From bench to big law: Why Judge Hazel is the latest to hang up his robe

March 3 (Reuters) – After packing up the last of his belongings from his apartments in Greenbelt, Maryland, now-retired US District Judge George Hazel paid a final visit to his old courtroom.

It was a Sunday – the last day of February. he was alone And the 47-year-old paused to “take it in,” he told me.

“For me, a courtroom is a special, almost sacred place in our democracy and our nation,” he said.

Three days later, he began working as a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.

For Hazel, being a district court judge was “probably the best job you can do with a law degree.” But a lifetime appointment is not the same as a lifetime commitment.

The numbers tell part of the story: A federal district court judge earns $232,600.

A Big Law employee straight out of law school makes $215,000 plus a $15,000 bonus (prorated). Those who have been employed by a judge can receive an additional signing bonus of between $50,000 and $125,000. As for the partners, they routinely rake in seven-figure salaries.

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At Gibson Dunn, the average earnings per equity partner in 2021 was $4.4 million, according to The American Lawyer — which doesn’t mean Hazel will, at least not initially. Nevertheless, as a partner in the law firm’s litigation, commercial defense and investigations practice groups, he can expect a substantial salary increase.

The pay differential was “absolutely a factor” in moving into private practice, said Hazel, who has two children who are nearing college age.

As a former prosecutor, he took over the bank in 2014 at the age of 39.

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“I don’t come from generational wealth,” he said. Working in a law firm offers the opportunity to help both his parents and his children.

Hazel joins other attorneys who hung up their robes relatively early, having landed an appointment with a judge during the rise of their careers.

When selecting younger attorneys for judgeships, the president-elect has “opposite considerations,” said Gary Feinerman, who resigned in January after 12 years at the federal bench in Chicago to join Latham & Watkins as a partner.

On the one hand, a president wants “younger judges who have very long careers ahead of them to stay in office for a long time,” said Feinerman, who was appointed when he was 45. But with young appointments there is also “a greater chance that at least some of them will end up doing something different and leave the bank.

Among them: US Judge Paul Watford, 55, who announced in January that he plans to resign on May 31 after nearly 11 years in the 9th Circuit. Reuters reported Watford told colleagues in an email that he expected to return to private practice, although he did not specify where.

Last year, Alabama federal judge Abdul Kallon left the bench at the age of 53 and joined Perkins Coie. Gibson Dunn hired Gregg Costa in September after leaving the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in Houston at the age of 50.

Watford, Kallon and Costa did not respond to requests for comment.

To be clear, Hazel said that money isn’t the only appeal of private practice. “I wouldn’t be doing this if I wasn’t also passionate about the work,” he said, pointing to opportunities to work with peers and return to the courtroom as a lawyer.

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For all the honors, being a judge in the lower court can be lonely. “It’s a solo act,” said Hazel. “Ultimately, it’s your choice, your case.”

Joining Gibson Dunn, where he will be based out of the company’s DC office, offers an opportunity to be part of the team again, he said.

As a sitting federal judge, finding a job was a tricky business.

“The first thing I did was bring up the guidelines on judicial ethics,” Hazel said. “I tried to be really, really careful about which law firms I spoke to,” running their names through his list to make sure he didn’t have any pending cases involving their attorneys.

Linda Ginsberg of Ginsberg Partners, who worked with Hazel on the move, said: “Everyone wanted him.”

While outgoing judges (obviously) don’t bring a ledger with them, they offer a rare blend of insight and prestige that’s of interest to many law firms, she said.

In fact, business development is the biggest challenge ahead, Hazel said. His only previous law practice experience was as a junior associate at Weil, Gotshal & Manges, where he spent five years after graduating from the Georgetown University Law Center in 1999.

“How to do business is the part I think about the most.”

he said. “It’s completely new.”

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The opinions expressed are those of the author. They do not reflect the views of Reuters News, which is committed to integrity, independence and freedom from bias under the Trust Principles.


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