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October 10, 2014

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Barry

"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). "

Law schools have been expanding and reproducing and raising tuition like crazy for 30-40 years, now. And presenting what I'll charitably call 'dubious' statistics.

MacK

Answers on a few points:

AnonProf - if you tried to present your anecdotal knowledge as data at an academic conference or in court, there would either be a stunned silence or guffaws. The BLS has a data category: 25-1112 Law Teachers, Postsecondary - http://www.bls.gov/oes/CURRENT/oes251112.htm

It has a mean income of $125,920. This is actually diluted for tenured professors at law schools because it includes non-tenured, part-time, legal research and writing instructors and those not teaching in law schools, but rather law-ish programs in say criminal justice courses. So the number is closer to $150,000-$200,000 for tenured law school professors. This is before you take the entire compensation package into account - which has a number of very valuable components.

The most valuable is tenure - barring the law school closing, you have a level of job security unimaginable in the legal profession. Indeed your little rant about age discrimination was particularly clueless because law professors with tenure are effectively immune from age discrimination - they retire when they want to. That is not the case in most law firms. Indeed, the biggest single factor in the lives of practicing lawyers is the day-to-day, month to month insecurity - we have to keep business coming in every day.

The next most valuable is the pension - do you have the tiniest clue what the typical lawyer has in pension provision. Since you like pop-quizes why don't you answer that - and how it compares with that of a professor.

Tuition assistance - in many instances universities and colleges provide free tuition to faculty members children and spouses (and have in some cases netting arrangements with other colleges and universities.) Have you any concept of what that is worth?

Do you actually have any real idea what lawyers earn, beyond the "I talked to a man about a dog" stories? The BLS data is at http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes231011.htm#ind

The mean there is $131,990 while the 75% line is $169,880 - for all lawyers. Note that this number is, at least for most in private practice - the total, without tenure, pension, tuition waivers, etc. So the mean lawyer, without the benefits and with total job insecurity earns just about $6,000 more (and that is not counting recent graduates from lower level institutions.)

Consider the difference that tenure makes to your life - have you bought a house? How great was it to know what your income was, for certain? How much more could you comfortably borrow? Does your law school take your taxes out of your salary - I write a cheque for mine - and try to estimate the right amount to put aside. Do you worry about how to bring in clients? Does a change in GC at a major client amount to a threat to your income - or that clients acquisition? Do you have several unrelated people whose homes depend on your ability to bring in business? Who gets paid before you at the law school - do the secretaries, the cleaners - everyone else get paid first? Do you have to pay the rent on your office? Do you worry when you have less than 1-2 years living expenses in your savings account? Private practice lawyers do...


Former Editor

ATL Prof.: Based on the 2013 SALT survey, the lowest reported Associate Professor salary is 81k. That's pretty great in comparison to public sector salaries at the three to five year mark (the 2014 NALP data runs from 51k to 63.8k in the public sector at the five year line). So, one step, particularly at schools that produce far more public defender / local prosecutor type lawyers than biglaw associates is to bring prof. salaries (including any perks beyond pensions/healthcare) in to the public sector range.

I'm not entirely sure what can be done about the static overhead in the short term (e.g., very high salaries for tenured professors). I think those schools that have been offering voluntary buyouts are probably on the right track for striking a balance between the need for long-term institutional cost-savings and being respectful of the vested interests of long-time faculty members.

Another step, in my view, is to hire professors (not clinical professors) interested in curricular reform. It seems to me that a lot of money could be saved not only by increasing teaching loads, but by adjusting teaching methods to include more practical application of doctrinal rules in the doctrinal courses. This would make some clinical offerings less important, or allow them to be taught as step two classes by the same doctrinal professors teaching the 1L ones. Doing that probably requires the adjustment of hiring priorities from things like VAPs to things like attorneys who regularly teach CLEs.

Barry: I tried to ask this up thread, but my comment seems to have been eaten by the spam filter. Can you refer me to your source for the "several to one" VAP to hire ratio you mentioned? I don't doubt you have one, I'd just like to read it.

BoredJD

FE: I like your proposal that we should be looking more at public sector/PI salaries than top private practice salaries. IME, professors would tend to move into the government or PI field rather than be marketable to a biglaw firm.

