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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

How Much Taxpayer Money for Legal Education and Scholarship?

We law professors like to think of ourselves as public intellectuals, opining on various issues, and others sometimes treat us that way. So here's a question of federal budget priorities: how much money should taxpayers be spending on legal education and scholarship?

Right now, hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars -- more likely billions -- is funding legal education and scholarship. You can think of it as coming from today's taxpayers directly to law schools, or think of it the way our budget rules do: that the government is making money today from loans, through interest payments and fees, but tomorrow's taxpayers will be on the hook 20-25 years out when the debt is forgiven through IBR.  If taxpayer money for education was devoted to future lawyers serving unmet legal needs, it might be justified. But most of it isn't.

And the massive imbalance between the supply of new law graduates and the demand for them -- projected to continue until at least 2020 -- makes the expenditures difficult to justify on education grounds. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that there will be 218,800 new jobs for lawyers between 20120 and 2020. This includes part-time and contract work. Meanwhile, a recent estimate done by Professor Deborah Merritt indicates that more than 426,000 law graduates will come onto the market during that time.

The scholarship part is trickier. When students were paying for it, the question was how to justify their (involuntary) support or subsidy for research. One way, deployed by creative deans like Ed Rubin and Richard Matasar, was to create more "capstone" courses where teams of students worked on projects related to professors' research. A win-win, according to this theory.

But now that taxpayers are the ones supporting legal scholarship (at least produced at all law schools below the top 10 or so), I actually think the case is stronger for such support. Legal education has considerable room for improvement, but legal scholarship gets a bad rap. More and deeper knowledge about our legal system is a "public good" worth supporting. (More in a future post) The question, of course, is how much is worth supporting, given competing budget priorities and a growing deficit.

Posted by Jason Solomon on September 25, 2012 at 10:40 AM | Permalink

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Comments

The question, of course, is how much is worth supporting, given competing budget priorities and a growing deficit.

To say nothing of addressing the needs of law students, without whose signatures on federal loan documents this enterprise would not be possible.

Posted by: Morse Code for J | Sep 25, 2012 11:21:48 AM

It may be worth supporting, but is it worth supporting if it costs 3x per researcher as any other liberal arts discipline?

Is one, non-peer reviewed, law review article really worth three peer reviewed political science articles?

Posted by: brad | Sep 25, 2012 11:49:29 AM

No one except law professors reads law review articles. "Legal scholarship" has always perplexed. How exactly can you research law that is always changing and make new discoveries about subject matter that your knowledge of will be obsolete tomorrow? In other words, a broken arm will always be a broken arm, the universe will likely continue to exist, but no law lasts forever.

Posted by: HoneyBooBoo | Sep 25, 2012 10:20:52 PM

"Is one, non-peer reviewed, law review article really worth three peer reviewed political science articles?"

My spouse is a humanities prof. His/her articles are usually 25 pages, doublespaced, with 25 or so footnotes. My law review articles are 50-60 pages, singlespaced (albeit with big margins), with 250 or so footnotes. I'm not going to say that my articles are worth three-plus of his/her articles, but I wouldn't be crazy to do so. Law review articles are a lot longer and more comprehensive than the articles in most other disciplines. Whether they are more valuable is a different question altogether.

Posted by: Well... | Sep 25, 2012 11:41:12 PM

I understood that most other fields write shorter papers because they don't do so much throat-clearing/summarizing of what has come before. Papers can be 10 pages long when they focus only on the new contribution.

Posted by: on the market (again) | Sep 26, 2012 9:33:55 AM

Does anybody know of a source for the idea that law review articles cost 3 times what political science articles cost? (implied by brad above) That doesn't sound very plausible to me. Unless political science professors are making less than elementary school teachers in my area, they can't be making 1/3 of what I do.

To the extent that you believe data you find on the internet (http://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/political-science-professor-salaries-SRCH_KO0,27_IP2.htm) it appears that if you compare political science salaries at major research universities with law school salaries at major research universities, they come out pretty close, with law school professors probably earning 10-20% more. If you compare law school salaries at major research universities with political science positions at small rural liberal arts colleges, maybe you can get a 3:1 ratio. But that doesn't seem like a very fair comparison.

