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The proper test is to see if the quality of judging changes along with salary. I agree that it's doubtful raising salaries will make much difference. However, there's a trickier question that's even harder to address--how do you measure the quality of judging?


Interesting topic. And we often hear of judges or even Congressmen "faced with the costs of putting several kids through college" "having" to leave their $150k gig to go out and "make some money"; an option that is rare for other hard working professionals whose options top out in the $150k range or less.

Where do they go to exercise their option? Often "K-street" lobbying firms? Wall Street? for M & A or international law? (tax avoidance operations?) etc. Obviously a complex society needs the services of attorneys but our country "requires" ten fold more than is the case in other advanced nations and its certainly a fair question to ask just why hauling money up to Capitol Hill for Patton-Boggs is worthy of the salaries paid.

Perhaps we need to take a look at why our system creates a such "demand" for million-plus legal technicians, despite the average hometown lawyer finding private practice a competitive game from which a judgeship often seems something of a peaceful harbor of shorter hours and ultimate security. Here in Anchorage offers for judges are accepted far more often than turned down, though I suppose they may be offered to those expected to accept.

"IF" America is going to remain (become?) competitive in an increasingly difficult global economy, we are going to need another round of streamlining or "downsizing" as took place 20 years ago when "middle management" was found, possibly? unnecessary. (It seems all too often the case that upper management failed to take up the burden and we see many of our larger corporations stumbling around as if there were no one at the helm)

The next streamlining will have to be something of a structural change such as designing a health care delivery system in which half the dollars/resources are not wasted on overhead and administration. A part of a decent, health care system would be that of making deep cuts in the rate of litigation. Some might be the much touted "tort reform" but more may be that of lowering the number of squabbles regarding "who pays?" Another area would be that of adopting the "pay at the pump" no fault auto insurance policy as advanced by Andrew Tobias.

Next? find a Constitutional and practical means of paying for the use of our media by political candidates and render the carrying of satchels of money to our "representatives" to advance policy changes most likely counter to the benefit of our citizenry.

If these are a "better ideas whose times have come" they'll not be easy to implement as it's a lot tougher to shrink the size of the stake holders as a matter of public policy than it was for corporations to print out pink slips for their mid-level managers. But! if we don't have the courage to lighten up the superstructure of our economic ship we're likely to be sending out an SOS as the winds of globalization continue to stiffen.


I pasted this from ABC New's website:

Judith Sheindlin, a former judge who now hosts the cable TV series Judge Judy, earned a salary of $25 million last year. By contrast, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, presiding over the nation's highest court, brought in less than $200,000.

This means that JUDGE JUDY EARNS MORE THAN ALL OF THE MEMBERS OF THE SUPREME COURT COMBINED. (I'm not exactly sure what this says about us as a country, but it's not good.)

That being said, I still agree with Judge P that it's unlikely that any modest payraise will result in a noticable difference in the quality of applicants for the Federal Judiciary.

To be honest, I'm having a tough time picturing Federal "Judicial Recruiters" having trouble filling spots on the bench (I haven't seen any "APPLY NOW!" job ads in the paper). I watched Justices Kennedy and Thomas at a Congressional meeting about this on C-Span's website, and Justice Kennedy mentioned some favorite judge of his and complained about he can't recruit people of that caliber anymore. (http://www.c-span.org/homepage.asp?Cat=Series&Code=AC&ShowVidNum=7&Rot_Cat_CD=AC&Rot_HT=206&Rot_WD=&ShowVidDays=100&ShowVidDesc=&ArchiveDays=100#) This sounds like a bunch of nonsense to me. He's probably correct if you make the assumption that the hiring pool should be strictly limited to people who were at the top of the class at top law schools, but that's a foolish way of thinking. The supply of top graduates from the top schools isn't increasing, while the demand for them is. As Judge P points out, the Federal Judiciary won't be able to lure them away from white-shoe firms with money.

Despite all that, I still think that a decent judicial pay raise is worthwhile because Federal Judges have a tremendous amount of power (Judge P can't reverse all of them), and therefore the benefit of giving them a morale boost probably outweighs the added cost to taxpayers. (It's also alot better than throwing taxpayer's money at no-bid contractors in Iraq.)


Judge is an overhead cost of society. The lawyer-to-population ratio in Japan is 1.2 to 100,000; compare to the 32.7 to 100,000 in US. If we reduce the supply of lawyers, we might be able to support Judge with better salary? (may be everybody could got a raise too). The problem is not the Judge salary is too low, but the lawyer's salary is too high (Let's not compare to the salary with Japan;)...