I understand that it's easier and more emotionally satisfying to try and compete for the NYC biglaw associates who clerked for the Ninth Circuit and did two years at DPW, but law schools can't afford to do that anymore. Maybe schools, especially regional schools, should consider hiring the stellar appeals guy from local DA or PD office or the small firm practicioner with 15 years experience. Look around the state or local bars for smart lawyers interested in teaching. I'm sure you'll see no decrease in teaching ability, (maybe) a marginal decrease in "scholarship ability" (but perhaps the development of scholarship more suited towards the practicing bar), and a huge decrease in faculty costs.

Somebody's gotta step up to the plate and end the credentialing BS that this profession is obsessed with. Might as well be the institutions in financial crisis.

Anon

Don't the people who hijack these threads with the scam stuff ever get tired of it? For the love of god, get them a job, the point has been made a gazillion times in the past and it is no longer interesting. Not even clear what the original post was about.

Anon

I find it amusing that this thread has gone on for 65 comments while the subsequent post specifically talks about a law school initiative designed to help students and it has received zero comments.

anon

Anon

I always find it amusing that you hijack threads to complain about the "scam bloggers" ... your particular fascination with this group of monsters in your head that you obviously loathe is quite impressive.

Of course, you are right, this thread has drifted away from the VAP scam: but many comments have related the issue of faculty salaries to the abuse of persons who risk so much to undertake a VAP, the use of VAPs to do the essential work of a law school without really "hiring" them, and the structure countenanced by legal academics to allow them to maintain their inflated view of themselves and cushy life styles.

It is usually law profs who chime in with the tired clichés about a.) not making enough money when compared with lost opportunity to make millions in private practice, b.) the failure of practitioners to solve the problem of underemployment by hiring all the marginally qualified students that law schools have been churning out, and c.) the ghastly argument that any critique of law school practices (including the VAP trap) is a "scam blog" and thus venal per se.

However, Anon, I always enjoy your comments. This is because you rarely show any interest in anything discussed in this forum. Rather, you simply comment to insult and demean everyone else when issues about law school practices and governance are discussed. You seem to be on a hair trigger, ready to crack into a paranoid fever at the slightest hint of criticism of legal academia. Because of this, your comments are a real treat: a hilarious and entertaining break from otherwise depressing subjects.

Orin Kerr

MacK: "The most valuable is tenure - barring the law school closing, you have a level of job security unimaginable in the legal profession. Indeed your little rant about age discrimination was particularly clueless because law professors with tenure are effectively immune from age discrimination - they retire when they want to. That is not the case in most law firms. Indeed, the biggest single factor in the lives of practicing lawyers is the day-to-day, month to month insecurity - we have to keep business coming in every day."

To be fair, though, don't government lawyers often have job security akin to that of academics? If I read the BLS statistics correctly, about 17% of lawyers in the United States are employed by federal, state, and local governments. Of course, that's not to say that this is a good thing: Perhaps there should be no tenure for either government lawyers or academics. But there are a lot more of the former than the latter.

MacK

I'll concede that many government lawyers have good job security - but they typically earn a lot less that law professors - and have a much higher workload and generally tougher working environment.

twbb

Orin, while government workers tend to have slightly stronger security than private sector workers, it is by no stretch of the imagination close to what law professors enjoy with tenure. Especially over the past few years many state governments have laid off lawyers.

CBR

Orin, I was a government lawyer before academia, and I would say that while it certainly used to be true that government attorneys had strong job protections, that is largely not true today, or at least not true at the "akin to academics" standard. Certainly at the state level, budget cuts have meant lots of layoffs and few job protections even for lawyers in the last decade. The situation is markedly better at the federal level, but I think still offers substantial less protection than academic tenure. Also, the demise of collective bargaining in state and local governments means fewer protections for all public employees, including lawyers. Of course, academia is obviously subject to its own financial pressures, and I'm doubtful that tenure will continue to be as job-protective going forward as it has been in the past, but at the moment, at least, I think it really is a significant benefit that's not matched in any other workplace (outside of Article III judges).

anon

Wow. Does an inordinate benefit afforded to a relatively tiny percentage of attorneys (remember: the entire 17% of lawyers who are employed by federal, state and local governments do not enjoy anything akin to "tenure" allowed law profs) justify the present "tenure" system afforded law profs?

Anyone who works in legal academia knows the truth. "Retirement" is enjoyed during tenure, not after it.

Moreover, the plantation system legal academics favor (abusing the time and talent of adjuncts, VAPs, etc. to support cushy jobs with long vacations, ever decreasing teaching loads, no specific production requirements post tenure etc.) is sort of disgustingly greedy and selfish.

