a Vault top-50, American Lawyer top-50 (~800+-lawyer) firm. She's consistently one of the top associate billers in her practice group (litigation). Most years, she's billed 2100-2300 hrs/yr, with one year right at 2400. This has worked out to a typical workweek of 9 to 7 or so, Mon.-Fri. (a little later when things are busy); only a few isolated periods of later nights; only rare weekend commitments; and four weeks of vacation a year. This is not an unpleasant lifestyle, particularly if (as she does) you enjoy the work.

This is consistent with the experiences of our (many) friends who are DC big-law associates and of my experiences as a summer at one of the allegedly-hardest-driving firms in DC (where--since I was regularly hanging out far later than the average summer so we could carpool home--I can say with confidence that the place was real quiet by 7:30).

It's also easier the more senior you get. Although partner-track senior associates and partners certainly work very hard, they have more control over their own schedules (though second to judges!) and are too expensive for the big document reviews that are the main cause of late nights for junior associates in DC.

I can't speak to New York--my vague impression is that it's a whole different ballgame. (Law students: come work in DC! You're paid nearly as much to do often-better work and have a better lifestyle!)
5.12.2006 8:32pm
Paul234:
DaveK: if only it were that easy. The work-life balance you describe is probably a reason that OCI with DC law firms is so much more competitive.
5.12.2006 9:17pm
betsy:
My father is a federal magistrate, and he makes less than half what he did when he left his law firm (which he'd been at for a bazillion years and had worked his way up the whole food chain there.) But wow he is tons happier as a judge than he was as a lawyer. Other than reason #4 I think they're all applicable to him.

Some comments: He was always more than fair with his billable hours, to the point where he should probably have billed for hours that he didn't. I think, however, that he was in the minority there. He also has made a concious decision not to seek promotion to a "real" judge, because that would re-start the pension clock and lose him a lot of money. He lives pretty modestly (he and his wife share one car and I think it's a Dodge Neon) but I do think he'd like to retire when he gets old enough to.

He was mentioned on the VC a long time ago, my family cheered him on during his 15 minutes of fame. We're proud of him and we're glad he finally came to find a job that he likes.

Betsy
5.13.2006 12:53am
Jeremy T (mail):
Ha ha, a 2000 hour year at my firm is unusually high. In other news, I played golf three times this week. :-)

It's true, I don't make quite as much as a BigLaw associate. But damn I enjoy life.
5.13.2006 1:52am
Robert Schwartz (mail):
Ankle Biter
5.13.2006 3:05am
Kevin L. Connors (mail) (www):
Ilya: "[I]t is fair to say that many federal judges often get to work on extremely interesting constitutional and statutory cases."

Oh, give me a break, Ilya. This would certainly be true for a Supreme. And true, as you state it, for an appellate court judge. But for the folks at the district court level, it's got to be one shitload of stupid, mundane crap - day after day - with just an occasional taste of something really interesting.

And I think much of this relates to the problem in getting good people o the bench - frivolous torts and overcriminalization. And this is all part of the huge legislative-judicial-enforcement-incarceration machine. And it's easy to see that a warden might want more prisoners. But, by the same token, can't we say a presiding judge might want a bigger caseload?

This is basic supply and demand stuff. We have to stop cramming so much shit in the courts that doesn't need to be there. It's time to realize that the fix is in, and we all are the marks.

Then perhaps, if good quality people can get on the bench, and know they won't have to do years in district court purgatory, before they really get to sink their teeth into some meat, as an appellate court judge, perhaps more good people will sign-on.
5.13.2006 4:12am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
I have to believe that most judges do it for the power and the prestige. I have known a number of trial judges here in CO through my father, and their jobs don't sound like that much fun. At least here, their dockets are overwhelming. 2/3 of their cases are civil, but they spend 2/3 of their time on criminal. And we have a speedy trial provision that means that if the defendant doesn't wave this right, he has to be tried within a certain time frame. The result is that civil trials often get cancelled at the last minute.

So, they have a constant parade of PDs, prosecutors, and defendants coming before them, reading the defendants their rights, making sure that their agreements are voluntary, and then sending them off to jail, for often a good portion of their lives. By all indications, this makes much of law look exciting. Mandatory sentencing guidelines don't help here either, removing much of even that part of their job. Then there are the innumerable hearings on routine subjects, such as, oh, discovery. Party X is supplying what Party Y wants, and so Y's attorney wants to sanction X'x attorney. And then the next week, the opposite. Lawyers playing hardball with each other, and trying to use the judges to their advantage as referees. After a couple years on the bench, it is no wonder that many judges acquire a love/hate relationship with their former profession. They love that the lawyers fawn on them, but hate what the lawyers put them through, day in and day out.

