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October 10, 2014

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MacK

twbb:

I am a pretty strong critic of law schools - but it is also worth considering the impact that data like the AmLaw numbers have on those thinking of going to law school. If law professors and administrators perceive these numbers as the norm for the profession, don't you think they are also a big influence on those considering going to law school?

Don't get me wrong - I think the USNWR numbers are a disgrace, the way law schools have fiddled their reporting to goose their employment data and salary reporting outrageous and unethical. But I also think that there is too much misinformation out there about the legal profession in AmLaw, on TV etc. The law schools have done little to counter that misimpression (and many have positively encouraged it), but the false idea of legal practice that attracts so many people wrongly into law school (either wrong people or wrong reasons) is not something just the law schools created.

Barry

Jeff: "Law profs are paid more at the outset because when they enter law teaching they have an option. "

That option has a very, very low value. They are generally hired with 0-2 years in practice. This means that their chance of making partner were 10%? 20% at best?

If they didn't make partner, they'd be on the street with the 85-90% of other associates who didn't make partner, which means that their expected incomes are bad.

And that's before going into the differences in make-up between a partner and a legal academic.

anon

twbb

You've hit on a very important point.

The bs that the "law and economics" folks have been peddling of late (which has helped to inflate corporate salaries and destroy whatever was left of Wall Street regulation) must now be applied to their own weird world of incompetent hacks. That is a world in which the unknowing speak to the ignorant in incomprehensible, illogical and illiterate ways (as many are not economists at all, but rather JDs posing as such, sometimes paired with a real "economist" to get some basics that are beyond their comprehension close to being correct).

Hopefully, this form of "law and ..." will simply go away. It has done little good and too much harm. Then, and returning to the subject of this thread, perhaps law schools will be able to afford to stop engaging in the VAP ruse, which is almost designed to abuse the time and skills of persons hired to do the real work of a law school without really "hiring" them.

AnonProf

This very interesting thread makes me wonder about an interesting larger tension (and I do mean this in all sincerity).

Graduation speeches always say that you should pursue your dreams rather than merely staying on a particular track because it's expected of you. They also say, to the point that it's become a cliche, that failure is a good thing and that we should all welcome it and embrace it. But if taking a VAP without converting it to a faculty job can, absurd as it sounds, lead to one being essentially unemployable in law, as Ray's post states, then isn't all this standard advice wrong? Should graduation speeches and advice books/articles instead insist that one, for security's sake, not advance in the direction of one's dreams, and not ever risk failure, but be sure to stay on the narrow and traditional path, because any deviation will likely be a career killer? Maybe not in Steve Job's case, to be sure, but in the common run of cases?

anon

AnonProf

Your questions implicate the point that is so often debated in this forum:

TO what extent do those who "run" law schools owe anything to anyone other than a devil may care, caveat emptor, "I will abuse you to my liking and you can suffer the consequences or not as you choose" attitude?

Law profs, in this debate, tend to take two different tacks in defense.

First, "we" have no control over any of this. "We" didn't lie about employment prospects, "we" don't engage in the VAP ruse, which is almost designed to abuse the time and skills of persons hired to do the real work of a law school without really "hiring" them, etc.

Of course, all the comment threads by law profs claiming that they must be permitted to "run" the law school give lie to this nonsense.

The second basis for defense is what you are suggesting: law profs need have no scruples because the fault is never the con's, it is the mark's. Naïve young people may be induced to go into ruinous debt with terrible prospects by means of shameless "buy now" pitches because, after all, we are law profs. Leading VAP candidates to believe that their position will lead to employment, to induce them to give everything up for a one year stint, is perfectly ok. After all, we are law profs. We may discriminate on the basis of suspect classifications to our hearts content, after all, we are law profs.

It is this latter attitude that has caused the sharp decline in applications. There have been tough employment markets before. What is different is this crop of legal academics - inexperienced in life and the law, emotionally immature, lacking in basic empathy and care for anyone other than those who belong to their chosen subgroup of special preference, have reacted to discovery of malfeasance with a degree of arrogance that would make a thief on Wall Street blush.

Accordingly, outside agencies are required to reign in the fiasco created by this group. Student loans must be curtailed, law school hiring must be subjected to the federal law on discrimination, administration of faculty work load and requirements for tenure must be imposed from without.

Otherwise, the terrible reputation of legal academia will, one suspects, become even worse.

