Policyholder Law Firms Should Ethically Be Hiring More Judicial Clerks

Ian Dankelman

Ian Dankelman is a former federal judicial law clerk who is a fantastic attorney at Merlin Law Group. We were talking about how our firm could hire other judicial law clerks who want to help people and small businesses fighting insurance companies. He said that he received—and then showed me a letter from—an insurance defense firm out of Colorado, Wheeler Trigg, that he assumes sends out unsolicited offers to federal law clerks for jobs.

I went to the Wheeler Trigg website and sure enough, they are advertising and offer big dollar signing bonuses to trial and appellate court law clerks. This is what their website says:

One-time bonus for new hires immediately following completion of a judicial clerkship in the amount of $60,000 for a federal appellate court clerkship, $40,000 for a federal district court clerkship, $25,000 for a state supreme court clerkship, and $10,000 for a state appellate court clerkship.

This bonus is above their very high salary. This means that the pay this insurance defense firm advertises to all judicial law clerks coupled with signing bonus is about the same amount the judges make, if not more. That is a pretty big financial incentive advertised to all law clerks.

Ian Dankelman explained to me that numerous ethical rules exist about hiring judicial law clerks. This is obvious since the judiciary has an interest in making sure lawyers advertising for and interviewing their clerks are not courting favor through the advertising and offering of future jobs to law clerks working with judges.

Ian explained that even the perception by the public that certain firms could curry favor by hiring clerks or having a more favorable relationship with the judiciary was a big concern with judges. After all, if a litigant was fighting a lawsuit in court and the opposing law firm was advertising money offers through the internet and also sending letters to the presiding judge’s legal help, would you be concerned if you were the litigant opposing that law firm?

Judges understand this problem and try to set up rules so the public does not lose faith about honest results or that the deck is stacked for those who offer employment or have ties to the judiciary. The whole system of American justice would be a farce and fail if there was a perception that certain lawyers obtain favorable treatment because they advertise for and hire those working in the judicial branch.

The placement of law clerks and the judicial concern of independence is certainly well founded. In my research I noted an article, The Job After The Clerkship, which states:

That is why many judges will not allow their clerks to have accepted an offer or otherwise agree to work for a particular law firm after their clerkship is complete. Some firms will respond to such a prohibition with a wink-wink arrangement in which you aren’t formally employed, but all parties understand the opportunity is there waiting for you.

I am not certain the “wink, wink” noted in the article really helps the public’s perception of judicial independence. Yet, I understand that clerks need to have jobs after they leave their public service. Judges and the public need great law clerks so the law and judgments are right.

Ian Dankelman is a great young lawyer helping people. I can appreciate why insurance defense firms with their wealthy insurer clients want to hire these bright and capable attorneys like Ian as well. Ian provided me a manual, Maintaining the Public Trust Ethics for Federal Judicial Law Clerks, which demonstrates how seriously lawyers and the judiciary want to make certain that private lawyers are not wrongfully providing even the appearance of impropriety much less actual bias through their hiring practices.

Merlin Law Group will try to hire more judicial law clerks because we want more great lawyers like Ian working with us. It is amazing how much our capable opponents at Wheeler Trigg can afford to pay above the normal market price for that same talent pool of capable judicial law clerk attorneys. But they are pretty good about doing what they do and how they represent those insurance companies.

Thought For The Day

I don’t believe newspaper reporters can substitute for a district attorney, but a newspaper has a very valid investigative role. Newspaper reports on corruption in government, racketeering and organized crime conditions can be very helpful to your communities and the whole country.
—Robert Kennedy

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