The fact is that so many in legal academia constantly pat themselves on the back by:

- referring, at the outset, to themselves as "rock stars" and "best athletes" and their "full dance cards" at the "meat market",

- deluding themselves into thinking that, because they served a couple of years as law clerks or grunts in BigLaw they know something about the practice of law and were on track to make millions of dollars doing it, and

- thereafter fantasizing that huge audiences outside an incredibly tiny group give a fig about anything they have written (while ignoring the fact that most attorneys and judges have responded to the present state of legal scholarship with derision owed to its uselessness and often absurd and poorly reasoned quality).

This arrogance has created the disconnect that apparently too many in legal academia cannot fathom. Hence, there is a crisis in enrollment because of the sullied reputation accorded the self referential, twisted and unjustified egomania that is perceived as having been insensitive and oblivious to the consequences of such arrogance.

Here's a suggestion: Give up on the VAP trap. Tell the truth about employment prospects and don't EVER try to sell law school like used car salespersons. Change the curricula to mirror the needs of the legal market and hire persons to teach that curricula who actually understand the practice of law and understand that the market for legal services is NOT limited to BigLaw. Refocus scholarship on the traditional model and abandon the futile effort to create a mini university housed in every law school that incorporates Ph.D.s in every subject BUT law.

But then again, just keep doing what you are doing. It's working great!

notaprof

As someone who is in the process of making the decision whether to make a leap to academia I think I can speak a bit about the opportunity cost of becoming a professor. I graduated from a top 3 law school and have been working at a NYC biglaw firm doing tax-type work for over 4 years now. I am not on the market this year, so I will be at a firm at least 6 years before I become a professor. Many of the commenters above talk about it as if it is partner or nothing for biglaw associates. My experience has been that many associates (myself included) have no interest in being a partner because it is a really difficult job, especially with a spouse who also has an intense career. If you can survive 5 years in biglaw doing corporate work (and "survive" is the right word, although I've made it so far) there are many good jobs available outside of law firms. Many have left my firm to go in house at various places and after talking with friends and recruiters I am certain that would be an option for me in a few years. The in house jobs do not pay anywhere near what biglaw partners make, but pay significantly more than law professors make (i.e. similar to biglaw associate salaries but then no bump like a partner gets, so can reasonably make 300k+ as a midcareer lawyer). The lifestyle of these jobs is generally much better than law firm jobs, with better hours and an ability to stick around for as long as you like (given reasonable performance). Law professors are paid well, but outside of the very top schools I don't think anyone is getting near 300k. It isn't such a clear-cut decision for me given my other opportunities, and perhaps this is why schools generally have a harder time getting people with significant corporate/tax experience at a firm than people with litigation experience (just a guess, I really know nothing about the market for litigators). I can't speak for others or the market generally, but for me, if law schools paid much less than they do I would have a hard time justifying it as a career as compared to my other options. I realize that most law professors have little practice experience and aren't interested in corporate/tax law, but for those of us who do have real corporate/tax practice experience, which schools are supposedly emphasizing these days, the exit options are good and I think the argument for higher pay to attract top talent holds some merit.

Jeff Harrison

A couple of comments were directed to my statement about law profs having options. First, I do not defend law profs salaries -- I think at the high end they are very inflated. Nevertheless, I think the relevant group is 30 year olds who are among the chosen few to be viewed as qualified to be law professors. At that point all of those people have an option to enter practice and, if the market works, law school will have to pay to get them to choose the academic route. Part of the payment for not choosing practice is spread out over the life of the job. It's just a theory and it probably works well when comparing law profs salaries with those of history professors.

One commentator noted the salaries of people in the hard sciences. I do not know what their salaries are but I think in those areas the supply relative to the demand may be higher than in law teaching. (I know that seems like an odd statement given all the people who go through the meat market process with no prospects.) This could because one can overcome not going to the "right" school by writing a dissertation that is viewed as important. I'd be interested in knowing what their beginning salaries are.

anon

"I can't speak for others or the market generally, but for me, if law schools paid much less than they do I would have a hard time justifying it as a career as compared to my other options."

IF these are your priorities, and no doubt these are your priorities as you have stated, then please don't pursue a career in legal academia.

Serving the interests of the firms that use the services of NYC tax firms, and then perhaps joining one of those highly ethical, extremely capable and competent firms, sounds like a very good fit with your priorities. You mention no priorities associated with a career mentoring, teaching and conducting relevant scholarship in the interest of improving the legal system as a whole.