Former Editor

@Barry

Can you refer me to where you are drawing your "the VAP:job ratio is several to one, *after* discarding those who shouldn't even have gotten a VAP in the first place" data from. I'm not doubting that you have a source. I just haven't seen a semi-comprehensive study, other than George & Yoon, breaking down faculty hiring that way and I'd like to read it if you have one.

@AnonProf

In re: graduation speeches, I honestly think that the stock "reach for whatever dream you like" graduation cliche ranges from useless advice (for students already reaching for known dreams) to affirmatively bad advice (for all the people being encouraged to do something that they haven't prepared for prior to graduation).

@MacK

If you ever get that thread on things the media gets wrong about the legal profession going, let me know. I've got some contributions.

ATLprof

Just a question raised in my mind by this comment thread (particularly with respect to the equity partners vs. law professors part):

Law school critics: What do you think the average law school professor salary is?

MacK

Between $110k and $160k for lower ranked schools outside major metro areas, $150-$220k in upper tier schools in major metros - with some rare outliers heading for $300k+ that's for tenured exclusive of benefits.

Untenured and legal research and writing and bottom tier schools $60-120k

Of course once you factor in tenure, benefits (pension, tuition assistance from some schools) it is a better package than most lawyers have.

anon

ATLprof

For one, my answer would be:

The answer is irrelevant.

What is relevant is whether those salaries reflect in too many instances a culture of privilege that rewards scant performance standards for profs and terrible outcomes for grads - a culture supported by taxpayers' money funneled thru the hands of unwitting students fleeced by shameless pitchpersons peddling demonstrably false and misleading claims.

What you and others don't seem to understand is that the day of reckoning has already arrived.

One knows that some law prof salaries, bolstered by bogus claims to status as "Ass't" or "Associate" Dean for Lunchtime Schmoozing or whatever, get their compensation well over two hundred thousand, even at the lowest rated schools in the country.

ATLprof

anon @5:57PM

Yes, it is relevant if we are actually trying to have a discussion. If you are just interested in gleefully reveling in "a day of reckoning" then maybe it is not relevant to you.

I was asking those people who have said in the past they were interested in constructive conversation.

There are many professor who make over 200K, primarily at elite or elite wannabe schools. But not at the lowest rated or even lower rated schools. Not even top 100 mid-tier schools.

The mean overall for law professors across all schools is in the neighborhood of 150K. That means half of all law professors make less than 150K, and given that salaries at some schools are significantly higher, many law professors make significantly less. There are schools where no professor makes 150K. There is a fair amount of public data available on this. In some cases, it is available through public disclosure laws (which require in most cases salary AND add-on stuff). Others are available through the SALT survey (which almost always tend to actually overstate compensation).

I asked the question because I didn't see how commenters could say that law profs made as much or more than equity partners. Law profs, on average, make less than senior associates in major metropolitan areas, let alone partners. Sure, there are exceptions, both individually and by school. But if we are going to discuss the market, opportunities that profs have or have not "given up", etc., then people may need to make distinctions between the top end and low end of law professor salaries.

Just to be clear, I'm not arguing employment outcomes are not bad; I'm not arguing law schools are not too expensive. I am not arguing that a bunch of schools are not getting ready to go out of business (or continue laying off large numbers of profs).

But I am interested in constructive conversation about the SYSTEM that produced it and how we might fix it. I am not interested in creatively imagined mustache twirling villains that some seem fixated on.

anon

"There are many professor who make over 200K, primarily at elite or elite wannabe schools. But not at the lowest rated or even lower rated schools. Not even top 100 mid-tier schools."

Wrong. Perhaps not at your school.

"I asked the question because I didn't see how commenters could say that law profs made as much or more than equity partners."

you are making the mistake you accuse others of making. You are equating the salaries in BigLaw with the salaries of all "equity partners" in the United States, and ignoring the differences in equity shares.

"Law profs, on average, make less than senior associates in major metropolitan areas, let alone partners."

Same mistake.

All in all, I don't see your comment as serious. Rather, it reads like a sour grapes sort of retort, that equates practitioners with "creatively imagined mustache twirling villains" who earn ever so much more than lowly law profs.

The only glee in all this is in your imagination. Your refusal to acknowledge any disparity between performance and salaries, and the imbalance that so many perceive in law prof salaries, demonstrates that you are not interested in a serious discussion: you are interested in dismissing any argument that you don't like as a "law scam" argument.