You just cited my favorite misleading stat, besides "wins" for a pitcher. The definition of a "lawyer" is much more narrow in Japan than it is here. There are many more "law providers" for want of a better term in Japan than are captured in that statistic - certainly many more people graduate law school than become "lawyers."
Returning to the topic, ... I have nothing to add.


Agree... But you sure can find less law suit in Japan compare to here... Back to the topic...

Eric Rasmusen

Judge Posner is so persuasive that he makes me think of another possibility: should judges' salaries be reduced? As he says, lower salaries could actually increase the quality of the judiciary, since then even a mediocre lawyer who is after money and leisure would not bother to contact his senator for a judgeship.

I'm a professor, and I've wondered whether that might not be true for us too. We might get better scholars if all our salaries were reduced. Of course, no one university can do this, because even a true scholar prefers being a professor at $100,000 to being one at $80,000.

Prof. Becker is right to ask how we can better structure salaries. I wonder if, as in academia, extra pay might be given for unpleasant assignments that need talented people. In academia, if you take on the chore of being chairman or dean you are paid more, at least while you occupy that post. I don't know if being a chief judge is similarly undesirable, but it too might benefit from having a bonus. The same could be done to get judges to take on special tasks such as revising sentencing rules or investigating scandals.


With low salaries, won't the judges be more enticed to take bribes? Or, is this scenario impossible in the US?


Ha-Ha! Eric........ "We might get better scholars if all our salaries were reduced."

........ I've often heard the "right" make counter-intuitive claims of low pay providing higher quality employees but thought it was generally limited to objecting to pay K-12 teachers a salary commensurate with their education and the demands of the job. The "concept" is typically, quickly reversed if the subject of CEO pay having soared from 50 times worker pay to 500 times since 1980.

Aaah, tis quite a curiousity that "The Market" values and prices compensations so differently from a few decades ago and creates the anomalies under discussion though the "equilibrium" should always be near at hand.


Andrew, good comment: "It's also a lot better than throwing taxpayer's money at no-bid contractors in Iraq."

While Depression era folk thought war was good for the economy due to massive government spending "ending" the Depression and the pent-up demand + war time savings creating a boom in the 50's it's not good at all.

Consider that here, even if we get it wrong and "overpay" a judge or "waste" money on some useless study, still the money cycles through our economy with a multiplier of four or so, with taxes going to fill our fed and state coffers. Or when machinery or other goods are produced they remain in use paying dividends for many years.

While some of this effect is also the case for a "war time" economy but the multiplier is very low as we spend our billions over there, often with no taxes being paid here, and the product of our labors are destroyed or rapidly worn out, with the only "dividend" being the (justifiable?) outcome of the "war".

So, you're right! If the Feds spent a fourth or half what they spend on warmongering on salaries and domestic procurement it would give the economy as much boost as the massive cost of a war. Then there is the economy dampening effect of the associated D E B T.


It is very hard to feel sorry, in the abstract, for professionals making $160,000+ per year. I dare say that the average American would view that figure as substantial. And, it's certainly better than most public-sector law salaries.

On the other hand, judicial salaries should be high enough to encourage the best lawyers to apply and stay in the positions. And, probably, a salary increase would be helpful in convincing lawyers that it is "worth it" to be (and stay) a judge, especially when the kids start needing money for college. Of course, no gov't salary, including judgeships, can pay nearly what a private firm partner in a big firm in a big city takes home. And, true, some people become lawyers primarily because they want the million-dollar partnership profits. But those people don't necessarily have the values we want in a judge. The truly civic-minded ones will make the "sacrifice" of taking $200K per year (or thereabouts).

I'd say that bumping judicial pay about the $200K mark would be a good idea, from a morale perspective. As would bumping up salaries generally for gov't attorneys. It would also make it easier for gov't lawyers to repay their massive law school loans.

Taking a (relatively) lower paying gov't job is a trade-off. But it's one that many talented lawyers want to, and will, make. We should raise salaries a bit to make that decision a bit easier.


Given that federal judges are, in the end, recipients of political patronage, aren't the real issues: 1) who gets the job; 2) why did they get the job; and 3) how well do they do after they get the job (assuming that such a thing as judicial output can be adequately measured)?