Posted by: anon | Sep 26, 2012 9:35:19 AM

Maybe it's worth noting that there are two potential subsidy candidates here. One market failure is the under-supply of public goods, such as legal scholarship that isn't bought & paid for by clients. Another might be the failure of private credit markets to adequately supply student loans at affordable rates, given large asymmetries of information between borrower and lender and the potential moral hazard among borrowers.

Now, a problem for the second subsidy is that a lot of its value may be captured by education providers, such that there isn't much net gain in education for borrowers. If so, then we could say that in effect there is only the one subsidy, the one for educators. But it would be helpful to know the data on that: have student loan subsidies increased access to education?

Posted by: BDG | Sep 26, 2012 9:40:14 AM

First of all, taxpayers are *Making* money on the student loan program, even after you account for the fact that there may be some defaults and some students opting for IBR. This is the way lending programs are supposed to work--interest and fees more than offset loan losses yielding what we in the world of finance call a "profit".

The fact that some of the fees and interest occur at a different time periods from some of the losses is easy to account for through something we call "discounted cash flow" but which the law professors who believe the badly researched, badly reasoned bunk about a "crisis" in legal education can perhaps best understand as a kind of black magic performed by people who understand math.

And student loans for those attending law schools--low risk, high cost loans--are among the biggest money makers.

So I don't know how professor Solomon comes to the conclusion that the government is "paying" for research at law schools. Is Bank of America or Wells Fargo "paying" for his house because it provides his mortgage?

Second, there's no imbalance between the supply of law graduates and the demand for them. The demand for law graduates is much larger than the number of legal jobs available. Many people go to law school intending to enter business, government, or the non-profit world rather than practice law. There have always been more law graduates than law jobs, just as there have always been more math graduates than math jobs. Degrees are versatile and valuable outside of the profession of law.

And third, no self-respecting graduate of Harvard / Yale / Stanford / Columbia / Chicago law school is going to accept a "professorship" that amounts to little more than teaching high school--
low pay, low prestige, no opportunity to do anything original or creative.

If you make teaching law like teaching high school, you'll get the same kind of people teaching law as teach high school, and the degree will be worth about as much.

Posted by: Anon | Sep 26, 2012 9:40:20 AM

@ Brad

There are good reasons why law professors earn more than history or english professors. Law Professors have options outside academe.

Most law professors were near the top of their class at top 5 law schools. Many were supreme court clerks, or worked at top wall street law firms, or high level federal government agencies. People with their credentials can easily earn $200K+ (as an associate or in house counsel) to $2 million+ (as a law firm partner or banker).

English and history professors have pretty much no skills of value outside academe. Perhaps they could work at an advertising agency or in publishing earning $30K per year, or in high school earning a little bit more. A small handful might be able to earn $60K per year in hollywood.

And of course, legal scholarship is far more valuable and influential than research in the liberal arts. A very successful liberal arts scholar might change the way 100 obscure scholars think about Hawthorne or the 30 Years War.

A very successful legal scholar can help change the tax or regulatory system and have an economic impact measured in the billions.

Posted by: Anon | Sep 26, 2012 10:13:07 AM

Below are the average law school debt figures for the class of 2011 (excluding accrued interest). At nearly all of these law schools (Northwestern aside), less than half the class obtained full time jobs as lawyers (nine months after graduation), and the bulk of the class (including jobs of any kind) earned in the $60,000 range or less. The math is not that hard.

