Justice Kennedy testified before the Senate today that federal judicial salaries are too low and are hurting judicial morale and independence. This is an old issue, and Kennedy didn’t say anything that he and others haven’t said many times before. But with law firm salaries on the rise again, I began to wonder: Is it possible that first-year associates might soon make more than Supreme Court justices? And sure enough, the answer is yes.
Simpson Thatcher recently raised starting salaries to $160,000, and the expectation is that other major firms will match, if not beat, that number. A typical bonus is about $25,000, but with a little effort and luck a first-year associate could receive $50,000 to $60,000. Add it up, and that 25-year-old who still doesn’t understand the hearsay rule is making $210,000 to $220,000. The salary of Supreme Court justices? $203,000. And the Chief’s salary? $212,000. Can you say document review, John Roberts?