Qualifications, Salary, and Benefits

January 14, 2014

Qualifications

Law Clerk (Chambers, Pro Se, Death Penalty and Bankruptcy Appellate Panel)

The Judicial Conference of the United States established the minimum qualifications for law clerks, and judges can add additional requirements for the position. Judges list their specific qualifications in the position posting within the OSCAR system. By the time of appointment to a law clerk position, the appointee must meet the following general requirements:

  • Law school graduate or certified as having completed all law school studies and requirements and merely awaiting conferment of degree; and
  • Have one or more of the following attributes:
    • Standing within the upper third of the law school class from a law school on the approved list of either the American Bar Association or the Association of American Law Schools;
    • Experience on the editorial board of a law review of such a school;
    • Graduation from such a school with an LLM degree; or
    • Demonstrated proficiency in legal studies, which in the opinion of the judge, is equivalent of one of the above.

The law clerk selectee must undergo a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) fingerprint check. In addition, a judge can also require a new law clerk to undergo an FBI name  check and a credit check. Employment is provisional and contingent upon the satisfactory completion of the required fingerprint check and other optional FBI checks, if required. The court will arrange for all necessary background checks.

Staff Attorney

The Judicial Conference of the Unites States established the minimum qualifications for staff attorneys. Senior staff attorneys can add additional requirements and list their specific qualifications within the position announcement in the OSCAR system. By the time of appointment to a staff attorney position, the candidate must meet the following requirements:

  • Law school graduate; and
  • Meet the specific qualifications in the position announcement.

The staff attorney selectee must undergo a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) fingerprint check and any other optional checks such as name and credit checks. Employment is provisional and contingent upon the satisfactory completion of the required FBI fingerprint check and other optional checks. The Staff Attorney Office will arrange for all necessary background checks.

Salary

Law Clerk (Chambers, Pro Se, Death Penalty and Bankruptcy Appellate Panel)

The Judiciary Salary Plan (JSP) provides the salary coverage for law clerks. The federal judiciary uses the same locality rates as the executive branch. Current locality rates for law clerks are available at Judiciary Salary Plan Pay Rates.

The hiring judge, as the appointing authority, assigns a selectee's grade and step, and thus sets the salary, at the time of appointment. A law clerk’s salary depends upon legal work experience subsequent to graduation from law school, bar membership, and applicable locality pay adjustments:

  • JSP-11, step 1 – Law school graduates with academic excellence and no legal work experience. Annual base salary is $50,790 (plus applicable locality rate).
  • JSP-12, step 1 – One or more years of post-graduate legal work experience and bar membership. Annual base salary is $60,877 (plus applicable locality rate).
  • JPS-13, step 1 – Two or more years of post-graduate legal work experience and bar membership. Annual base salary is $72,391 (plus applicable locality rate).

Law Clerk (Chambers)

If an appointee has three years of post-graduate legal work experience (with at least two years as a judicial law clerk, staff attorney, pro se law clerk, death penalty law clerk, or bankruptcy appellate panel law clerk in the federal judiciary) plus bar membership, he or she qualifies for appointment at JSP-14, step 1, with an annual base salary of $85,544 (plus applicable locality rate). Judicial Conference policy permits only one grade 14 law clerk per chambers. Incoming law clerks who have prior federal experience may be eligible to match their highest previous rate of federal pay within the grade for which they qualify. Specific information about salary can be made available prior to accepting an offer from the employing court's personnel representative.

Exceptions for the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit:

Due to the nature of the work of the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit,
(a) passing the bar is required, not necessarily bar membership; and
(b) other professional work experience in a field of the court's jurisdiction such as engineering, science, or technology, may be substituted for the required legal work experience (whether pre- or post-Juris Doctor) on a year-for-year basis, at the appointing judge's discretion. This experience may not, however, be substituted for the federal clerkship experience required for appointment or promotion to the JSP-14.

Law Clerk (Pro Se, Death Penalty, Bankruptcy Appellate Panel)

If an appointee has three years of post-graduate legal work experience plus bar membership, he or she qualifies for appointment at JSP-14, step 1, with an annual base salary of $85,544 (plus applicable locality rate). Incoming law clerks who have prior federal experience may be eligible to match their highest previous rate of federal pay within the grade for which they qualify. Salary matching/advanced in step appointments may only be applied to pro se, death penalty or bankruptcy appellate panel law clerks appointed to grade JSP-12 and higher.  Specific information about salary can be made available prior to accepting an offer from the employing court's personnel representative.

 

Staff Attorney

The Court Personnel System, which has pay bands called classification levels (CL), provides the salary coverage for staff attorneys. The federal judiciary uses the same locality rates as the executive branch. Current locality rates for staff attorneys are available at Court Personnel System Pay Rates.

The senior staff attorney, as the appointing authority, assigns a selectee's classification level and step, and thus sets the salary, at the time of appointment. A staff attorney's salary depends upon legal work experience subsequent to graduation from law school, bar membership, and applicable locality pay adjustments.

Classification levels for staff attorney range from CL 27 to CL 31:

  • CL-27 – Law school graduates with no legal work experience.
  • CL-28 – One year* of postgraduate legal work experience.
  • CL-29 – Two years* of postgraduate legal work experience and bar membership.
  • CL-30 – Three years* of postgraduate legal work experience and bar membership.
  • CL-31 – (Reserved for supervisory staff attorneys) Four years* of postgraduate legal work experience and bar membership.

One year of experience must be equivalent to work at next lower classification level.
Incoming staff attorneys who have prior federal experience may be eligible to match their highest previous rate of federal pay within the classification level for which they qualify. In addition, if the senior staff attorney finds the selectee has "unusually high or unique qualifications" or the office has a special need for the selectee’s services, the senior staff attorney could appoint the new staff attorney at any step up to step 61 in the classification level.