As we saw in the meltdown, NYC is not exactly the capital of selflessness, self-awareness and public interest. Staying in that milieu may dim the light that would otherwise allow one to see the numbers of which you speak in a reasonable and appropriate manner.

On the other hand, your entirely self referential focus on yourself and your comfort and needs might be a great fit with legal academia as it now is constituted.

Perhaps you should consider a VAP position, drop everything, pull up all your roots, and move to, say, the dust bowl, to make 60K or so for work that others are paid more than double to perform at the same school. Mind you: after a year or two, and after giving up that plush salary and everything else in NYC, it is very likely they will kick you to the curb with not so much as "Howdy do?" Don't expect any thanks, either. They will expect you to thank them.

Might take your arrogance down a notch.

Orin Kerr

MacK writes: "I'll concede that many government lawyers have good job security - but they typically earn a lot less that law professors - and have a much higher workload and generally tougher working environment."

My primary government experience is with the Department of Justice, where I would say the workload is not particularly different from what it is for most law professors. You're correct that the pay is somewhat lower. At the same time, it's also a substantially less competitive job to get.

Barry

Notaprof: "As someone who is in the process of making the decision whether to make a leap to academia I think I can speak a bit about the opportunity cost of becoming a professor. I graduated from a top 3 law school and have been working at a NYC biglaw firm doing tax-type work for over 4 years now. I am not on the market this year, so I will be at a firm at least 6 years before I become a professor."

Having six years of very successful law practice puts you in what percentile of legal academics?

The 90th? 95th?

Barry

Jeff: "Nevertheless, I think the relevant group is 30 year olds who are among the chosen few to be viewed as qualified to be law professors. At that point all of those people have an option to enter practice and, if the market works, law school will have to pay to get them to choose the academic route. Part of the payment for not choosing practice is spread out over the life of the job. It's just a theory and it probably works well when comparing law profs salaries with those of history professors."

This has been covered again and again and again.
Please read the comments on this post, and every other post discussing this on the Faculty Lounge.

Nathan A

Jeff - If we're talking about the subset of science/engineering PhDs most likely to be recruited into academia, we're talking about people whose starting salary is in the $120k-$150k range (depends on the market and I can only speak to EE and CS backgrounds). 5-10 years in, its not uncommon for these folks to hit $200k+ as division heads, move into management, or strike it out on their own and make a killing. These outcomes don't strike as being much less likely than an top notch law grad making partner. We are talking about the best of the best here.

So I have hard time believing that compensation in the private sector explains the significant difference between what law faculty make as compared to what their peers in the sciences/engineering make. There's something else to it. Maybe there's a much higher demand for a JD. Maybe its the fear of dropping in the USNWR rankings that pushes schools to throw money faculty compensation. I don't know. But there's something more than just private sector compensation at play here.

The place where things get really interesting when get outside the top 40-50 programs. Lower ranked science/engineering programs seem to behave a lot differently - there's a greater emphasis on teaching and mentorship. I don't quite see why this isn't the case with lower ranked law schools. Lower ranked law schools appear to play the same game that their higher ranked peers play - lavishing money on candidates with sterling credentials and a track record of scholarship. Do schools outside the top 50 program really need to hire someone with NOTAPROF's credentials? Wouldn't it make more sense to place a lot less emphasis on scholarship and pedigree? Maybe some of this is because there's a finite pool of research money for the sciences. Once the top 40-50 program are done hiring, you probably aren't left with very many candidates who can sustain a well-funded research group. Whatever the reason, it is really interesting that lower ranked law schools value the same skill set/credentials that their higher ranked peers do.

Jeff Harrison

Sorry Barry and thanks for the kind suggestion. Quite honestly, I find the comments generally interesting but when I run into a patch of people just prissing at each other I lose interest and just type my comment. I'd be delighted if the hosts would delete repetitive comments including my own and others that are irrelevant. It would make for a better read and one I'd be inclined to finish.

Nathan: Good point about the lower ranked science/engineering school v. lower ranked law schools. Maybe it is the limited research money. I do not know but so much for markets working! As for the rankings driving faculty salaries that may be the case. I have heard of some enormous matching salaries being offered to people who were leaving my school. The odd thing is, and I actually think my colleagues would agree, there is no one at my school whose departure would affect our ranking. I have a hunch that is true of many schools outside the top 30.

Well, I've veered way off course here and we don't want to rile Barry.

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