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July 08, 2013


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"Or maybe they're happening and they're not becoming public." This.

terry malloy

If the Law School Bubble popping parallels the mortgage crisis, we'd be in November 2007. The small earthquakes(e.g., seaton hall, vermont) are similar to the Bear Sterns hedge fund failures in the summer of 07. Everyone knows that the hammer is about to fall, even if they aren't saying it publicly.

Also, I suspect that the law schools are funded through a certain point this academic year based on the previous year's credit terms.

When that funding runs out, they will have to go to the well again. Just wait till you see how low the bucket goes before it hits water.

Good Luck people.

Jacqueline Lipton

And I suppose one thing that bothers me, assuming there are - or are going to be - faculty layoffs is who precisely gets laid off. It's obviously cheaper and easier to decide not to give tenure to tenure-track faculty, but they are often comparatively the lowest salaries and the people whose trajectories are the more useful for the school. That stood out for me in the Seton Hall announcement about giving notice to pre-tenure folks that contracts may not be renewed. While I understand this is all happening in the context of negotiations with more senior faculty to take retirement packages, I am interested in where the emphasis is (or will be) in different schools' negotiations with faculty.


Though not counted as a lay-off, schools do seem to be shrinking the size of their faculties by attrition (or buy-outs) coupled with low or no hiring.

Showered and blue blazered

What Anon said. Hiring is probably down to maybe 60% or so what it was even three years ago. That's the first step. Cutting existing positions is the second. My guess is that most schools have been able to postpone cuts for at least a few years by dipping into rainy day funds, cutting staff and non-tenure positions, etc. We'll see if that's enough in the next year or two.

you're surprised?

Not sure why the relative paucity of such news is surprising. Who wants to make this information public? Laid off faculty? Folks getting bought out? The schools themselves? I can't think of anyone who has an interest in publicizing this information and so the lack of it is not surprising.

I know that my school hasn't been publicly reported as doing any of these things, but they surely are doing all of them.


In two schools where I have taught in the past, there have been layoffs. In at least one of them, the layoffs were not mentioned in the news media even though the media learned about staff layoffs.

In my current school the Dean has been able to postpone layoffs for this year through minor cuts here and there- but if things don't get better next year I suspect there will be layoffs.


Step 1. Lay off staff
Step 2. Stop hiring new people.
Step 3. Stop tenuring junior faculty.
Tenured faculty will have to teach more but they'll prefer that to less money.

Oracle at Delphi

Nice post on a timely subject. I think we're probably not asking the right questions. Given tuition increases and inflation, if you freeze faculty salaries over a period of years, you will obtain significant cost savings. I think more than a few law schools have maintained salary freezes, or offered only token raises, since 2008. (My law school has been able to provide significant merit raises for the past four years, including this year, but I'm pretty certain that this is the exception, not the rule.) So, we'd need to know whether salary expenses are being inflated away and how much de facto cost savings that is producing.

Second, more than a few law schools have announced hiring freezes or bans on lateral hiring. In fact, the recent lateral hiring data show that this market has basically collapsed, with only a handful of law schools doing major lateral hiring. So, you can achieve cost savings on faculty expenses through attrition -- when a colleague retires, you do not replace her and bank the cost.

Other devices are probably being deployed as well to help the bottom line. For example, Fred no longer gets to teach his beloved seminar in "Law & Paperclips"; instead, he has to teach business associations. Some schools are pressing faculty to give up three or four course loads in favor of four or five course loads. Etc. Increasing faculty teaching productivity would also help to facilitate hiring freezes -- the associate dean can still cover the full curriculum without new hires, visitors, or adjuncts.

To really get a handle on what's going on, we would need data that are not available (or at least not easily or obviously available). But, if one takes into account salary freezes and hiring freezes, increased teaching loads, less tolerance for using core faculty teaching resources for esoterica, etc., you could begin to sketch a mode of slow motion attrition in law faculty size, coupled with an uptick in faculty productivity (as measured in student contact hours). The movement exists -- it's quite real, in fact. But it's hard to see because it's not transparent. I don't think we will see out-and-out layoffs at most law schools. BUT, the standard terms of employment are going to shift in a way that requires more work (teaching) for less pay from tenured and tenure-track faculty.


Is there any evidence that faculty are being asked to teach more? Can someone attest to it under their own name? It may be happening, but where is the evidence? At least with the decline in hiring, we have evidence.