They do have some control over their dockets, but not always as much as they would like. About 5 years ago, I represented the defendant in what was to be a 4 day jury trial. Before trial started on Tuesday, the judge remarked that there was a judicial conference Friday that he would like to attend. Hint, Hint. Eleven a.m. Thurs., the plaintiff rested his case, and I moved for a directed verdict. I got it on one of two counts and he took the second under advisement, so I started my case. After the judge excused the jury for lunch, he called us to the bench, and told the other attorney that at this point, the most his client could expect would be under $1,000 (down from about $100,000), and, because of that, when it came to attorneys' fees, his client would not be the prevailing party (there went another $50,000), and that we should think about that over lunch. Hint, Hint. Needless to say, he got his settlement, and his judicial conference, by the end of lunch.

Federal trial judges do seem to have it better, not having to worry nearly as much about discovery, and most likely not having the steady stream of indigent defendants being plead out. And the civil side can be interesting - but I still wouldn't want to try to stay awake through many of the trials I have seen. I find IP cases interesting, because that is where I practice. But I am sure that most would find, for example, the average patent infringement case, the height of boredom. You sometimes get weeks, or even months, of testimony about miniscule details. And, yes, federal courts have exclusive jurisdiction over patent and copyright infringement suits.

I think that the place where you want to be is where Luttig was - on an appeals court. Better yet, a supreme court, where you have some control of the cases you hear through the cert. process (and if you hate some case, you can scream at the justices who voted to grant cert.) More prestige at the appeals level, and more control over your time. Also, for many, much more interesting work. Besides, you have those eager clerks to do the grunt work, whereas the trial level judges can't delegate those hundreds of hours hearing the gory details of that patent infringement suit (or, at the state level, all the motions practice, discovery squabbles, and stipulated criminal dispositions).

And note that some of the prestige of a judgeship follows a judge for the rest of his life. Even as GC for Boeing, Luttig will most likely be addressed by most as "Judge" - and woe to anyone who forgets (or hasn't done his homework). Possibly also with "Honorable", etc. if someone is really trying to suck up to him. Indeed, at least as long as someone is on the bench, being formally addressed as "The Honorable" goes a long way in justifying getting and staying on the bench for many. That partner at Cravath doesn't have that.
5.13.2006 11:44am
Goober (mail):
Agreed on all points, with the following quibbles:

First, that federal judges have more interesting work than the Park Avenue Bar lawyers is objectively true. It is emphatically not "in the eye of the beholder."

Second, anonassociate is correct that only Wachtell (and Cravath) have 3000 hour associates with any frequency. I would estimate that about 90% of the big-firm lawyers I know would probably collapse at 2600 hours, and the vast majority come in very close to 2000. Surely there are a couple of 3000 hour years out there, even outside the real sweatshops (even my firm has probably seen one or two recently), but it's absolutely not true that this is anywhere near the norm. Now, as to associates working 70 hours a week? Precisely the norm, at least at the big firms that pay the big salaries. However, that doesn't translate to billing 70 hours a week, which is a different bird entirely.
5.13.2006 4:48pm
exlawyer (mail):
1) Quibbling over how many law firm associates bill 2000 hours versus 3000 hours is beside the point. Judges have it better when it comes to work hours. It's a meaningful benefit to being a judge. Whether private firm lawyers work 2200 or 3200 billable hours, private firm lawyers, especially in the big city corporate defense firms, work relentlessly. They put in far more hours than judges, and have less control over their schedules. Beyond that, they are subject to a lot of work related travel to places they might not choose as vacation destinations. I can tell you from experience that once you book your 40th night in two months in the Tulsa Westin away from spouse and family it gets old, even if the ten hours daily you spend in the hotel are not billable hours. I can also tell you from experience that billing 2400 honest hours feels like working all the time to someone with a spouse and family, and also that it is way more time than I spent working, or my judge spent working, in my DC Circuit clerkship (about the same as what I spent in my Supreme Court clerkship, but way, way more than the Justice spent). It is significant compensation to judges that they don't have to work any more hours than they want.

2) If folks are going to look at the soft benefits of being a judge, they need to look at the soft costs as well. Some judges that I have known were less troubled by the pay issues than they were by the ethical restrictions on association with lawyers as friends. Once you take the judicial vows, you submit yourself to some fairly stringent ethical requirements that will govern with whom you can associate. As a practical matter, it's hard to maintain an active social life with your peers who are at major law firms and be an ethical federal judge. Beyond that, in today's confirmation environment, as a candidate for a high level federal appellate judgeship (or, God forbid, a Supreme Court justice slot) the biggest potential cost would not be the reduced wages but having your every stray stupid comment about abortion or other controversial topics recapitulated to your lasting cost in the confirmation hearings. Harriet Myers would have made less money judging than she did at her old law firm, but what she lost in terms of public respect just by being nominated far outstrips any financial loss she would have incurred. I have to think that the potential for humilation in the confirmation process, more than salary issues, removes many experienced private lawyers from the talent pool who might have been strong candidates a generation ago.
5.13.2006 5:45pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Then there are the innumerable hearings on routine subjects, such as, oh, discovery. Party X is supplying what Party Y wants, and so Y's attorney wants to sanction X'x attorney. And then the next week, the opposite.
Bruce, that's why god invented magistrate judges.
5.13.2006 6:08pm