Feeling underpaid most certainly gives an incentive to do the least amount of work possible to maximize one's hourly (or perceived hourly) income. If you're going to make $400 per day no matter how much work you do, the more bitter one is about that $400 per day (due to being able to get more money elsewhere), why spend 15 hours doing an A+ job when you can spend 6 hours doing a C+ job? Or at the very least, one will be prone to doing the BARE minimum required work, not a minute more than is necessary. This is particularly true when you know you have your job for life and cannot be terminated for messing up. A federal district judge with a 100% reversal rate cannot be fired for that reason alone.

Worse yet, there are certain decisions a federal judge can make which are congruent with laziness in so far as they clear off the docket and greatly reduce the workload. Grant all summary judgments, grant all Rule 12 motions to dismiss, deny all 2254 and 2255 motions (but at least have the courtesy to grant a certificate of appealability), etc. I'm not accusing any judge of actually doing this, but I would imagine, at least in the back of a judge's mind, buried in the deep subconscious, all else being equal, that a judge would prefer to grant a motion or sign an order that would reduce his or her workload (judges already have overcrowded dockets as it is).

Both district and circuit judges must know that if they grant anything in a criminal defendant's favor, they'll be reversed and have to "do it over" ... so just deny all relief to the criminal defendant and that will likely be the end of it. Frankly, I have no doubt this is a real consideration at both trial and appellate levels (it's pervasive at the Texas state level).

I do keep in mind that the only difference between laziness and efficiency is the quality of the end result.


David sez:
I'd say that bumping judicial pay about the $200K mark would be a good idea, from a morale perspective.

............... Hmmmm, I didn't hear this argument much when we were dealing with the min wage folk! Wonder how their morale is coming along? No discussion of productivity or the "worth" of "value" of their product at these levels? BTW $175K shakes out to be over $700/day w/o even cheating or working the sick leave.

Feeling underpaid most certainly gives an incentive to do the least amount of work possible to maximize one's hourly (or perceived hourly) income. If you're going to make $400 per day no matter how much work you do, the more bitter one is about that $400 per day (due to being able to get more money elsewhere), why spend 15 hours doing an A+ job when you can spend 6 hours doing a C+ job?

......... Hmmm, I wonder what one must be paid not to "feel" they are underpaid? "Well geez, Judge Judy makes millions just pretending to be a judge!" But more seriously don't we expect more from our professionals than that of maxxing out hourly compensation? I can't think of a means of production incentives for judges, congressmen, teachers etc. On the other hand commissions and contingency fees seems about the only way to keep salesmen selling and private attorneys working.

I don't know what the right number is for federal judges (I suppose a bit higher this week, what with the job-loss risk and having our top PR spinmeisters defame one's hard-earned reputation on the way out?) but what I'd tell a judge --- baker or candlestick maker-- if they want the compensation of a "white shoe" firm and make a lot more money than they earn, is "Go for it! It's still something of a free country!"

(Ha! despite our Alaskan kid being up before the SC for unfurling the now famous "Bong Hits for Jesus" banner across the street from his school on an off day; is there any doubt that had his banner said "Don't do drugs" his "freedom of speech" would not have been in jeopardy?)

Bruce my condolences if you have to spend your time dealing with what Texas claims to as a "legal system"; just keep kicking it in the weak spots and perhaps it will collapse with a real one being built in its place. Someday? (I spend some time in equally backward OK)

guy in the veal calf office

Are there no incentive payments to judges? Does Roberts have the ability to pay a big bonus to judges who handle cases expeditiously without getting over-turned? The points made above about loss of productivity seem to make sense if all judges get paid lock-step. There's only so much motivation provided by duty, by curiosity, etc when faced with yet one more employment discrimination case.

If we can trust justices to administer justice, we can trust them to make decisions about compensation based on merits and not ideology. Why not set up an incentive scheme?

Vision Hover

I come from China,and I want to arrive in your country to study law.My English is very poor,so what should I do?


It's interesting that no one has brought up the entire compensation package much beyond salary. There is more to compensation beyond just a fair days wage for a fair days work (perhaps we ought to be looking at a "per diem scale" or "per case scale" as opposed to salary). Yet, there are other compensation benefits such as health insurance, dental, optical, prescription drug, long term disability, life insurance too name few. All of them need to be figured into the salary compensation equation, part and parcel of a "Fair days wage".

I know for a fact that evryone can do with more money, but increased wages is inflationay in nature and increases bugetary requirements. Can't have that and what is the Deficiet running at? As a method of cost containment, pegging salaries to regional cost of living may have some merit, at least in reducing costs, but may have some problems in fulfilling the "fair days wage" requirement. The work and skill required is the same, regardless of region.


vision hover, This is a common law jurisdiction, much different than China. Before you come bone up on it. As for your language skills, don't worry about it. Most law students are semi-literate to begin with. My advice, stay where your at, all the jobs are going in that direction anyway. Except, perhaps, the "McJobs" (I certainly hope Mickey Dee's doesn't come after me). ;)


Veal sez:

If we can trust justices to administer justice, we can trust them to make decisions about compensation based on merits and not ideology. Why not set up an incentive scheme?

