Rubbing Elbows

10,000 Hours: Covering the Supreme Court


Illustra­tion by
Peter Hoey

Illustration of Tom Goldstein

Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers: The Story of Success offers a formula for success—being born at the right place and time and investing at least 10,000 hours in pursuit of your goal. After more than 100 Supreme Court cases, attorney Tom Goldstein, WCL/JD '95, is a seasoned veteran of the nation's highest court. In a profession that loves tradition, his entrepreneurial spirit ruffled feathers—at first. Today, colleagues emulate his once-unconventional strategy for landing cases. SCOTUSblog, the site Goldstein, 44, cofounded with wife Amy Howe, has made the court more transparent than ever, for lawyers and laypeople alike.

1992: Earned political science degree from University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill, where he met future wife and law partner Amy Howe. Sowed seeds of oral argument talent on UNC debate team.

1993: Discovered destiny by accident, interning with NPR Supreme Court reporter Nina Totenberg. "I did it for two summers and fell in love with the Supreme Court."

1995: Graduated from WCL.

1999: Started Goldstein & Howe out of his spare bedroom, hustling for Supreme Court cases from the get-go. Raised eyebrows by cold-calling attorneys and offering to file appeals for free. "It was definitely frowned upon . . . but it was the only way I was going to get in the door."

Argued first case before the Supreme Court. Didn't win, but learned a lot.

2000: Served as second chair in Bush v. Gore on behalf of Vice President Al Gore.

2003: Daughter Betsy born.

On a whim, created SCOTUSblog with Amy. With an encouraging 30 hits the first day, Goldstein decided to keep blogging. Today, SCOTUSblog is an unparalleled source for reporters, lawyers, legislators, and lobbyists.

Caught a televised game of Texas Hold 'Em on ESPN. Got hooked.

2004: Cofounded Stanford Supreme Court Litigation Clinic.

2005: Established Harvard Supreme Court Litigation Clinic.

2006: Joined Akin Gump to establish firm's Supreme Court practice. Stayed five years, becoming partner and litigation practice cochair.

2007: Daughter Nina born, named in honor of a certain Supreme Court reporter.

2008: Won a seat in World Series of Poker by beating 130 opponents in a charity tournament.

2009: Landed on GQ's list of 50 Most Powerful People in Washington, DC.

2010: Served as creative consultant for NBC-commissioned script for Tommy Supreme, a TV series based on his life. "This was a terrible idea, which I told them from the very beginning."

SCOTUSblog became first blog to win American Bar Association's Silver Gavel Award.

2011: Rejoined his law firm, now Goldstein & Russell.

Made gentleman's bet with friend and professional poker player Dan Bilzerian: Goldstein's Ferrari 458 Italia vs. Bilzerian's 1965 AC Cobra (with NASCAR engine) in quarter-mile race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Lost race, but "it was a lot of fun."

2012: On the day the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act, SCOTUSblog scored 5.3 million hits from 1.7 million unique visitors. "That was a huge thing for the blog, because there were so many people paying attention to us as a source."

Invited to appear on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Did so well that he was invited back a year later.

2013: Named one of 100 most influential attorneys in the country (for the second time) by National Law Journal.

SCOTUSblog became first blog recipient of prestigious Peabody Award. Blog readership keeps growing: roughly 45,000 hits on a quiet day, 200,000-plus for big court decisions.

2015: Argued 34th Supreme Court case. "I feel like I'm still learning so much every year. If you pay attention to the same nine people and everything they do, you've got to get decently good at understanding what it is that they are trying to do and how it is that they do it."