Frank Rich's ignorance of the Asst. AG job on the state level

Orin Kerr:

In today's New York Times, Frank Rich has a rather nasty essay that purports to catch Justice Thomas misrepresenting his past. The specific example is Justice Thomas's first job out of law school in the Missouri Attorney General's Office. As Justice Thomas tells the story, he couldn't get a job from any law firm despite graduating in the middle of his class from Yale Law School. Law firms assumed he was enrolled in law school only because of affirmative action, so Thomas had to struggle to find a job; he ended up getting only one offer in the Missouri government, thanks to Jack Danforth.

Rich suggests that Thomas's version of events misrepresents the facts, vivid proof of Thomas's "dubious relationship with the whole truth and nothing but."...


So is Rich correct that Thomas "worked the Yalie network" to get a "substantial" job, that of "Assistant Attorney General," the suggestion being, I gather, that this was the kind of plum position that perhaps only a Yalie could get?

I don't think so. As I understand it, in Missouri the title "Assistant Attorney General" is the standard job title given to an entry-level attorney hired in the state Attorney General's Office. It's not exactly a common destination for those "work[ing] the Yalie network"; my googling around suggests that most Assistant Attorneys General in Missouri are hired straight from Missouri law schools.

Perhaps Rich was misled by the fact that in the federal government, the job of Assistant Attorney General is indeed quite a job. It's a Senate-confirmed position, often heading hundreds of attorneys.

But state governments are different. In many states, that lofty title is given to entry-level lawyers. My sense is that this is the case in Missouri. If you look at the listings of job openings in that office, they are all for the position of Assistant Attorney General.

I did a little googling around to see what kind of resumes and experience lawyers typically have before being appointed Assistant Attorney General in Missouri. Here are a few bios of attorneys who once held the job, with their law school attended and how long after graduation they were hired: Brundage (Missouri-Columbia, year after graduation), Rebman (Missouri - Kansas City, right after graduation), Ottenad (Wash. U., right after passing bar), Miller (Wash. U., after law school graduation), Glaser (Drake, after 2 years at small firm), Franke (Missouri-KC, right after graduation), Cosgrove (Notre Dame, apparently after short stint at KC firm), Richardson (Missouri, right after graduation), Zito (Missouri-KC, apparently right after law school), Siegel (Wash. U., right after graduation), Spinden (Missouri-KC, apparently right after law school).

If it were really a plumb assignment for Yalies that would certainly be more of them working there. One of the reasons it is not the first choice for graduates of prestigious law schools is that the pay is substantially less than that at the large law firms and the job, unlike being a clerk for the Supreme Court, is unlikely to lead to a job with the large law firms. Kerr is right to say that it is interesting worthwhile work for a beginning lawyer, but it is not the plumb career move that Rich implies. Actually working for regulatory agencies is more likely to lead to a career with a large law firm or corporation.

Ann Althouse finds more errors in the Rich piece. Apparently he did not read Justice Thomas' book.


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