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February 04, 2014

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Former Law Review Editor

To the law faculty:

Ask why there is such contempt for law professors by recent law graduates. (Hint, it is not Nietzschean misdirected frustration in search of a target).

CHS

@ Former Law Review Editor-- Why? The article about Albany makes clear that the majority of faculty do not want to cut standards for revenue purposes. Why would the minority who are said to favor doing this be the stand-in for all law professors?

Former Law Review Editor

CHS,

Work for change - real change - in the law school model. Cut tuition, cut enrollment, cut expenses, and cut student debt, and you'll have a stronger system and graduates who have a chance to succeed. In the not so distant past, law schools were not that expensive to run. Why have they changed and is that a good thing for students?

NoComment

@ Former Law Review Editor

Systemic change isn't possible when it's against faculty interests so long as many changes require faculty approval or participation. Making change in institutions with numerous backwards-looking tenured faculty members essentially requires Deans to act like Albany's is doing here. The anti-change faculty need to get cleared from the roster before the real innovations can begin.

Former Law Review Editor

NoComment,

I fear you might be right. I enjoyed law school, and think there is value in it - even in the current system. The problem is that there is too little value for too much cost, with too many students and too few gainful exit options.

The system needs change from within. Albany is the opening salvo. Faculty can get behind the change or be consumed by it.

JP

NoComment, While some law schools have robust faculty governance, more and more schools are being run by administrators, with an occasional rubber stamp from the faculty.

FLRE, I cannot speak for all law school faculty members, but I am all for cutting expenses (even my own salary) if I knew that it would mean lower tuition for my students. That said, let's say a school were to cut faculty salaries by 10%. That probably isn't enough to help students much in this environment. If the school cuts more than 10%, then the best faculty members (the few with significant work experience, connections, and recognition) may leave.

Most faculty members already make less than a first year associate at a large firm. Yes, I know that most faculty members would have a difficult time getting even that job in this market, but many of the critics do underestimate the abilities of the best faculty members. Also, part of what students need, I think, is more practical training. Cut faculty salaries too far, and you will have even less of a chance of attracting those who cannot just "teach," but can also "do."

NoComment

JP,

You are right that not all law schools have faculty with much say, but for those that do have robust faculty governance(I'm told Albany is one of these), faculty obstruction to change is a real barrier to reform. Considering those same faculties are usually the arbiters of which younger faculty advance toward tenure, the problem with some schools can only really get solved either by scaling back faculty governance (which I'd agree is less than desirable) or weeding out the regressive faculty members somehow.

Regarding faculty compensation, comparisons to big firm salaries are misleading, as compensation to that small but highly visible portion of the profession is outlandish by any reasonable measure. To stick with the topic of the thread, a little googling seems to indicate that the average attorney income in Albany, NY is someplace between 60k and 80k. That's less than half of what a biglaw associate makes in year 1. So long as law schools compensate their faculty in manner comparable with typical attorney income in their relative markets, I don't think that they will have trouble attracting faculty with practice experience considering that the life style change is a form of compensation in itself. This is particularly true of lower ranked schools that are really training lawyers for their local markets. Professors with experience in that particular market, and with compensation expectations to match, are probably a better fit across several areas (e.g., local connections).

anon

"[T]hen the best faculty members (the few with significant work experience, connections, and recognition) may leave."
This argument is getting tiresome. We can determine, from the clamor about even the smallest interference with lifetime entitlement to part time work, that these folks DO NOT have options to go elsewhere and do better. Let's stop pretending. A few select folks, at a few select law schools, have such options. THose folks are NOT likely to hold positions at teh schools cutting faculty.
The reference to "signficant work experience" is a cruel joke. Faculty hiring of late has focused on finding inexperienced persons, preferably holding a PhD in ANYTHING but law, who hold no interest in the practice of law. These persons "practiced," as most, for a few years in BigLaw. Everyone knows what that means; it does NOT mean "signficant work experience." In fact, law faculty pride themselves on cutting anyone with more than a few years of practice, e.g., "significant work experience," from consideration. It is almost a point of pride for these folks, who have contributed so greatly to the present crisis by way of this supremely ignorant approach.
As for the folks who were hired decades ago, they are too long out of practice to have much meaningful connection to it.
As for recognition, this is likely present, IF AT ALL, only for a very few, and those few are likely in positions not likely to be cut.
Finally, the job market for lawyers is, shall we say, tight.
Please, let's give up the tired cliche that "you can't touch us or we'll leave." That bluff is about to be called.
"Most faculty members already make less than a first year associate at a large firm."
Another law academy cannard. THis one ranks right up there with "90% of our grads are in JD required positions ninth months out." This statement is just not true for the overwhelming majority of "first year associates," and we all now know how many law school grads can't find jobs at all. This is like saying that "I make less than a first round pick in the NFL." So what?
"many of the critics do underestimate the abilities of the best faculty members."
Really? One thinks this is just a bit of hubris. Again, the statement is almost a textbook example of misleading in subtle manner. "Best" is the key word here. "Best" is not "most" and I don't think anyone would fairly advocate that the "best" should be the first to go: though who decides who is "best" is open for debate.
"Cut faculty salaries too far, and you will have even less of a chance of attracting those who cannot just "teach," but can also "do."
Again, what a cruel joke. After for years and years the academy in general steadfastly set out to eliminate any person who can "do" from the hiring pool, now this law faculty member claims that attracting those who can "do" is a valid goal.
In the words of an old expression: "Get it together, people."
These arguments are stale and demonstrably inappropriate.
In the comments on these threads, so many proposals for reform have been spelled out. But those faculty members who respond here still just don't seem to get any of it.

