The Sixth Circuit first began using staff attorneys in 1971, with a staff of three attorneys. The staff grew to 18 attorneys by 1993, and their duties expanded to reviewing and drafting outcomes for pro se and prisoner-related appeals. Since then, both the number of attorneys and the scope of their responsibilities has grown with the court’s docket.
The Sixth Circuit has developed a unique structure where four attorneys are formally part of the clerk’s office. Those attorneys are dedicated to reviewing motions and making recommendations to the panel on the disposition of particular motions. Dedicating some attorneys exclusively to motions may result in more uniformity in the circuit’s handling of motions. It may also give the staff attorneys’ decisions more importance as the slate of judges on the motions panel is always changing, but the staff attorneys are always the same. This may also account for something I have repeatedly seen in my own practice: the Sixth Circuit usually decides motions faster than other circuits.
The Sixth Circuit’s staff attorneys are also unique in that about half are permanent or career staff attorneys, while the balance were hired for two-year terms. Some other circuits have a larger proportion of term-employees, who are appointed for two-year terms that may be extended. For example, in the D.C. Circuit, only four of twelve staff attorneys were permanent, and none of the regular staff attorneys in the Second Circuit are considered to be so. The Third and Fourth Circuits are split roughly equally between term and career attorneys.
However, the staff attorneys in the Sixth Circuit generally do not specialize based on subject matter as in many other circuits. The Second Circuit has eleven staff attorneys that do only immigration appeals and who are only hired for a one-year renewable term. The Fourth Circuit also encourages specialization in various subject areas. It may be worth investigating whether asking staff attorneys to be more like generalists results in better employee retention or draft opinions.
This is part of a series of posts (see here and here) on the case management procedures in the Sixth Circuit, and draws on a recent article by Marin Levy in the Duke Law Journal discussing the practices in other circuits.