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January 15, 2015


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Nathan A

"While scholarship is undoubtedly important, all of these grants are very expensive, and (without getting too far into this debate) it is far from clear that all of this extra scholarship provides any significant benefit to the law students who subsidize the research. Law schools can potentially reap significant savings by imposing limits on summer writing grants, for example, limiting grants to one every other year for tenure-track faculty and one every three years for tenured faculty."

This along with retirements and chopping down Deans' salaries should make a nice dent in costs.

I never quite understood why law professors can't be expected to do what their colleagues in the economics, sociology, and the sciences do - win grants for to cover their research. If it is useful, someone will pay for it. Right?


David ably canvasses most of the levers that can be pulled, but I have some quibbles.

On scholarship costs, the costs are not driven by summer stipends. Except for a few schools with outsized grants, summer stipends, where available, are perhaps 5-8% of direct salary, which excludes fringe costs. And at every school I've taught at, most faculty don't get them. Meaning, you could eliminate stipends tomorrow (along with 25% of the Dean's salary), and you have moved the dial on instructional costs by 1-2%. Every bit helps, but people are misguided to think this is a significant driver. The real drivers are teaching loads over time, the flexibility in course offerings David describes, and the structuring of compensation to privilege expected scholarly production. Tenure-track professors cost about ten times what adjuncts costs, per credit delivered. That's real money. But meaningfully reducing that requires fundamental structural changes.

On administration, this is an appealing target, but the proliferation of titles is also a bit misleading. A Dean of Academic Records does the exact same thing as a Registrar; the title "Dean" is actually a form of compensation that requires schools to pay less for the same function. Moreover, it is impossible to overstate the vast array of reporting and compliance responsibilities that law schools must meet. I know of schools that employ someone full-time just to report data to various university and other external constituencies. While I personally wish this function were unnecessary, in the world we live in, this is money well-spent. Student services are also far more extensive now (accommodations, counseling, etc.). At a decent-sized school, this is a job for at least 1.5 people. Most "Centers" impose modest direct costs; perhaps an occasional faculty member gets an extra $5-10,000 and some letterhead that says, "Center" on it (at my school it's just the letterhead). Schools with significant programming costs for such centers tend to defray them with specific endowments or industry support. I'm sure some of these can go, but it won't do much on cost.

Finally, libraries have been downsized during my entire career in teaching (no, I'm not a librarian). Unless you're Harvard, law libraries have reduced subscriptions even to useful physical volumes and electronic sources all the time. I have deep reservations about how well this prepares students for effective research, but that's beside the point. The point is that law libraries have been doing this for some time, because library costs are always an appealing target for cost reductions. There isn't a lot of fat left. No matter how nice the Reading Room looks, it's already been paid for.

All the above should be taken to explain where schools are, and how difficult it will be for them to change the cost picture quickly. Of course, new types of organizations could deliver legal education without these high cost structures. They could charge tuition unsubsidized by scholarly production, and provide little by way of student services. Obviously, we re seeing some of this now, in the for-profit and online models. And given the structural limitations of existing university-based law schools, we're bound to see more.



David, thank you so much for guiding this ongoing discussion in the right direction and away from finger pointing and the trashing of certain schools that has been way too prevalent on this blog. We are all in this together (even though competition is getting fiercer). As you so aptly point out, the practices that have been called into question are not limited to just the so-called "lower tier" schools.

I also agree with Nathan A. that if we have to choose between cutting back on teaching (which is our first and foremost mission, including teaching real world practice skills) and scholarship support (so much "scholarship" is "manufactured" in furtherance of retention, promotion, or tenure, rather than true intellectual inquiry), I would trim scholarship supports if that might help prevent cuts in the core teaching mission.


Much of what you suggest is already happening or has already happened at a number of lower ranked schools, including staff and faculty cuts that are not voluntary.

Anon Squared

Nice post. Just to add the point above about scholarship, that cannot be separated from numbers of courses and numbers of faculty. Roughly 1/4 or 1/3 of a law profs salary can be viewed as payment for scholarship. If higher teaching loads are assigned the need for profs and prof salaries go down. I guess, in short, enrollments must be cut and faculty need to be cut. I believe everything else on the list is relatively minor.


