Scalia's BigLaw stint was 'like asking Michelangelo to work for a company that paints fences'

By Debra Cassens Weis

When Justice Antonin Scalia dispensed career advice to his law clerks, he would suggest joining a law firm to understand how law is practiced and to build ties with others.

But BigLaw work was probably too mundane for Scalia, according to Scalia’s former Supreme Court clerks and a partner who worked with Scalia at Jones Day. Bloomberg Big Law Business wrote a story after speaking with them.

Scalia spent six years as an associate at Jones Day in Cleveland from 1961 to 1967. He left after “a very tedious file search on a price-fixing investigation,” said Richard Pogue, who was a partner at the firm working with Scalia. Scalia was doing “grunt work,” sifting through boxes of files and determining whether a document was responsive to a government subpoena in an antitrust case.

“It was really pretty dull. I think at the end of that experience he decided I want something else,” Pogue told Bloomberg Big Law Business. “But he left with good feelings, just the work intellectually
didn’t suit him.”

Former Scalia clerk Richard Bernstein recalled Scalia telling him that being a litigator was real lawyering. But the need for efficiency and the law firm billable hours model would not have meshed well with Scalia’s penchant for detail and analysis in each of his opinions, Bernstein told Bloomberg Big Law Business.

“It’d be like asking Michelangelo to work for a company that paints fences,” Bernstein said.

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