I am often asked, “how will this appeal be decided?” A recent employment vacancy posting for the Fourth Circuit’s Executive Director & Chief of the Office of Staff Counsel contains a fairly detailed description of which types of cases are usually handled by the office of staff counsel (as opposed to the judges’ “elbow” law clerks, who work directly with the Fourth Circuit judges in their chambers).  The posting states:

The Office of Staff Counsel is the Court’s central legal staff. Its attorneys and support staff assist in the disposition of appeals through the preparation of legal memoranda and proposed opinions and orders in cases in which a party is proceeding without an attorney and in fully counseled cases decided by the Court without oral argument. The types of cases typically assigned to the Office of Staff Counsel include (1) all pro se appeals, including collateral attacks on criminal convictions by state and federal prisoners and civil rights suits under both 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Bivens; (2) direct criminal appeals; (3) civil appeals of decisions by district courts and federal agencies that reflect the full range of issues presented in federal proceedings, including such matters as employment discrimination; contract disputes; immigration matters; tax and bankruptcy issues; and the award or denial of Social Security disability and Black Lung benefits; (4) substantive and procedural motions in civil and criminal appeals, including requests for bail; to dismiss appeals; for stays; for certificates of appealability in appeals pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 2241, 2254, and 2255; for appointment of counsel; to proceed on appeal in forma pauperis; and to file successive post-conviction relief motions; and (5) other legal research matters assigned by the Chief Judge.

The job posting also reveals that the office of staff counsel employs approximately 40 attorneys and support personnel.  When I clerked with a judge on the Fourth Circuit, the office of staff counsel’s attorneys had the reputation for knowing their assigned areas of law cold.  For example, appeals involving black lung benefits were regularly assigned for review and opinion drafting to a staff counsel attorney who had specialized in handling Black Lung appeals for many, many years.   If you have one of the cases delineated above, it is often helpful to remember that your brief is less likely to be reviewed for the first time by a newly-minted law school graduate.    Instead, with only around 10% of cases being orally argued at the Fourth Circuit, it is more likely your case will be “worked up” for your Fourth Circuit panel by one of the attorneys in the Office of Staff Counsel.

Finally, a heads up for those who are weary of private practice: The salary for Executive Director & Chief of the Office of Staff Counsel ranges from $137,449-$171,444, and includes generous federal benefits.  The application deadline is April 30, 2014!  Take me out to lunch if you get the job and we will call ourselves even!

–Beth Scherer