Isn't that the point of Oracle's comment? He/she stated that "other devices are probably being deployed," including asking faculty to teach more, but that the data is "not available (or at least not easily or obviously available" and that "it's hard to see because it's not transparent."

I think it is reasonable, however, to predict that law schools will ask faculty to teach more for less pay, at a time when law schools are attempting to slash costs through other means.

Alfred Brophy

Oracle, you're certainly right that there are a bunch of things going on in addition to layoffs and not replacing faculty when they leave.

Back in January I asked for people to comment on whether teaching loads were increasing, though it didn't generate a lot of information.
And I'd add that I've been talking about the increase in teaching loads since 2008. I think this has been something schools have been doing for many years now, though my sense is that they're increasing rather dramatically now.

Is there a good place where we can get information on the number of, say, tenure-stream faculty at each law school? If so, I'd be most interested in how that's changed over the last few years.


One of the "advantages" so to speak of the shift to a corporate model over the last two decades in academia is that the institution is far more flexible. It can contract and expand more readily because hiring of full time tenure track academics has been replaced by all sorts of pseudo-academic staffing.

In the law school context that means there is a lot of non-tenure track personnel that can be trimmed back long before you get to tenure track or tenured faculty.

The "law school death watch" crowd will be waiting a long time as even Ben Bernanke thinks the economy is stabilizing.


"Or maybe they're happening and they're not becoming public." This.

It's all just normal attrition. Because there is nothing more normal than voluntarily leaving a job to explore your opportunities when, not only does the general economy suck, but your specific field is in crisis mode.

Oracle at Delphi

Al -- a very thoughtful and constructive post. Maybe AALS has this data? (They should, in any event.) I believe that Andy Morriss (Alabama) and Bill Henderson (IU-Bloomington) have been working on an empirical project that tracks faculty hiring, by subject, over time (as in decades, not years). But I don't know how good their contemporary data on law school faculty size might be. I do recall that the average size of law faculties has been increasing steadily in the era of USNWR, and average class sizes and student/faculty ratios have been falling concurrently.

In response to Anon@2:08 PM, what rational legal academic is going to post "my law school is in a financial meltdown/crisis?" And then offer a bill of indictment for God and country to see? All the incentives work in the opposite direction. A person seeking a lateral position isn't going to want his/her calling card to be "I'm not really interested in your law school, but desperate times call for desperate measures." What's more, and as with corporate law firms, all law schools have a "move, move on, nothing to see here folks" mentality in order to protect their reputational capital. I could name a very well-regarded T40 law school with de minimis or no salary raises for the past 4-5 years, and with a hiring freeze in place for 2013-2014 to boot, but I won't do this. It wouldn't really be fair, because I'm sure other law schools are in the same boat -- I just haven't heard about it. Plus, the plural of anecdote isn't "data."

What's more, in the context of an active and ongoing arms race to attract and enroll high LSAT/GPA law students, lurid posts on law blogs about impending financial doom would hardly be helpful or productive. And 0Ls certainly prowl these websites when deciding where to go to law school -- they are voracious consumers of information about legal education and the cost/benefit curve. In sum, all the incentives work toward minimizing transparency regarding financial austerity measures -- including higher teaching loads, reduced compensation and travel support, etc.

Let me add one more possible response: reducing the multi-sectioning of 1L classes. During the 90s and 00s, we've witnessed a competition to make required 1L classes smaller in size. At this point, however, a smart associate dean might well ask, "why are we 3-sectioning civil procedure?" 20 years ago, a mandatory 1L course with 125-175 enrolled students wouldn't have raised eyebrows at most places (including T10 shops, like Harvard and Virginia). Some of these schools still routinely feature 1L and mandatory classes with 100-150 law students. This would be another means of achieving more contact hours per professor without firing anyone -- or hiring anyone. Those who do not teach a 1L course because of larger sections could be redeployed to teach other classes that need staffing.

Finally, I am merely an oracle -- not a quant. I deal in prophecy, not math. My prediction is that law schools will find ways to increase faculty productivity while simultaneously lowering their overhead costs. And they will undertake these efforts very, very quietly. Frankly, pursuing efficiency, provided that it doesn't come entirely at the cost of the scholarly mission, might be a good thing for law schools. We can no longer rely on simply capturing rents from our graduates -- they no longer enjoy ever-rising starting salaries and a target rich job environment. Those facts will drive everything else.

