The Supreme Court Bar
For the elite of the Supreme Court Bar, this is the Gilded Age. Or call it the Age of the Guild.
The Court’s docket continues to shrink. Yet dramatic new research by Georgetown University Law Center professor Richard Lazarus shows that more and more of the Court’s cases are brought and argued by the seasoned veterans who have honed Supreme Court practice into a fine, and exclusive, art form. Last term, fully 44 percent of the nongovernment petitions that were granted review by the Court were filed by such veteran advocates. In 1980, that number was less than 6 percent.
The justices and their law clerks, it seems clear, pay special attention to the briefs and arguments of these virtuosos of the bar. Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., after all, was once one of them, arguing 39 cases to the Court in his days as an appellate lawyer in the private and public sector. And Lazarus cites a 2004 survey published in the Journal of Law & Politics indicating that 88 percent of law clerks openly acknowledged giving extra consideration to briefs filed by what one called the “inner circle” of the Supreme Court Bar. The clerks, who play a crucial role in screening incoming cases for their justices, often then go to work for these same firms, garnering hiring bonuses that this year have reached $250,000.
According to statistics compiled by Professor Richard Lazarus (Georgetown Univ. Law Center), the percentage of successful cert petitions filed by expert Supreme Court attorneys has gone up from 6% in 1980 to 44% in 2006. And the percentage of first-timers arguing before the Court has dropped from 76% to 52%, while the number of seasoned veterans (10 arguments or more) has risen from 3% to 26%.