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Judicial staff attorney: What I do and how much I make

Video transcript

my name is Mark Wilson I'm 33 I'm a judicial staff attorney at the California Supreme Court and I make about $80,000 a year so the California Supreme Court is the highest court in the state of California and I work on what's called a criminal central staff so we have a staff of about a dozen people that reviews criminal petitions for review so the way that works is you are a criminal you've been convicted at trial then you appeal to the intermediate court which is called the Court of Appeal appropriately and you win or lose they're awesome you lose so then you come to us and you say my case is one of statewide importance you should hear it and my job and the job of the people on our staff is to sift through all those petitions and decide is this really worthy of seven justices time because there's only seven of them there's only so many hours in a day and unfortunately the vast majority of them get denied because it's very specific to a particular defendant what the issue is so the people you see on TV who are making the big bucks and where those sharp suits they're corporate lawyers and they get paid quite a bit of money like hundreds of thousands of dollars a first year associate straight out of law school can make one hundred and fifty thousand dollars a year when I decided that's not really for me I'd much rather work for a government or a nonprofit or something like that so if you want to make a lot of money you can make a lot of money but you can also make a moderate amount of money so I make $80,000 a year this was not my starting salary my starting salary was about $70,000 a years so the way it works it's a state job so state jobs sometimes prioritize seniority so as you move up in the ranks you get pay raises you get title changes you know you work in one position for one year and then you become you know attorney level B and you make more money and then you work for three more years and you become an attorney C and you may even more money even within those ranges there's a cost-of-living adjustments we just got a cost-of-living adjustment for the first time in years two years ago so that was nice but our governor did that so a cost-of-living adjustment is designed to make your salary keep up with inflation so it's not a big raise like 10% it's a small raise like 2 or 3 percent so that your salary is the same buying power over the years to be any kind of warrior first of all you need to be good at reading and writing on TV again there's a lot of talking in court but the talking part represents a process that it's probably 75% writing like when you see people arguing motions in front like objection I don't I didn't know anything about this witness well really that's been taken care of long before trial started and it was taken care of probably on paper so you need to be very good at writing you need to be good at writing concisely I mean you can't have long flowery sentences it has to be straight to the point judges and other attorneys their time is valuable and they're reading a lot of things so it's got to be like here's the issue here's the solution and you also have to be good at reading you have to be good at reading quickly you have to get the point and understand what you're doing because you like I said you have a lot of reading to do and then sometimes my job in particular it's often described as a monastic lifestyle because we're sort of again we're not in trial in front of a jury we're in our offices reading writing researching it can be kind of lonely if you're the kind of person who craves a lot of personal interaction I mean we interact with our office mates but largely it's just us by ourselves in office so you have to be able to tolerate that for long stretches at a time part of the job is you have to quickly understand new concepts law school only teaches you so much for example law school teaches you the basics of say negligence which is when someone is you know accidentally does to someone else but of course every state is different California's negligence might be a little bit different from say Wisconsin's negligence so you have to quickly be able to understand the state specific concepts things like that so law school gives you a general overview of the law what it is how it works how to think that's one big thing a law school teaches you how to think like a lawyer but a lot of the learning comes on the job what I love about going into the office is that every day I learned something new I pick up a petition for review that has something in it that I've never seen before you know this particular jury instruction or this particular law and I've never seen before medical marijuana that's interesting I don't know anything about that so let's pick up this petition and learn all about medical marijuana today I've done that before probably my worst days are days when I don't do my job well enough which it happens you know I write I write a memo and the memos get circulated around to the justices and then one of their staffs one of the staff attorneys calls me up and said hey you overlooked this thing I'm like oh I did overlook that thing and I feel bad about it and I have to sometimes write another memo saying oops I forgot this thing kind of makes me look bad and I don't like to look bad I don't like to be wrong and I don't want to make myself look bad
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