Finally, a last prophesy: in this environment, 'tis far better to be at a relatively low tuition cost, state-supported law school than at a high cost, largely tuition dependent, private or high tuition public law school. And the perceived quality of the law school's program -- using whatever metric you want to call, e.g., USNWR, ATL, JD-required jobs at graduation/9 months out, etc. -- will also prefix the demand curve for 1L seats. Indeed, high tuition law schools must not merely hold the line on tuition -- they are going to have to find additional monies to support the additional class size cuts and enhanced discounting required to fill seats with strong students. See, e.g,. the full ride, three year, Washington University School of Law exploding scholarships offered last month (attempting to purchase, for no net revenue, high LSAT/GPA students to help shore up that law school's fall 2013 entering class means).

SEALS (to be held next month, at The Breakers, in Palm Beach -- I'm sure Brian Tamanaha and Paul Campos could offer something pithy and biting about that) will have a round table discussion group on these issues, as well as a formal panel on the challenging environment for law schools. If any TheFacultyLounge readers will be attending SEALS next month, you might want to check out one or both programs. Perhaps we can swap real world law school horror stories there. . .


In many ways, law schools seem like law firms in that they are large organizations too often run by individuals with little management sense or experience, and they are overly optimistic until they can no longer afford to be so. An important difference with law firms is their own money is at stake, which provides a strong incentive to right the ship, whereas that is not true at law schools. But many law schools seem to wait until they fill their first year class to then determine whether they need to make any cuts but at that point it is August and kind of late to cut much other than perhaps travel, which is not a significant cost for most schools. And then the problem begins anew -- everyone is optimistic that next year will be the turn around year and so they go about their business mostly as before, though with less cash on hand and lots of hallway chatter but no significant changes being made. It is all kind of crazy but the solutions are not easy either. I don't really understand the push to get faculty to teach more -- in most large cities, at least, adjuncts are very cheap and they fill in the curriculum. Permanent faculty might pick up some of the courses of those who are leaving but that could usually be handled by shifting things around and not that many faculty leave, which is really the primary problem. Many law schools have very senior faculty as a result of extensive hiring in the 80s and 90s -- those faculty are very expensive but many resist the buyouts and some simply are not ready to retire. Denying people tenure as a cost savings measure is wrong and likely to lead to lawsuits; not hiring new faculty and staff obviously makes good sense, and I suspect most law schools have room to cut with bloated staffs that arose in the boom years. But at most (or many) schools the logjams come at the top and it is a serious and difficult issue, not one that is going to be solved by adding a course to one's teaching package.


I know I'm going to get blasted for this, but I'm skeptical about all the talk of faculty and staff layoffs. Moreover, I'm doubtful of statements about increases in teaching loads. Almost no one is naming schools. Oracle mentions one school, and of course no need to state the name, so I'm sure at least one has given small salary increases. The same is true at my school, but then again as academics we never earned the salary increases of industry. But I am unaware of mass layoffs nor plans for such a thing. I know my own school, and neither have teaching loads increased nor has anyone been fired. We have made significant changes in terms of curriculum, created bridge opportunities for students, and committed ourselves to many other student focused measures to deal with the difficult job market. But, unless I see some actual empirical findings on the changing culture of faculties, I will remain skeptical.

Just to lay my cards on the table, I could certainly see teaching more students but definitely not more classes. We remain an intellectual institution, and scholarship is an essential part of what we do as professors. It would be a very negative development to diminish our abilities to advance knowledge and become vocational training schools.

Brian Tamanaha

Sorry, Oracle--I can't think of anything "pithy and biting" to say. I did chuckle, though, reading your statement that law profs have set up a panel at "The Breakers, in Palm Beach" to discuss "the challenging environment for law schools."


I've heard reliable rumors, not publicized on the blogs, about two schools which were read the riot act by the central administration. They were told, essentially, get the operation into the black or be closed within a couple of years. If I personally have heard of two, there must be many more.

Art Leonard

I think there is faculty contraction going on without any big announcements being made as we all (or at least those of us who are not lowering admission standards) prepare for smaller entering classes this fall. Some of this is just churning - several of my tenured/tenure track colleagues announced during spring semester that they were leaving laterally - all but one to state law schools. And several of my colleagues have accepted offers from the school to being a multi-year step-down program to emeritus status. Some of the unexpected vacancies are being filled with adjuncts, and some of us are teaching one extra class per academic year. That is, in itself, a form of down-sizing. But I think the term "lay-offs" is not accurate to describe such a contraction.

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