............. Hmmm, Would you trust other groups to set their wages?? Teachers? Legislators?

On what merits? "the guy in NY makes..?" But what I'm most curious about is how you'd set up an incentive plan? Perhaps for fast gaveling the morning hearing through so as to squeeze in a "quicky" in the afternoon? With the participants standing by "just in case?" Or perhaps a bonus for those with fewer decisions overturned by appellate court? Other?


Vision Hover... Welcome. And if you're set on coming to the US you can probably manage it but it's not easy.

You've perhaps checked that before going to law school you'd need a four year degree. I know little about them accepting degrees from other countries) If an LSAT test is required that might be tough too as it does lean heavily on language skills.

As Hat suggests you might do better (even for a goal of getting here) by becoming expert on the Chinese side of international trade law. Consider; you're already well on your way to knowing English, but for us learning Chinese is about a 5 year deal for a dedicated student. So it might be a better path for you to climb up the legal ladder there, then work for an American corp for a while. There's a fair shot that you could then apply for an H1B Visa to work here. The main criteria of that program is to allow our corps to hire "scarce skills" from abroad with the potential applicant demonstrating that he's not competing for a job for which there are plenty of Americans. (I suspect the area of "Chinese speaking specialist in Chinese law) has few American applicants!)

I once helped an Indian, "special ed" (teacher for the handicapped) get a "green card" here. Being a regular teacher would not have worked, but we were short of "special ed" teachers so it went OK...... after quite a while.

Also, it strikes me that perhaps (I don't know!) that positioning yourself as "knowledgeable business consultant who can get things done in China" might be a good start, and if it's tough to go to law school perhaps just as well? As above..... I don't know!

Good luck, Jack

"I come from China,and I want to arrive in your country to study law.My English is very poor,so what should I do?"


A couple of comments on this topic. I've often heard complaints that state judges are frequently former unproductive partners at well connected law firms. In other words, their partners conviced the governor to appoint this person a judge to get rid of them cheaply. I've never seen any studies on this but it seems plausible. I'd also say while it may happen at the Federal level it seems much less likely (since Federal Judges have so much more prestige than state judges).

I think Judge Posner makes a persuasive argument that judges are not dramatically underpaid. However, I would suggest lawyers and other specialists in the Federal Civil Service are dramatically underpaid. For example a newly minted lawyer working say for DOJ (which is interesting and prestigious work) will make $65K. By contrast this same lawyer going to a moderately prestigious Washington/New York firm will make $130K not counting signing bonus etc. The results are obvious: you will end up with a large pool of less qualified people in the Federal Civil Service. This is particularly troubling at agencies like the DOJ, FTC, FCC that have a significant impact on the economy. WHile the workload is probably easier and mroe itneresting than corporate life I have a hard time seeing that this could compensate for this huge differential.


Michael: I doubt civil service is likely to compete with "moderately prestigious NY firms" for either legal newbies or for those well seasoned. Perhaps you've noticed that the IRS pays accountants well under $100k to go off chasing $300k guys who specialize in setting up abusive transfer tax avoidance schemes and that many other examples abound.

Do you suppose that the caliber of judges that would sign on for $175,000 plus early retirement and all the fed bennies are a detriment to the judicial process? How often do you suppose significant harm is caused by a less-than-genius level call on sustaining or rejecting an objection? Or reading a jury instruction? In short, do you expect the umpires to earn what top trial lawyers earn? Further? going thru those white shoe firms aren't you likely to find MANY who are highly connected rainmakers, deal makers, or the sons-of such, and whose salary is not based upon legal expertise but on coming home with the pork or selling a profitable loophole for their corporate client?

So NO! taxpayers are not going to (willing) pay judges or any other technocrats salaries based upon what the old boy's are able to glean. What we should be looking at is neutering a fair batch of them instead before they ruin what's left of our bankrupt nation.


US President Tim Kalemkarian, US Senate Tim Kalemkarian, US House Tim Kalemkarian: best major candidate.


I want to creased my earn, but sometime it is not, I must do much part-time job after work


2 years has passed and indeed.. federal judges are still underpaid and it has now reached the level of a constitutional crisis.

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