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Quote of the Day - There will be 'two societies' in the future: high-paid knowledge workers and low-paid service workers. - Bill Gates

Should You Worry That The Space Shuttle Was Built By The Lowest Bidder?

How About The Judiciary?

Let's take that first question and apply it to the law, as intimated by the subheading.  Who do you want as your judge?  As a practitioner, I know that clients worry about the intellectual makeup of the judge who will decide their case.  They want to know the judge's background, education, past decisions and general reputation.  While we can provide judicial profiles, those reports don't tell the whole story.  With nearly 20 years under my belt, I've appeared before most of the judges in the several jurisdictions where I practice, so I can offer a little more insight than those written profiles.  What I've started to see, however, worries me. 

Most clients and lawyers would prefer that the best and brightest sit on the bench to decide cases.  We have good judges on the bench now, and as Chief Justice Roberts notes, unless Congress (and, by the way, the 50 states' legislatures) raise salaries, judicial independence will be threatened.  I'd take it a step further.  As a society, we need keep the salary of judges commensurate with that of private practitioners.  Think about it this way:  Why would a top lawyer leave private practice to serve on the bench, only to take a pay cut?

Sure, there are some judges who are altruistic and dedicated public servants, and we all thank our lucky stars for their dedication.  To retain the best and brightest judges on the bench, we need to elevate judicial salaries to match those in the private sector.  As just one example, I know many judges who have been lured off the bench early by mediation and arbitration services where salaries are equal to the private sector.  Likewise, the converse is true.  To attract those lawyers from private practice who would make good judges, judicial salaries need to be commensurate with private practice. 

Otherwise, if we continue to have a brain drain from the bench and little or no infusion of highly qualified lawyers to sit on the bench, litigants will have good reason to worry.

Posted by J. Craig Williams on Sunday, January 07, 2007

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