This is a small point, and I may get flamed, but I think the schools and the ABA should consider allowing credit for paid externships. Yes, this may have the effect of reducing the number of students who will help non-profits, but I do not think that paid externships are automatically of less value than unpaid ones. Schools can still require the externship be in a given area, and be in connection with a seminar.

Just saying...

The problem begins and ends with the full time faculty. At many schools faculty comp is 50% of the entire law school budget. I know of faculty teaching to three and four students in upper level courses. There is no reason why legal writing has to be taught by full time instructors and not adjuncts. Faculties needs to be cut in relation to the decline in enrollment, and that has not happened at most schools, even those that have offered generous buy outs.

Libraries -- included Harvard -- have moved to a digital plus model, meaning they only buy print that is not online.

Most departments have been cut to the bone.

Here is something to ponder: When are university admins going to get wise to the fact that their large, impressive (in most cases) law school buildings are now greatly under-utilized and start moving non-law classes, faculty and staff into the space? That should make things interesting... (and it would not violate ABA standards).


JUst saying

These buildings are monuments to the egos of the Deans and admins that built them. Allowing others to soil them would be against everything legal academia stands for (i.e., egotism and bravado in an attempt to disguise unmerited privilege and rampant disdain for others, and the inability to take responsibility, admit mistakes and own efforts to fix problems flavored with an ability to "spin" to the point of factual and intellectual dishonesty).

This post is about practical solutions to declining enrollment. All of them make sense.

Does any one of these suggestions impact the failure of the legal academy to serve the society in which it exists?

David Frakt has posted some good information. But, rather than focusing on dealing with the failure of legal academia by belt tightening (which, as pointed out above, is already occurring to the extent it can be done without really impacting the ones responsible for the failure), how about thinking about ways to reform the legal academy to begin to work back to a point where it is not the reviled institution it has largely become.

To do this involves major changes in recruiting and retention, curriculum, and outreach. It will involve rejoining the legal community and gaining an appreciation, not a haughty disdain, for the profession that law schools purportedly exist to sustain and nourish.

Think about that last sentence and look at the legal academy, especially new hires. What a sad, sad joke.

Just saying...

anon at 3:56: A lot of the building that took place was the result of ABA standards (many schools rebuilt libraries in the 1980's as a result of unfavorable accreditation findings regarding their existing facilities, of course this was just before the digital revolution rendering the new libraries obsolete). A lot of it was also the result of the need to complete with the law school down the street.

I was serious about the likelihood that university officials are going to soon wise-up about underutilized law school buildings. I think deans could use this to their benefit by offering some space in exchange for continued support.

But until the size and compensation levels of full time faculty and senior admins are addressed, everything else is just tweaking at the margins.

Nathan A

"These buildings are monuments to the egos of the Deans and admins that built them. "

Good grief, folks. Its marketing. Well, mostly marketing. Fancy dorms, dining halls, gyms, etc .... have been built to woo prospective undergrads get them to sign on the dotted line. Why do you think law school is any different?


Mr. Frakt,

What do you think happens when Grad PLUS loans are capped? Note that I said "when" not "if" Grad PLUS loans are capped. The Dept of Ed wants to cap them, and I doubt that Sen. Alexander cares to continue unlimited Grad PLUS loans given the mischief that some schools (and I'm looking at you, Georgetown,) have suggested to take advantage of the limitless spigot.


Just saying, I am not a legal writing professor, but there are very good reasons that legal writing courses should not be taught be adjuncts. For one, no practicing attorney worth her salt has time for the grading load that comes with legal writing. If you have never attempted to grade essay based assessments, you tend to significantly underestimate the time it takes to do it well. Second, legal writing might be the most important class in law school, from a practical perspective. Third, legal writing professors are already significantly underpaid, though they also do not tend to have as impressive resumes as the doctrinal professors.

Do not tell my dean, but I do think law professors could teach 6-8 courses a year instead of the current 3-4 if research expectations were scaled back. That move alone would free up a good deal of funds, as schools failed to fill open positions and taught the same number of courses with fewer professors. Couple that with a scaling back of administrators and administrator pay, which is out of control at some schools, and you might be able to provide legal education at a fraction of its current price. However, I am not sure how much of the cost savings would realistically be passed on to the students and how much of it would be sucked up by the central administration. Universities were used to the law schools being significantly in the black, so all of this cost cutting might just get the law schools back to their original level of profitability, with no savings passed to students.


