Eric Turkewitz’s New York Personal Injury Law Blog has a post on Staten Island’s Acting Supreme Court Justice Philip Straniere growing an out-of-control beard in protest of New York judges failure to get a raise in nine years from their $135,900 salary. As Eric points out, first-year salaries at large New York firms go well beyond the salary of a New York judge.
When I was an associate for a large defense firm, I complained about… pretty much everything come to think of it, which may account for why my tenure was short and unsuccessful (my distaste for pharmaceutical companies didn’t help either). But I did not complain about my salary because I always figured if I wanted to make more I could go elsewhere and that was how the free market worked. Maryland judges are paid about the same (here are their salaries) but when a spot becomes available, a long line forms of people who are making a lot more in private practice than they would on the bench. See this post, for example. Why? Because it is a very prestigious job both in and out of the legal community, you can make a difference, and because the only client you have to answer to is your own conscious.
Look, I’m mindful of the judge’s point. I also support higher judicial salaries because I think it will help recruit and, more importantly, retain good judges. (I also think judges should make more as their tenure increases.) But I don’t think growing a beard in protest is the solution, and it certainly is not good PR for the legal profession. Believe me, there will not be a huge groundswell of public sympathy for the poor judge making only $135,900 with, I’m sure, wonderful benefits, a great pension, etc. If this judge feels that strongly about it, he should leave the bench and go get a job. I’m sure he will find a job paying at least twice that in a New York second in the Big Apple. But here’s the thing: there will be qualified lawyers making three times what this judge is making lining up to take his place.