What a shame. But again, here is the reason legal academia is being held is such low esteem these days, and applications are plunging.

Try a bit of humility. Try a bit of honest introspection. Stop believing that anyone who finds fault is enjoying the sinking of the prestige to which your attitude contributes.

MacK

ATL prof - your numbers are actually wrong according to the BLS - the mean is around $125k for all law teachers (law schools pay more) - but notably it is higher than most lawyers who average around $100k. Of course total compensation for professors is actually higher yet, because of pensions and other benefits plus the fantastic plus of tenure.

ATLprof

anon@7:20

"The only glee in all this is in your imagination. Your refusal to acknowledge any disparity between performance and salaries, and the imbalance that so many perceive in law prof salaries, demonstrates that you are not interested in a serious discussion: you are interested in dismissing any argument that you don't like as a "law scam" argument.

What a shame. But again, here is the reason legal academia is being held is such low esteem these days, and applications are plunging.

Try a bit of humility. Try a bit of honest introspection. Stop believing that anyone who finds fault is enjoying the sinking of the prestige to which your attitude contributes.

You are obviously not familiar with my posting history or what I have said and argued in the past. You'll note that I use a consistent name, and not the fully anonymous "anon" so that people can see and hold me to what I have said.

"Wrong. Perhaps not at your school."

?? It's mostly publicly available information. You can check it yourself. I'm just relaying FACT. If you want to deny it by saying "Wrong", I guess that's your prerogative. But you're not making reality based arguments in that case.

"you are making the mistake you accuse others of making. You are equating the salaries in BigLaw with the salaries of all "equity partners" in the United States, and ignoring the differences in equity shares."

No I didn't. I was talking small and midsize firms in large metropolitan areas. I've worked in these firms. I know enough lawyers who still do to have an idea what even senior associates make. If we're talking BigLaw, then we're not even in the same ballpark. Hell, I know practitioners in rural areas in practices with only two or three lawyers who do better than a lot of law professors, and they are people who came out of law school around and during the crash. And I'm thrilled for them. (Note I'm not saying that employment outcomes are on average good for people 2008 and past; they clearly have not been good.)

"All in all, I don't see your comment as serious. Rather, it reads like a sour grapes sort of retort, that equates practitioners with "creatively imagined mustache twirling villains" who earn ever so much more than lowly law profs."

This doesn't make any sense, and by that I mean I can't figure out what you are trying to say. How is anything I said reflective of sour grapes toward practitioners??? Seriously, anything along those lines has never crossed my mind or lips. How can anything I said be read to be sour grapes towards practitioners? The only "between the lines" thing that can be taken from my comments is that I'm somewhat tired of that sub-group of "law school critics" who want nothing more than to recast a complicated problem in terms of law professors being evil. If that is who you are, then stop talking to me. I'm not interested. (And given the ease with which you will dismiss FACT in service of your mission (vendetta?), it's hard not to put you in that category.)

"Try a bit of humility. Try a bit of honest introspection. Stop believing that anyone who finds fault is enjoying the sinking of the prestige to which your attitude contributes."

Not sure who anything I said relates to humility or the lack thereof. I just provided you with facts. They don't have humility or lack humility. They're just facts. I would certainly like to stop believing people are enjoying not just the prospect of sinking prestige but enjoying much more, but it's hard to believe some people are not given the comments made and language used, not to mention the refusal to engage actual facts and arguments.

Again, interested in constructive discussion. Interested in actual ways to fix the problems (in other words, ways to fix the system that created the problem and not interested in "waving a magic wand" proposals).

Nathan A

I agree with a lot of what Jason Yackee said, but I think its worth digging a little deeper into the market for law professors. Shouldn't the demand for top talent also push up the salaries of faculty members in the social sciences and engineering to similar levels? If anything, one would assume that faculty members in the social sciences and engineering would be better compensated given their higher teaching loads, their ability to bring in grant money, and their subjecting their work to peer-review. Sure, salaries for top-tier JDs is in the $160k+ range, but the salaries for your top-tier PhDs in the hard sciences/engineering isn't that far off. So why are law faculty paid so much more?