California Western School of Law $153,145
Thomas Jefferson School of Law $153,006
American University (Washington) $151,318
New York Law School $146,230
Phoenix School of Law $145,357
Southwestern Law School $142,606
Catholic University of America (Columbus) $142,222
Northwestern University $139,101
Pace University $139,007
Whittier College $138,961
Atlanta's John Marshall Law School $138,819
University of the Pacific (McGeorge) $138,267
St. Thomas University Miami Gardens, FL $137,721
Barry University $137,680
University of San Francisco $137,234
John Marshall Law School $136,486
Vermont Law School $136,089
Golden Gate University $135,645
Florida Coastal School of Law $134,355

Posted by: Brian Tamanaha | Sep 26, 2012 11:22:41 AM

Whether the federal government makes money off of student loans as a whole is an empirical question, and the data suggest that the net recovery rate is lower than you might think; see http://edmoney.newamerica.net/blogposts/2012/presidents_budget_shows_student_loan_defaults_cost_taxpayers-64000 .

For Grad Plus loans, relied on heavily by law student borrowers, the net recovery rate is estimated at 75.6%.

Posted by: CBR | Sep 26, 2012 11:40:49 AM

If taxpayers want to support legal education and scholarship let them do so directly- with tuition caps and cost controls. If not, legal academia needs to get its act together. Whether legal scholarship had value and the exact dollar amount of that value is irrelevant. 30 or 40 years ago you could run a law school at a fraction of the cost to students and a fraction of the salaries even adjusted for inflation. Was the quality of the education or scholarship so poor then?

While focusing on IBR might be a good tactic to convince some small government folks to start paying attention, it ignores the fact that students on IBR for 20 years are still going to be living officially in financial hardship, will be unable to get credit, will be hit with a huge tax bomb at the end of it. Of course, this also forgets that the quite simple answer to "IBR is costing the taxpayer money" is that put fourth by R/R this cycle- "so dump IBR."

It's time to get serious about real reform. What would a law school run on 15K per year with a class size of 150 look like? GO.

Posted by: BoredJD | Sep 26, 2012 3:08:15 PM

Delusions:

Anon: ""The demand for law graduates is much larger than the number of legal jobs available. Many people go to law school intending to enter business, government, or the non-profit world rather than practice law. There have always been more law graduates than law jobs, just as there have always been more math graduates than math jobs. Degrees are versatile and valuable outside of the profession of law."

Here is a suggestion - stop saying it is a JD and the institution a "Law School" and instead that it is a course designed for people who want to enter business that does not offer an MBA, a training for a job as a bureaucrat or political staffer, or to work in a non-profit. Now ask yourself - how many students would be willing to pay $40-50,000 in tuition for 3 years? Not that many ....

A very successful legal scholar can help change the tax or regulatory system and have an economic impact measured in the billions.

Really, as compared to say a Capitol Hill staffer, a justice department official, a lawyer arguing appellate cases. Why don't we just take tenure away from every professor whose "research" has not been cited in court or in a legislative history - by this definition they are worthless - of course most of the Prawfs in law schools or on Prawfsblog would lose tenure on that test.

Or why not stop comparing law professors with English - why not compare them with scientists - after all scientists do rigorous research - and deride semiotics see, Sokal, Alan, Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity, Social Text #46/47 (spring/summer 1996). Duke University Press. pp. 217–252. On any objective basis law review articles are not research and not rigorous and not important. Choosing English professors to compare them with is like clubbing baby seals.

"If you make teaching law like teaching high school, you'll get the same kind of people teaching law as teach high school, and the degree will be worth about as much."

To answer this question you need to look at a High School Diploma in terms of value add. The average annual income for a high school dropout in 2009 was $19,540, compared to $27,380 for a high school graduate, a difference of $7,840 - a gain of some 40% The typical JD holder is not seeing gains in income versus what they likely would have earned (remember that an LSAT of 150+ and a good GPA in 4 years puts the typical law school entrant in the upper 10% of college graduates.)

So the reality is that except for a minority of law students - the 5-7,000 attending the T14 - law school is adding no value.

There are good reasons why law professors earn more than history or english professors. Law Professors have options outside academe.

Most law professors were near the top of their class at top 5 law schools. Many were supreme court clerks, or worked at top wall street law firms, or high level federal government agencies. People with their credentials can easily earn $200K+ (as an associate or in house counsel) to $2 million+ (as a law firm partner or banker).