Benefits

Law Clerk (Chambers)

Benefits depend upon type of appointment:

Term Appointment
Term appointments are the most common. Term federal judicial law clerks serve on an appointment limited to a total of four years (accounting for all term law clerk service completed on or after September 18, 2007), but are generally one or two years in duration. Some judges appoint term law clerks for eighteen months. The OSCAR system lists the length of the term for a position in the "term dates" field within the position announcement. Term appointment law clerks are covered by Social Security and are eligible for health, dental, vision and life insurance coverage, and participation in judiciary supplemental benefits programs. If, however, the expiration date of the appointment does not extend to the end of the calendar year, and the law clerk has fewer than four years of service with the federal judiciary, he/she is not eligible to enroll in the Heath Care Reimbursement Account during the last year of the appointment. Term law clerks are not eligible to participate in the federal employee retirement systems or the Thrift Savings Plan (unless they are appointed without a break in service from another federal position in which they were eligible for benefits).

Career Appointment
Career judicial law clerks are appointed for four or more years. The minimum length of the commitment that a judge expects is indicated on the position announcement. Career law clerks are eligible to participate in all benefit programs offered to judiciary employees, including health, dental, vision, and life insurance coverage; retirement benefits; judiciary supplemental benefit programs; and the Thrift Savings Plan.

Temporary Appointment
The third type of law clerk appointment is a temporary appointment. Occasionally, emergency situations require a judge to obtain additional law clerk assistance for a limited period of time and with a specific termination date. Temporary appointments are limited to a total of four years. This is a temporary appointment. If the appointment is for one year or less, the law clerk will not be eligible for health, dental, vision and life insurance coverage; retirement; participation in the judiciary flexible spending accounts; or the Thrift Savings Account. A temporary law clerk appointed for more than one year is eligible for health, dental, vision and life insurance coverage, and participation in judiciary supplemental benefit programs, but is not eligible to participate in the retirement system or the Thrift Savings Plan. All temporary law clerks are subject to social security deductions. If the expiration date of the appointment does not extend to the end of the calendar year and the law clerk has fewer than four years of service with the Federal Judiciary, he/she will not be eligible to enroll in the Health Care Reimbursement Account during the last year of the appointment.

 

Law Clerk (Pro Se, Death Penalty, Bankruptcy Appellate Panel)

Benefits depend upon type of appointment:

Permanent Appointment
Permanent appointments are the most common. Permanent pro se, death penalty and bankruptcy appellate panel law clerks are eligible to participate in all benefit programs offered to judiciary employees, including health, dental, vision, and life insurance coverage; retirement benefits; judiciary supplemental benefit programs; and the Thrift Savings Plan.

Temporary Appointment
Temporary appointments are limited to a total of four years. If the appointment is for one year or less, the law clerk will not be eligible for health, dental, vision and life insurance coverage; retirement; participation in the judiciary flexible spending accounts; or the Thrift Savings Account. A temporary pro se, death penalty or bankruptcy appellate panel law clerk appointed for more than one year is eligible to participate in all benefit programs offered to judiciary employees, including health, dental, vision, and life insurance coverage; retirement benefits; judiciary supplemental benefit programs; and the Thrift Savings Plan.  All temporary law clerks are subject to social security deductions. If the expiration date of the appointment does not extend to the end of the calendar year and the staff attorney has fewer than four years of service with the Federal Judiciary, he/she will not be eligible to enroll in the Health Care Reimbursement Account during the last year of the appointment.

Law clerks are not covered under the leave act unless the appointing judges specifically choose to include them.

Staff Attorney

Benefits depend upon type of appointment:

Term Appointment
Term staff attorneys serve on an appointment limited to a total of four years. The OSCAR system lists the length of the term for a position in the "term dates" field within the position announcement. Term appointment staff attorneys are covered by Social Security and are eligible for health, dental, vision and life insurance coverage, and participation in judiciary supplemental benefits programs. If, however, the expiration date of the appointment does not extend to the end of the calendar year, and the staff attorney has fewer than four years of service with the federal judiciary, he/she is not eligible to enroll in the Heath Care Reimbursement Account during the last year of the appointment. Term staff attorneys are not eligible to participate in the federal employee retirement systems or the Thrift Savings Plan (unless they are appointed without a break in service from another federal position in which they were eligible for benefits).

Career Appointment
Career staff attorneys are appointed for four or more years. The minimum length of the commitment that the senior staff attorney expects is indicated on the position announcement. Career staff attorneys are eligible to participate in all benefit programs offered to judiciary employees, including health, dental, vision, and life insurance coverage; retirement benefits; judiciary supplemental benefit programs; and the Thrift Savings Plan.

Temporary Appointment
The third type of staff attorney appointment is a temporary appointment. Temporary appointments are limited to a total of four years. If the appointment is for one year or less, the staff attorney will not be eligible for health, dental, vision and life insurance coverage; retirement; participation in the judiciary flexible spending accounts; or the Thrift Savings Account. A temporary staff attorney appointed for more than one year is eligible for health, dental, vision and life insurance coverage, and participation in judiciary supplemental benefit programs, but is not eligible to participate in the retirement system or the Thrift Savings Plan. All temporary staff attorneys are subject to social security deductions. If the expiration date of the appointment does not extend to the end of the calendar year and the staff attorney has fewer than four years of service with the Federal Judiciary, he/she will not be eligible to enroll in the Health Care Reimbursement Account during the last year of the appointment.

Staff attorneys are covered under the leave act.