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In Cleveland, You Could be a Federal Judge?

By Robyn Hagan Cain | Last updated on

In Portlandia, Fred Armisen’s hilarious series about Oregon’s most famous city, Armisen claims that the dream of the ’90s is alive in Portland. He supports this theory with statements like, “Portland is where young people go to retire,” and “In Portland, you don't have to [give up clowning.]”

Similarly, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia claims that the dream of the lawyer work-life balance is alive in Cleveland.

For those of you who want to be a Supreme Court Justice when you grow up, Justice Scalia suggests following his path: Go to Jones Day in Cleveland, work less, become involved in your community, and get a Supreme Court nod. Easy as pie.

Except pie isn't always that easy -- ever tried to make dough from scratch? The M&A Law Prof Blog estimates that a fancy firm like Jones Day probably has an annual billing requirement around 1,950 hours, even in Cleveland.

It's also worth noting that most of the current justices came from bigger cities. Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kagan both matriculated through the Solicitor General's office in D.C., Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor practiced in New York, and Justice Kennedy joined a firm in San Francisco.

But Justice Scalia's suggestion isn't entirely without merit.

While a smaller market may not land you one of the nine coveted seats on the Supreme Court, it could help you secure a seat as a federal judge. But you have to put in a lot of work to get a presidential nomination for the federal bench.

For example, we've noticed a pattern among Obama's nominees to the Circuit Courts of Appeals: federal clerkship + private practice + public sector + academia = nomination. For most of Obama's recent nominees, the foray into academia is a side gig as an adjunct professor at a nearby law school, on top of a legal practice day job. That means that aspiring judicial nominees have to work more, not less, to achieve their goals.

Justice Scalia's point about community involvement, however, seems valid. A nominee needs support from his/her state's senators to make it through the Senate confirmation process, and community involvement can help a nominee win political fans. (What politician wants to oppose that scout troop leader/Sunday School teacher/animal shelter volunteer who's also a great legal mind?)

Our recommendation? Don't hop on the next flight to Cleveland to pursue your Supreme Court dream based solely on Nino's advice. But if you decide skip town for the Sixth Circuit -- apologies for the shameless self-promotion ahead -- start following FindLaw's Sixth Circuit blog.

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