The problem of low pay for state judges (at least relative to private jobs) seems to be hitting something of a critical mass, according to an article in the New York Times. In New York state, about one in 10 judges are leaving the judiciary annually, often citing pay as the reason. This is a topic we covered a few years ago in our Lawyer Limelight interview with Judith Kaye, now at Skadden, the former chief judge of the New York state courts who battled for improved compensation.
New York used to have the highest paid judges, but their salary level now ranks at 46 among all states thanks to the longest continuing pay freeze in the nation. As the article notes, becoming a judge used to be the culmination of a legal career, usually only ending in retirement or death. But now more and more judges are returning to private practice. A recent example cited is James McGuire, a former state appellate judge with a salary of $144K who joined Dechert, where average partner pay is at $1.4M. The article says that low pay is a problem in many states, though perhaps more so in New York. As the present chief judge, Jonathan Lippman, says, “Why would a talented lawyer want to join an institution that hasn’t had even a cost of living increase in 12 years?”