Here's an idea:

Reconnect to the legal community, and tailor legal education to its needs and not the needs of legal academia.

Watch what happens. Don't manage decline, folks.

See the error of your ways and change to meet the needs of times.

Just saying...

AnonProf. I have taught legal writing as an adjunct and full timer. I understand what is involved and I have known many adjuncts who teach it and devote many, many hours to it because they enjoy it. I agree that it is one of the most important courses in law school and I have never seen credible evidence that adjuncts do/can not teach it well.

There are many retired, stay at home parent, underemployed lawyers that would do quite well teaching it as adjuncts and although the salary of full time legal writing profs are usually not at the level of tenured profs, it is still much higher than adjunct wages.


Perhaps, though the adjuncts who teach upper level courses who I know seem to quickly tire of the late nights, even if they love the subject and the students. At my school we have pretty horrific turnover among adjuncts, and I think the legal writing courses would take even more time and have even greater turnover.

If you are not teaching legal writing now, why did you quit?

Anon - many of the lower ranked law schools hire professors with significant work experience who stay connected to the legal community. Most professors at my law school have 7-10 years of practice experience, and a number have over 15 years and were partners at solid law firms. In contrast, most professors at high-ranked law schools have 0-2 years in practice. Also, a number of us, at my lowly law school, continue to serve "of counsel" or consult on the side. We are well aware of what the legal market wants in associate attorneys, but unfortunately hiring practices seem to favor high-ranked schools regardless of pedagogy and professor profile.


Adjuncts teaching legal writing? Respectfully, that's a horrible idea.



I take you at your word about the profile of your faculty.

That said, most faculty who post here from lower ranked schools boast that their faculties are the match of any faculty in the country in terms of pedigree: which means they have a profile very similar to the profile you describe as the preference at higher ranked law schools.

The evidence supports the latter observation. Look over the hiring of late, such as it is, and ask yourself whether it better fits your description of your faculty or another description of a faculty: a faculty without the slightest notion of even what connection to the legal community means and with no affinity for the practice of law.

Not to take issue too much with your comment, but let me note that your reference group for hiring your grads appears to be BigLaw. If this is your reference group, respectfully, you have not identified yet the reason law schools are failing.

If you are in a large urban market and looking to place your students in BigLaw, and if you are at a lower ranked school, your faculty is making a HUGE mistake. This mistake in mind set is, of course, shared across the board, because of the misguided hiring at most law schools.

One of the keys to understanding and solving the problem with failing law schools is to attempt (though this may be impossible for the current group) to dislodge the status hungry law faculty from their introverted perch, and hire and promote those both more cognizant of the legal needs of the vast majority of their communities and the changing nature of those needs.

Just saying...

anon at 5:13: It is done at many schools, esp. those in urban areas who can draw on a large pool of qualified attorneys. Why do you think it is a horrible idea, esp., as I noted, that there are many qualified attorneys who have the time and skills to do it and do it well? There is no credible evidence that full timers are better teachers. Is this just a case of a full time prof looking diminishing the value of adjuncts?

In addition to their salaries, full time LW profs cost the school $$ in the need to provide support services (secretaries, RAs, TAs, offices, benefits) and perks similar to those provided other types of profs (an ABA requirement).


Just saying -

I know it is done at many schools; I attended one of them. The sections, material, and methodology were widely inconsistent - and students in particular sections felt cheated. I'm all for institutional cost-cutting where appropriate. In this instance, however, I would advocate for more faculty involvement with writing courses not less. Of course, I am not implying that you personally are not a capable teacher. I just think writing and research are too central to the practice of law to delegate.


I don't teach at an InfiLaw school, but check out their profiles. They are pretty close to ours. We get slammed on the blogs, along with InfiLaw, and I understand some of the reasons. But we have professors who have real practice experience, and not just in BigLaw. In fact, we push back against professors with traditional academic resumes. We get crushed in the "peer reputation" part of the rankings because of it.

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