It seems likely that this question will soon be tested. The reality is that most law school professors would have perhaps have survived 3-5 years as associates but not made partner and chose the professor track after an average of 2.6 years of pretend practice experience. Why don't you test this hypothesis and circulate your resumé to a few law firms asking for your current professors salary?

Posted by: MacK | Sep 26, 2012 3:49:15 PM

@ Brian Tamanaha

Your sample size is too small and is not representative.

You are looking at 19 out of ~200 law schools in a single cohort year (2011) at a single point in time (9 months after graduation).

The government lends to law grads from all accredited law schools, from all cohorts, and the loans last 10 to 30 years.

You see, Brian, if the government makes lots of money on some borrowers from some school in some years, that can more than offset losses on other grads in other years from other schools.

The magic of math.

But please, jump to conclusions before you have all the information, and keep pulling numbers completely out of context. It really helps your credibility.

Posted by: Anon | Sep 26, 2012 5:03:53 PM

@ Mack,

The income boost from a JD is around $30K per year in the first year, and considerably more in later years.

The value add from a law degree is much higher than the value add from high school, or from a liberal arts college degree.

Posted by: Anon | Sep 26, 2012 5:10:00 PM

@ Brian Tamanaha

If I'm not mistaken, you are also counting total debt burden (i.e., including undergraduate), not just the additional debt attributable to law school. And you seem to be assuming that all of that debt needs to be repaid in a single year.

A $60K starting salary is $30K more per year than a liberal arts graduate. And $80K to $100K per year of debt from law school can easily be repaid over a 30 year time period from the $30K plus income boost from law school. And this still leaves plenty of money left over for savings.

There's enough value for the law student, the government / tax collector, and the law school to all do quite well even under rather dire assumptions.

And of course, a $60K starting salary is pretty much the lowest starting salary in a decade, and probably lowest salary these law grads will earn in their lives (wages increase over time with work experience and with inflation).

Posted by: Anon | Sep 26, 2012 5:24:00 PM

Anon:

Depends on who you believe and how you categorise those who go to law school. On who you believe - do you believe the law school data this information is based on - I think recent court decisions as Brian Tamahama spelled out were predicated on law schools being well known liars. Recent numbers show incomes of the order of $50-70,000 - which for a college graduate 3 years after graduation is hardly a $30k gain - since it assumes that 3 years college plus 3 years work would secure $20-40k (math skills are rare in law professors)

But even so, before you compare say BLS college graduates (or some college) with law school graduates, you have to take the selectivity of law schools into account. A law school entrant with a 3.0+ GPA and 150 LSAT score is actually pretty far up the spectrum of college graduates. So you probably need to assume that the lawyer is earning over the median for college graduates - and frankly that is unlikely.

Actually at this point there is plenty of evidence that the value add from law school is non-existent and in many recent cases negative.

And I say this as a 20 year practicing lawyer with an income in the mid 6 figures - I am not bitter, but I am very lucky.

Posted by: MacK | Sep 26, 2012 5:31:38 PM

Anon-

"Below are the average law school debt figures for the class of 2011 (excluding accrued interest)."

Please read more closely next time.

And LOL at the average starting salary out of those schools excluding Northwestern being 60K. That's only the salaries reported. How much is an unemployed person making? What about a Starbucks barista? What about someone working part-time for $12/hr?

BTW, I'm still waiting on those entry-level F500 in-house "business law" jobs you think are out there. Although I suspect your own "business law" students are as well. On behalf of myself and all the prospective "business law" students out there, TYIA.

Posted by: BoredJD | Sep 26, 2012 5:40:39 PM

Anon,

I could easily have listed another 50 plus law schools with graduates in the same position. You can confirm this yourself by looking at the average debt levels of law school graduates, and matching this against the employment results for those schools.

You are correct that the numbers I cite are from just one year (2011), but the numbers for 2010 and 2009 are hardly better. The last peak in the legal market was 2007, and the employment numbers have deteriorated every year since. Meanwhile, average tuition has gone up each year, with debt numbers going up as well. In 2010, the average debt of private law school graduates was $106,000; in 2011, it was $125,000.