TJ

Can we just stop with the false belief that if law faculty compensation is cut, faculty will leave? People come to academia for the lifestyle, not the money. That is why they are in academia to begin with and not at big law firms. If there are a few hot shots who would leave if their pay was cut, replacements could easily be found. You don't have to be a SCOTUS clerk to teach torts. In fact there's little value, in the true sense of the word, to have those kinds of superstars teaching.

Orin Kerr

JP writes:

*********
If the school cuts more than 10%, then the best faculty members (the few with significant work experience, connections, and recognition) may leave.
. . . Cut faculty salaries too far, and you will have even less of a chance of attracting those who cannot just "teach," but can also "do."
*********

I disagree. Substantially lowering salaries would likely lead profs to try to lateral to schools with higher salaries, and to look for more sources of outside income, but I really doubt it would lead folks to leave academia entirely.

Also, I'm skeptical that faculty salaries play a major role in influencing who goes into teaching, at least if you assume salaries high enough to pay the rent and pay off student loans. The difference in lifestyle and intellectual environment between working as a law prof and working as a practicing lawyer tends to be vast. Given that, I don't think the decisions to become law professors are particularity sensitive to variations in salary.

Ellen

Anon at 3:52 nailed it. There are too many law schools and too many law professors, most at non-elite schools. Where are they to go? Practice? Why would a major law firm (and those are the only kind that could even begin to pay a prof what he/she is making in academia)hire someone who maybe never practiced, or has not practiced in possibly decades, and by his/her decision to go into academia has signaled that he/she was not interested in practicing, when experienced practitioners are looking for work as the result of downsizing/firm closures?

Are they to go to another non-elite school? Doubtful since those schools are likely also struggling.


Law schools can save a bundle in other ways, too: Why do they need dedicated admissions, registrar, bursar, financial aid, IT, special events, HR, PR/communications departments? Why not integrate these into university departments with several "law" specialists in each department? I would add Career Services, but given the state of the job market, law schools may want to keep that area in house.

I realize that every university/law school is different with regard to integration with university departments, but having visited many, most replicate administrative functions unnecessarily. There is nothing so unique about law school administration to justify the enormous expense in terms of salaries, space allocation, IT needs, etc. to justify law schools operating as autonomously as they currently do.

ABA Standards are responsible for some of this, but not all.

NoComment

@ Ellen

"There is nothing so unique about law school administration to justify the enormous expense in terms of salaries, space allocation, IT needs, etc. to justify law schools operating as autonomously as they currently do."

While I agree with this generally, it doesn't work for law schools that are not affiliated with larger universities. The school which is the subject of this post, Albany Law School, is "stand alone" and doesn't have the option of kicking some of its costs into other parts of a university infrastructure.

JP

Orin, how low can salaries go? Many law professors do have significant loans. Also, I do agree that most professors would try to lateral first, but there are some who would go back into practice, especially because very few law schools are hiring. I have considered going back into practice and recently had an offer from a large firm that I turned down. Granted, I am in a marketable area, had 6 years of practice experience, and am not far removed from practice.

NoComment, most law professors, even at low ranked schools, have the credentials to work at the top firms and many put in a few years at those firms. In fact, I have seen relatively few professor CVs with anything but the top-25 or so law firms on them.

anon, I agree that PHDs and those with very little practical experience dominate the law professor ranks. Most schools, however, have at least a couple professors who were partners or senior associates at top firms. Those will be the first to leave. I agree that 95%+ will not be able to leave for practice, but some do maintain connections and their skills.

TJ, I agree that professors do not come for the money, primarily. However, if you cut the salaries enough, I imagine that some of the best, by whatever measure you care to use, would leave. But I guess we will just have to see. It is probably true that decent replacements could be easily found, so maybe schools and students will not care.

anon

"The difference in lifestyle and intellectual environment between working as a law prof and working as a practicing lawyer tends to be vast."
HEnce, the failure of the legal academy to perceive and adjust to a changing environment in practice. Hence, their abject failure to give up tired and outdated conventional wisdom, and recognzie their own responsiblity for the state of legal education in general; a failure that has, and seems will continue to evoke ill will in the legal community, lead to poorer outcomes for grads, cause displacement and hardship for all concerned. But, take PRIDE in being isolated and oblivious? Please!
The stunning pride in being totally oblvious to the profession for which these folks profess to prepare their gradudates is shocking.
SHould law school operate as a law firm? Of course not. SHould the ATTITUDE and arrogance expressed by this comment be encouraged? Not if the law academy wishes to avoid the pain of ALS, which is just the start, one supposes.
Law schools need to reform and regain focus on the mission: for the vast majority of persons who attend law school, the mission is to prepare to be lawyers. Period.
If the gulf between the law as experienced in practice and the law as experienced by law profs is VAST, then the negative outcomes presently in play will likely not improve any time soon.

