Many Supreme Court watchers said the person responsible for leaking a draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade committed career suicide. If that’s so, the top law firms aren’t saying a word about it.
The Washington Free Beacon contacted partners and corporate staff at six top law firms which regularly hire Supreme Court clerks. All declined to say whether they would hire the leaker or even condemn the breach itself.
Though an internal probe has yet to identify the source, reports indicate that clerks are the focus of the investigation. Recent months have seen other unusual disclosures—such as the leak of Justice Stephen Breyer’s retirement plans—which point to a newcomer with loose lips.
The steely silence approach to the unprecedented leak highlights growing tension in elite law firms between their white-collar pedigree and increasingly left-wing staff. While top firms must maintain prestige and credibility with the courts and their corporate clients, they’re increasingly populated by a new class of young, left-wing lawyers who view those very entities as harmful and oppressive. The strain is driving a new dynamic in which woke lawyers are given a free hand to set DEI policies or take on progressive causes pro bono, while the firm’s high-dollar commercial work goes on unabated.
Though BigLaw has always tilted left, firm culture and free legal aid are becoming decidedly more progressive, according to Free Beacon interviews with current and former attorneys at top firms. One BigLaw associate told the Free Beacon that their firm is crafting practices to better screen applicants for alignment with “firm values.” Several firm offices, the source added, are hosting drag queen bingo for LGBT pride month.
“Just in case there was any doubt about what the firm’s values are,” the source said. The source was granted anonymity to speak candidly about events at their company.
Another lawyer who recently departed BigLaw said leftist attorneys are seizing perches on diversity and governance committees, where they can influence DEI programming and leftwing pro bono work with support from aligned partners.
“The nature of partnership lends itself to decision apathy,” the source said. “It’s harder to mobilize a partnership blob than it is for the DEI/HR mob to charge ahead.”
The source added that many partners are willing to go along with the zeitgeist as long as it doesn’t detract from the profitability of the firm.
“That’s the priority,” said the source.
Clients also play a role. Corporations in particular screen firms based on diversity and ideological considerations, such as whether they’ve represented Trump businesses or the former president himself.
BigLaw overwhelmingly supported the pro-choice side in the abortion case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Elite firms like Arnold & Porter, Hogan Lovells, Morrison & Foerster, and WilmerHale defended abortion rights in amicus briefs on behalf of Democratic lawmakers, LGBT groups, and pro-choice physicians. Pro-lifers relied on a smattering of public interest law groups or right-leaning boutiques to make their case to the justices.
Beyond free or reduced-rate legal work for liberal clients, white-shoe firms are a ready source of cash for Democrats. University of Iowa law professor Derek Muller found that BigLaw donors contributed about $61 million to Democrats and left-wing causes during the Trump era, compared with just $11 million for Republicans.
Despite their sharp, progressive turn, it’s difficult to imagine the Dobbs leaker landing a plum job with an elite firm. But if they do, they can expect all the cachet a Supreme Court clerkship carries.
An ex-clerk can earn double a justice’s salary in their first year of private practice. Top firms entice the young guns with $400,000 signing bonuses on top of middle six-figure salaries, according to industry watchers. And they’re put on the inside track for firm partnerships which are even more lucrative.
Many ex-clerks forgo gainful private-sector work for high-prestige jobs in government or academia.
“Many Supreme Court law clerks go on to be leaders in the legal profession, eventually becoming judges, law professors, government officials, and partners at top law firms. Law firms are now paying bonuses of $400,000 to former SCOTUS clerks,” said Carrie Severino, president of the Judicial Crisis Network and a former clerk to Justice Clarence Thomas.
By way of proving Severino’s point, former president Donald Trump appointed 10 Thomas clerks to the bench, and another dozen to top posts in his administration.
“Given the enormous position of trust that attorneys hold vis-a-vis their clients as a matter of course, a law firm should think twice about hiring a law clerk known to have leaked confidential information,” Severino said.