Your assumption about what the debt numbers represent is mistaken--the numbers I list are exclusively for law school debt (not including interest accrued while in school). Average undergraduate debt is $25,000--which is not reflected in the figures.

Thanks for advising me not to "jump to conclusions before you have all the information."

Posted by: Brian Tamanaha | Sep 26, 2012 6:15:42 PM

Anon wrote :
And third, no self-respecting graduate of Harvard / Yale / Stanford / Columbia / Chicago law school is going to accept a "professorship" that amounts to little more than teaching high school-- low pay, low prestige, no opportunity to do anything original or creative.
----

Heaven forfend we insult the dignity of The Elite, they might withhold their glory from the next generation of students.

Is there any actual data correlating the trophies of prestige whore-dom with teaching outcomes?

Posted by: brad | Sep 26, 2012 7:17:52 PM

Anon - In the current legal market, it is far from clear that most law professors could find work as lawyers at all, let alone highly compensated work as senior in-house lawyers or law firm partners. Those who came directly to the academy from a Ph.D. program might find the transition to legal practice particularly hard, while those who had a few years of practice before turning to teaching might, or might not, be able to move into legal jobs. It is true that some of the superstars of the legal academy - the professors who are already making more money consulting than they do teaching - could make the switch. But most law professors would find it very difficult at best. If the world were to change radically and Big Law were to go back to hiring the 4,000+ graduates/year that it was hiring in the height of the boom (versus 2,000+/year today), maybe that would increase the opportunity cost for law professors to stay in academia. Right now that opportunity cost seems to be shrinking.

Posted by: Douglas Levene | Sep 26, 2012 8:16:31 PM

@ Mack

I think we know there are plenty of law schools that are not very selective, and the outcomes of their graduates are included in the statistics on wages of law graduates.

It's quite likely that the brightest college graduates get jobs at banks or consulting firms or in engineering or software development right out of college--or go to medical school or dental school--and that many of the students who attend law school are a relatively math-challenged and otherwise not very employable bunch.

They may have high GPAs, but getting an A in Political Science or History is a whole lot easier than getting an A in Engineering, and the LSAT is not the MCAT.

Posted by: Anon | Sep 26, 2012 8:46:34 PM

Mack,

You're correct that wages increase with experience, but this is true for both law grads and college grads. Law grads start higher, their wages increase faster, and they are more likely to be employed.

Over the long term, the wage premium for law grads is higher than $30K per year, and more than sufficient to pay off student loans, even if Brian Tamanaha's debt figures are correct.

Posted by: Anon | Sep 26, 2012 8:54:03 PM

@ brad

"Is there any actual data correlating the trophies of prestige whore-dom with teaching outcomes?"

Yes.

Graduates of top schools earn more, even after controlling for observable variables that measure ability.
http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/summary?doi=10.1.1.185.3133

But don't believe me. Save money by sending your kids to the lowest ranked, cheapest school with the least impressive faculty you can find. Heck, why even send them to school at all? Just give them a library card, a bus pas, and some lunch money and tell them to learn everything on their own.

Posted by: Anon | Sep 26, 2012 9:07:21 PM

I think by "teaching outcomes" he means some sort of value directly attributable to the teacher and not to the institution's brand name or the students themselves. The Harvard brand name is bigger than any of the professors who teach there. They could all be replaced tomorrow, and Harvard students would continue to earn more than grads from lower ranked schools.

Posted by: Steven | Sep 26, 2012 9:15:33 PM

All of Anon's arguments have an expiration date. A few more years of horrible employment and salary stats should set him straight. 2011 is not a blip, times a changing and outcomes for attorneys who graduated 10 and 20 years ago are no longer representative.

Posted by: Fred Smith | Sep 26, 2012 9:28:53 PM

So this is kind of distasteful. It's perfectly fine to criticize law professors for not having any practice experience. Ditto criticizing law students/lawyers/whomever for being math-challenged. But when you do, please also specify your own practice experience that gives the right to criticize law professors for their lack thereof, or your own STEM major and GPA that would qualify you to speak to law students' or lawyers' lack of math prowess.

