A clerkship at a U.S. district is invaluable experience, both for law school graduates seeking their first practical experiences or new attorneys eager to broaden their legal horizons. In general, clerks conduct legal research; write legal documents, such as bench memos, orders and opinions; and edit their judge's writing. Clerks may also help with courtroom proceedings and maintain the chambers library.A clerkship is prestigious and enhances your job opportunities.
Federal district court law clerks are paid according to the Judiciary Salary Plan, which also covers judicial executives, personal staff of judges, court interpreters and law clerks. The Administrative Office of the United States Courts administers administers this plan. The plan’s salary table divides compensation into 18 grades, which represent different positions and qualifications. Each grade is further divided into 10 steps, which represent increases within the grade. Grade 11 is the lowest level through which law clerks can enter the federal district court. Annual base pay for that level ranges from $50,287 to $65,371 as of 2012. The highest grade that law clerks can enter is 14, which shows a yearly range of $84,697 to $110,104.
Law clerks are assigned to federal district courts across the country. Since cost of living differs by location, the Judiciary Salary Plan offers locality pay, which represents a percentage increase over the base salary. For example, Indianapolis, Anderson and Columbus, in Indiana, have a relatively lower cost of living, so their locality pay is 14.68 percent. This pushes grade 11 annual pay to a range of $57,669 to $74,967, and grade 14 yearly salary to a range of $97,131 to $126,267. San Jose, San Francisco and Oakland, in California, have a higher cost of living, reflected in the 35.15 percent locality pay. Grade 11 annual compensation in that area ranges from $67,963 to $88,349. For grade 14, the annual range runs from $114,468 to $148,806.
Education and experience wield the biggest influence on pay grades for federal law clerks. The lowest grade 11 pay requires graduation from law school with high academic achievement. To enter at grade 12, which has a base annual range of $60,274 to $78,355, clerks need one year of post-graduate judicial experience and bar membership. Clerks need two years of experience and bar membership for grade 13, which has salary range of $71,674 to $93,175. Grade 14 clerks need three years of work experience, with at least two years as a federal judicial law clerk. Typically, grade 14 clerks come from those who have two years as a grade 13 federal district court clerk. A chambers may only employ one full-time law clerk at the grade 14 pay rate.
Federal district court law clerks generally earn more than the average for all judicial law clerks, which was $52,610 per year, as of May 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. They also earned more than paralegals and legal assistants, who averaged an annual $50,220, and legal secretaries, who made a mean $44,380. However, they made less than the average $98,570 per year for all legal occupations, less than the mean annual $130,880 for lawyers and less than the $102,470 yearly for judges.
- U.S. District Court: Clerkships and Internships
- U.S. Courts: 2012 Pay Tables
- U.S. Courts: 2012 Base Pay Rates of the Judiciary Salary Plan
- U.S. Courts: Indianapolis-Anderson-Columbus, Indiana, 2012 Pay Rates
- U.S. Courts: San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland, California, 2012 Pay Rates
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: U.S. Wages
- Federal Business Opportunities: Development and Production of the Judiciary Salary Plan (JSP) and Court Personnel System (CPS) Pay Tables
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