The most elite and scarce of all U.S. legal credentials is serving as a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. A close second is clerking for a justice. Only 36 serve each year. Most of the 36,000 law students who graduate each year dream of doing so. A Court clerkship is considered a prize as well as a ticket to future success. Rich accounts about clerking – including by clerks – fill bookshelves and journal pages. Yet, we lack a clear story about who wins the 1-in-1000 clerkship lottery. For this Essay, we seek to provide that story. Our analysis relies on new datasets of all clerks who served between 1980 and 2020, including the details of their path to the high court and their road after. We amend and expand on theories of success in this important labor market. We find that educational pedigree, as opposed to academic performance or any other qualification, has an overwhelming impact on attainment. The Court clerkship selection process proves to be a blend of status and merits where status often prevails. Our analysis does not end there, however. We go on to look at where this forty-year cohort is currently working and confirm that once attained, a Court clerkship does lead to a bounty of opportunities including a return to the Court as a justice. Thus, the Court clerkship lottery is an important labor market not only to lawyers but also to society writ large. In the elite legal labor market, some people are, in fact, more equal than others.

Tracey E. George, Albert Yoon & G. Mitu Gulati, Some Are More Equal Than Others: U.S. Supreme Court Clerkships, 123 Columbia Law Review Forum, 146–182 (2023).