For example: Yes, I'm your typical elite law school JD with good grades and a prestigious federal clerkship and multiple publications. I also practiced for a decade, split roughly evenly between litigating at a top national firm (which I left when my spouse got a great job out-of-state) and doing appellate work at a top tier government agency. I also was a double major in math (3.4 GPA, but that was mostly dragged down by a year of 2:2s doing graduate classes at an Oxbridge -- you try learning group theory and rings in a tutor-based system!) and engineering (3.8 GPA). Actually, I'm lying -- I wasn't a double major. I was a triple major, with an additional degree in a liberal arts discipline, where I had a 3.9 GPA. But that was mostly on a lark, because after hours of working with matrices or differential equations or FORTRAN, I liked to write.

Oh, and anyone who thinks that your average law professor wouldn't excel in a firm or government practice environment is a fool.

Posted by: New rule | Sep 26, 2012 10:04:27 PM

new rule:

I went through a tutor based system at undergraduate - physics/math/chemistry.

It is extremely pertinent to point out the lack of practice experience of professors makes their belief that private practice experience is a viable alternative ludicrous. Law professors are pushing the idea that BigLaw would snap them up (reminds me of a Doonesbury cartoon) because of their astonishing credentials - and even more touchingly, that they would be paid by law firms salaries approaching what they currently receive at law school.

In making this assertion they are ignoring multiple hard facts. BigLaw only hires practice-neophytes as first and second year associates and disposes of most of them by year 5 - and that includes the graduates of Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Chicago, etc. - and it wants them young, so they can work 80 hour weeks and take the routine abuse meted out to junior lawyers. The salary and compensation expectations of law professors puts them above 1st and 2nd years, somewhere around 4-5th year - hell a lot think they should be paid like partners. But the professors lack the two most important things - experience and clients.

Now I will make an even harder and more personal point - anyone who found it hard to excel in the chaotic and disorganised environment of a tutor based system would be in deep trouble working in a law firm, dealing with clients, negotiating deals - because that is the environment practicing lawyers deal with every day - even in BigLaw. So to be blunt, if you found that environment hard, you would fail in legal practice, and I have to question what environment you practiced in and how "nicely wrapped up with a bow" the work you dealt with was - it sounds like an appellate practice (bows and ribbons wrapping the record.)

Your next comment "but when you do, please also specify your own practice experience that gives the right to criticize law professors for their lack thereof." In my practice I deal with law professors, horning in on deals their college is involved in - let me assure you their utter lack of practical real world experience, their obsession and elevation of peripheral issues into major negotiating points has killed deal after deal. In weekly meetings of a 10+ member law department negotiations with counterparty-colleges whose law professors were known to get involved were assigned to groans - while deals were regularly killed for lack of progress. As a private practitioner it is normal practice to raise fee and cost estimates when professors get involved for the counter-party. The most lucrative technology my old college licensed - was done by a chemistry professor through counsel he retained after kicking the law department out, but there was much more lucrative technology given away virtually for free with the law professors doing the work. So my own practice experience has taught me what god-awful lawyers most law professors are. So that does give me the right to say law professors are a joke in practice (Constitutional law professors are regarded as the worst.)

New rule - it would seem to me that your idea that an average law professor would excel in a firm or government practice environment makes you a fool.

Posted by: MacK | Sep 27, 2012 4:59:39 AM

Anon @ 8:54 -

Your view that salaries rise rapidly is not borne out by BLS data - remembering that BLS is of all practicing lawyers and most have been in practice for a considerable period. It is also not true of BigLaw associates most of whom take a huge income hit when they almost inevitably wash out of BigLaw. It is especially not true of the current law graduates, especially those that do not find a good legal position within 9 month of graduation which current statistics show to be the majority.