MacK

This is something I have commented on before.

Cutting payroll costs is tough - I was in a public company as GC where we as the board took a pay cut - but at the same time as layoffs, but it was only the board. The problem is that for most people, they tend to have financial commitments built around their income expectations (law partners should not because income is very unpredictable.) The result is that when an organisation seeks to cut costs by cutting pay, there is a large amount of special pleading (not intended pejoratively) by those with say kids in college, a large mortgage, elderly parents to support, a lot of law school debt, etc. It is just not easy to cut pay because of the problems many people have with a significant cut in income.

Buyouts are essentially voluntary redundancy - but in the US they have a catch, because of age discrimination - this tends to mean that older senior professors with accrued well funded pensions that take a buyout are receiving a genuine windfall - a buyout lump sum on top of their accrued pension entitlement - in effect you could have a 68 year old professor who was quietly planning to retire in a few months or a year - getting the buyout on top of the pension they planned to take shortly anyway. Indeed anecdotally I have heard of people delaying retirement plans just because they knew a buyout might be coming.

Similarly, as I pointed out earlier, another problem with buyouts is that they tend to encourage those that are marketable to market themselves - get the new job - and take the buyout too. With respect to JP and his statement:

"most law professors, even at low ranked schools, have the credentials to work at the top firms and many put in a few years at those firms. In fact, I have seen relatively few professor CVs with anything but the top-25 or so law firms on them"

That reminds me of yesterday's cross examination. The answer is that "many law professors ... HAD the credentials to work at the top firms" - but they don't anymore. Most law professors have less than 2.6 years of practice experience - and what they count as experience is at best dubious. To be fair, as JP put it more accurately, later in his posting:

"PhDs and those with very little practical experience dominate the law professor ranks"

The problem with buyouts is that this is the group least likely to take one - the professors likely to take a buyout are those who might attract offers. Inter alia, at least anecdotally, a lot of law professors, even those with more than the typical 2 odd years of practice, who return to practice struggle for a number of reasons, some interrelated:

- most don't have clients, at least initially;

- they are unused to working on teams (they may have had past experience, but it is long gone);

- they are very unused to rapidly producing product (for example legal briefs) to a very hard-deadline;

- if they were in private practice, they left before they reached the level of seniority in their large firm where finding clients and managing client relations is important, but often expect to return at a level of seniority where this is the central demand of the firm;

- they are often genuinely hopeless at moving things forward and are poor at identifying what really matters in a legal situation, and often obstructive (many lawyers comment that they hate dealing with universities and colleges that allow their legal faculty to participate in any transaction (licenses, tech transfer, etc.) because of the time wasting, pettifogging bullshit that results, all at a cost to your client (or when in-house your corporation.) I have seen it "crater" willing investments that science faculties desperately needed);

- they are often plain silly - here is a choice of law clause one inserted into a contract not so long ago: "International general principles of law which are applicable to international trade ("Lex Mercatoria”) shall be applicable to the substance of the dispute." (When the client asked what Lex Mercatoria was I described it as "duelling law professors flinging books")

I am sure those points will result in a hyperbolic rant from the usual defenders of law professors. However, these are real problems with academics seeking to return to private practice. Realistically, many law professors will be heading down that road in the future, and rather than the usual stop being mean about law professors, they need to think about these issues and address them proactively.

altidore

in what universe is a law profs job part-time?

TJ

Hey JP: "most law professors, even at low ranked schools, have the credentials to work at the top firms and many put in a few years at those firm."

And what happens when they don't make partner? Up and out you know... There's only so many in-house gigs around.

NoComment

@ JP

Your experience with the professorial credentials of lower ranked law schools is much different than mine. Let's consider again the school that is the subject of this post: Albany Law School. A quick once over of the bios in its faculty directory reveals two professors with top 50 firm experience: Chung, an assistant professor and Farley a tenure professor. Based on their clerkships and such maybe half a dozen or so more could have gone that route at some earlier point in their career if they had chosen to (e.g., Brescia was a Skadden Fellow, Lynch was at Manhattan DA). Taking all of those faculty together accounts for less than a quarter of the ALS faculty listed. One of their professors with a chair (Finkelman) doesn't even appear to have a law degree. (Can that possibly be right?) Is it your position that ALS is an outlier in terms of faculty qualifications?

Ellen

@NoComment. I know that. I am very familiar with ALS. My comments were general in nature.

Independent law schools have tremendous overhead; still in looking at the Admin directory of a couple of indys, it seems to me that many have plenty of room to cut. Too many directors/deans, assistant directors/deans, associate directors/deans.

What about outsourcing some of the functions like IT, facilities, PR/marketing/special events? It's a start....

TJ

"What about outsourcing some of the functions like IT, facilities, PR/marketing/special events? It's a start.... "

That's right, get rid of the little people first. But, how much do the little people make? Probably not enough to offset the revenue loss. That's the problem with little people.

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