Federal Judicial Clerk Cost Controls:

The U.S. Judicial Conference is considering limits on clerkship salaries in an effort to control costs, according to this National Law Journal story. The primary effect of the measure would be to limit the use of career clerks by federal judges.

The recommendations would curtail the judges’ freedom to hire lifetime clerks as of Oct. 1, 2007, create performance guidelines, limit vacation pay for term law clerks and replace matching pay to experienced law clerks who leave private practice with pay parity based on experience. . . .

Traditionally, federal judges have hired term law clerks, usually students just out of law school, to work one or two years. Increasingly, more experienced lawyers have been hired as career clerks, who stay permanently with judges. They provide continuity to complex cases as well as accumulated expertise, but they also require ever-rising pay. A career clerk receives, on average, $105,000 annually, which creeps up over time with raises, while term clerks are paid $71,000 for a year, then leave.

A decade ago there were 769 career law clerks, with a total annual salary cost of $55 million. The number by the last budget had doubled to 1,514 career clerks at a cost of $159 million, according to the report. The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts reports that the figure continues to grow, with 1,650 career clerks today and 2,336 term law clerks. . . .

The report has produced some stunning cost comparisons between one judge’s chambers and another when the use of career clerks is factored in. Without naming a specific court, the report found one district judge spending $69,000 to run chambers, while another judge in the same district spent nearly five times as much, or $336,000 annually.

At the circuit level, the least costly appellate judge in one circuit spent $133,000 annually to run chambers, while the most expensive spent triple that, $410,000, in the same circuit.

As the story indicates, some judges are quite unhappy with the potential change.