Barely Legally

Confessions of a Moot Court Bailiff

Superlawyers

In this wonderful article, Reuters goes deep on the Supreme Court. You probably know that the highest court in the country is selective about which cases it accepts. Very selective, actually. They get about 10,000 petitions for certiorari each year, and grant just about 80. If you’re a math whiz, you may have already worked it out: that’s less than one percent.

Reuters has some fascinating numbers about the 66 “superstar lawyers”, or “superlawyers” who can improve your odds of hearing a case just a little bit:

They are the elite of the elite: Although they account for far less than 1 percent of lawyers who filed appeals to the Supreme Court, these attorneys were involved in 43 percent of the cases the high court chose to decide from 2004 through 2012.

Some legal experts contend that the reliance on a small cluster of specialists, most working on behalf of businesses, has turned the Supreme Court into an echo chamber – a place where an elite group of jurists embraces an elite group of lawyers who reinforce narrow views of how the law should be construed.

Whoa! What’s their secret? Well, according to Reuters, half of these “hyperattorneys” or “ultrabarristers” used to clerk for the Supreme Court’s justices. Others just socialize with them.

Um. Okay, well, it’s good work if you can get it. So what kind of trade are these “megacouncillors” plying?

Of the 66 most successful lawyers, 51 worked for law firms that primarily represented corporate interests. In cases pitting the interests of customers, employees or other individuals against those of companies, a leading attorney was three times more likely to launch an appeal for business than for an individual, Reuters found.

Really? You get the greatest endorsement the legal field knows how to provide, and you apply it for personal gain? Come on, man. (And almost all of them are men. Naturally.)

You know, part of why I lionized President Obama back when he was just Senator Obama is this quote from Obama’s law school classmate Bradford Berenson:

He turned his back on what would normally be the standard route for any president of the Harvard Law Review, which is to take very prestigious judicial clerkships, probably including a clerkship at the Supreme Court of the United States. And he returned to Chicago instead to begin political work and community work.

From the perspective of people on the Review in 1991, that was an unfathomable, unheard-of decision. The clerkships only take – even if you do get a Supreme Court clerkship – two years. And they’re an extraordinary experience, an extraordinary credential, an extraordinary opportunity to serve the country and serve the judiciary.

Oh, sure, that Obama guy did all right for himself in the end, thanks to that whole memoir he wrote, with the over-the-top publicity tour that helped move a few million copies. Clearly, there are avenues to personal gain that don’t involve making a beeline for SCOTUS and BigLaw and milking every last dime out of every opportunity for personal enrichment.

For the other folks, the ones who don’t turn their backs on the Supreme Court clerkships? It would be nice if more of them, the ones who ascend to such lofty heights, would direct their ambitions toward public service instead of private enrichment. You just rounded third base, and we’re all excited for you, but maybe share some of that love. Especially when so many of you didn’t hit a triple at all; you were born on third base.

The Reuters examination of the Supreme Court’s docket, the most comprehensive ever, suggests that the justices essentially have added a new criterion to whether the court takes an appeal – one that goes beyond the merits of a case and extends to the merits of the lawyer who is bringing it.

The results: a decided advantage for corporate America, and a growing insularity at the court. Some legal experts contend that the reliance on a small cluster of specialists, most working on behalf of businesses, has turned the Supreme Court into an echo chamber – a place where an elite group of jurists embraces an elite group of lawyers who reinforce narrow views of how the law should be construed.

Read the whole thing. It’s enlightening.