In apprenticeship-based graduate programs, there's a lot more to consider than just a school's USNWR ranking. Sure, prestige matters. But finding a good match for your research interests matters more. As does the financial support package you're offered. While apprenticeship-based graduate programs care about their USNWR rankings, there are other things they also need to pay attention to in order to attract students. Furthermore, hiring in their fields isn't prestige driven the same way it is law. Your body of work in graduate school will play a big role in whether top employers will want to fight over you.

If maintaining the status of your law school essentially boils down to maintaining its USNWR ranking, you are going to throw a lot of money at those measures. If you want to boost your peer rating in the USNWR law school rankings, you're going to have to buy faculty who are noticed by their peers. Its not necessarily because their scholarship is especially valuable to the outside world (after all the government and industry don't deem legal scholarship worth sponsoring), but its because they've established a reputation among fellow law professors. All the money being throw at faculty salaries is nothing more than an effort to buy a higher score in the USNWR peer rating. It doesn't matter whether the school is ranked #10, #100, or #150. If you don't pay for the peer rating, you're going to drop in the rankings.

Take away the rankings and I think you'll find that a lot of lower-ranked law schools will realize they don't need to chase Yale JDs who've churned out a lot of publications. Instead they could focus on hiring the best teachers so that they give their graduates the best chance at passing the bar and getting a job after. If I had to guess, its far cheaper to buy great teachers than it is to buy Yale/Harvard JDs.

Nathan A

Hi Jeff, you said "Law profs are paid more at the outset because when they enter law teaching they have an option. This is especially true with respect to the closed universe of people eligible to be hired as law profs."

How is this not true for people in the hard sciences or engineering?

Barry

ATLprof, BLS median is $113K.

I'm sure that 'you know some guy', but who cares? I know a guy (well, 'know of a guy') who dropped out of college and is now worth $50 billion.

twbb

Law professor salaries are definitely relevant; I'm a little surprised my fellow critics of the law school status quo are avoiding the question. They tend to largely fall between 100k and 200k, with most seeming to fall in the middle, or a little below the middle, of that range. Taking into account the salaries in other university departments (typically for academics who have a higher level of education than most law professors), the low teaching load, and the terrible debt burdens placed on law school graduates, I think it is too high. I think a fair salary for an academic with that workload would start at about 50-60k, like other professors, and maybe max out at 100k or just below.

AnonProf

I find it curious that some commenting here think that law professors are responsible for the weak job market, rather than, say, law firms (not to mention state legislatures). I think a fair salary, twbb, for a law firm partner is $200,000 on the high end. That would enable the biggest law firms, especially, to help restore full employment to recent law grads, encourage better work-family balance, and devote much more of their practice to pro bono work, thus benefiting society at large.

Anon

twbb, there are numerous law schools that pay the kinds of salaries you would prefer and that require the heavier teaching loads you suggest. and guess what? they are ranked at the bottom of USNWR. no one from those schools gets a job in Big Law. that is not necessarily a bad thing but it does mean there is choice available and smarter college graduates pick the more expensive higher ranked schools with the academically productive faculty year after year. And I am willing to bet you did, too.

anon

Profs don't realize that BigLaw isn't the practice of law in the United States, because they base their "facts" on "I knew a guy," their reference group practiced a couple of years in a BigLaw firm and they are often dreadfully uninformed and just wrong about the "facts" they tout (while accusing others of ignoring the "facts").

The projection by ATL above is so striking! Between the clichés, the argument from rumor and isolated examples, the false accusations and the hypocrisy (accusing others of ATL's own proclivities) I'm not sure which fault ranks as most important in dismissing the claim to be interested in "serious" debate.

My view is that the absolute level of prof salaries is irrelevant. My view is based on this: rewards for good performance by hard working professionals producing excellent results rarely results in the sort of complaints about salaries we sometimes see leveled at law profs.

The salaries of law profs are sometimes questioned because too many law profs are, in the main and including at top rated law schools, not performing well (in teaching, scholarship, managing law schools ethically and effectively, etc.), they certainly are not all hard working individuals (especially when compared with those to whose salary levels they claim to be entitled), and they are demonstrably failing to produce good results for too many of the consumers of their work product (especially at lower ranked and unranked law schools). There appear to be ZERO consequences: just a lot of whining and fantasy about giving up million dollar salaries in practice to "sacrifice" in a law school.

ATL would have all law profs paid comparably to the highest paid attorneys in the United States. What a laugh.

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