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September 26, 2007

Helping (underpaid?) judges through law school innovation

I am not sure I consider federal judges underpaid, but I am sure that concerns about judicial salaries create an opportunity to involve (and compensate) judges with law school innovations.  Specifically, how about a program to "hire" federal judges as law school fellows for a few months in the summer? 

Federal judges could be fellows in residence at law schools from, say, July 4th until Labor Day.  While in residence, judges would teach a summer class, participate in faculty workshops, be available for student advising, and maybe write a commentary for a school's journal.  These paid fellowships would allow federal judges to supplement their incomes by, in essence, serving as resources and consultants to law schools in the summer months. (Since the average tenured faculty member earns roughly $10-15 thousand per month, it would be very fair to pay judges around $25,000 for spending two months around the law school.  They would, of course, still have to keep up with key judicial responsibilities during this period.)

Even if a law school hired, say, four judicial law school fellows each summer, the yearly investment would be $100,000 in a program that would surely produce many dividends.  Better yet, I think AALS might urge Congress to foot the bill.  To fully fund this kind of fellowship for 200 law school would cost only $20 million annually (which is probably about what the federal government was spent in Iraq just this morning).

Congress should see many benefits from creating a judicial fellows program.  Not only could this program lower the volume on calls for judicial pay raises, but it also might keep the Justices in the states during the summer so that they do not run off to Europe and start getting crazy ideas about the import of foreign law.

September 26, 2007 in Teaching -- curriculum | Permalink

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Comments

Great idea. However, I wonder if it really needs to be tied to the summer period-- for some judges, this can be nearly as busy as the rest of the year. A fellowship in the spring, for example, might lead to much more contact with students.

Posted by: Mark Osler | Sep 30, 2007 12:56:49 PM

I would say that whether federal judges are underpaid is not even a question, they definitely are. You can see the proof of this in the fact that more and more federal judges are giving up their lifetime tenure to go back to the private sector. If you think about the perks of being a federal judge with senior status (low case load, flexible schedule, etc.) the fact that ANY sane person would give that up is proof that the compensation is sorely lacking.

For judges who are not the only "bread winners" in their families, a low salary may not be so bad, but for many it is a serious sacrifice and ultimately insulting. Federal judges are asked to take on tremendously difficult tasks, sentencing alone can take quite an emotional and mental toll, and in exchange for that they are paid less than first year associates at most major law firms. Low salaries are the reason we have such low quality and high turnover in public defenders and prosecutors - do we really want the same thing for our judges?

Posted by: Law Clerk | Nov 9, 2007 9:06:44 AM

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