Posted by: MacK | Sep 27, 2012 5:05:17 AM

MacK, the alleged practitioner who spends his days posting comments on blogs, is, as always, amusing. Has he heard of Kathleen Sullivan? She was a Harvard, then Stanford professor. She is now a name partner of one of the most successful law firms in the country. As MacK heard of Tom Evans? He was a professor for many years at the University of Texas. He is now a tax partner with Kirkland & Ellis, which quintupled his salary (at least!). What about Mark Lemley at Stanford, who is also a partner at a high-end IP boutique? What about Jack Coffee at Columbia? Samuel Issacharoff at NYU? The list goes on and on of high-flying academics who can and do practice law, at the highest levels and for the highest renumerations, and who sometimes jump ship from the academy to private practice. But rest assured, no fact will slow down MacK, the alleged practitioner blowhard.

Posted by: Brian | Sep 27, 2012 10:29:38 AM

Brian, Brian, that would be Brian??......never heard of you. I was in fact taught by a number of quite famous practitioners - they were all adjuncts or semi-retired - or in their 60s. The average tenured law professor has 2.6 years of alleged practice experience. Some are dumb enough to cherry pick a few names and claim they are representative of all law professors - or that we do not know the difference between an adjunct professor and a tenured one (or that partners in law firms are always adjuncts.) Some are dumb enough to think that readers would fall for it!

Brian, Brian - practice law a bit before you pretend to know what you are talking about.

Posted by: MacK | Sep 27, 2012 10:49:47 AM

On the value of law professors in the workforce:

What a strange debate!? Each city doesn't have that many law professors and even if every major city closed one law school, those law profs should be able to do fine financially by working part time in a business or law firm environment by adding value in ways that others do not. They have an entirely different perspective and deep insights into areas of law that practitioners do not.

Based on my practice experience and law school experience, I would assume that the average law school professor would accept making $150k/year at a law firm in the event that his or her school were to close and other law school jobs were unavailable. To pay this salary (and related benefits), the ex-professor would need to bring in approximately $400k/year (salary + benefits + profit for the firm). I assume that a former law professor could get billed out at senior counsel rates (for a major law firm, let's say $600/hour). So, law prof needs to bill 667 hours per year. Obviously, more is better, but that is sufficient to cover costs and turn a profit.

What sort of things could a law prof do to bill 667 hours without working him or herself like a 2nd year associate? I presume they have deep experience in one field or another. Let's say this law prof is an IP scholar. Can they offer, for example, a value add at Quinn Emmanuel in representing Samsung? Probably. They would probably be very useful in directing younger associates towards fruitful areas of legal research.

Or perhaps they were a land use professor? Don't they offer value to a real estate development firm? Can't they look at a potential deal and envision ways to add value that others don't see by suggesting ways to take advantage of land use laws in a way that mom & pop landowner doesn't appreciate?

Posted by: on the market (again) | Sep 27, 2012 10:58:42 AM

MacK blows hard in reply. Seriously, come clean: are you a teenage girl in real life?

Posted by: Brian | Sep 27, 2012 11:19:29 AM

The irony of MacK objecting to argument by anecdote is quite amusing. At least Brian's anecdotes had real world names attached to them.

Posted by: anonynon | Sep 27, 2012 11:22:04 AM

It is almost touching reading a group of professors desperately trying to reassure themselves. But there are some real howlers. Still I wonder about on the market (again):

"What sort of things could a law prof do to bill 667 hours without working him or herself like a 2nd year associate? I presume they have deep experience in one field or another. Let's say this law prof is an IP scholar. Can they offer, for example, a value add at Quinn Emmanuel in representing Samsung? Probably. They would probably be very useful in directing younger associates towards fruitful areas of legal research."

Honest to god - I just about shat myself laughing... deep experience. Please tell me on the market (again) you were actually taking the piss ... you were setting Brian up to agree with you? And anonynon for that matter?

And I really like the condescending idea that:

"Based on my practice experience and law school experience, I would assume that the average law school professor would ACCEPT making $150k/year at a law firm in the event that his or her school were to close and other law school jobs were unavailable."

ACCEPT - my goodness that would be so big of you - so generous - so wonderful - can us practitioners kiss the hem of your robe while begging you to "accept" our little mite...." You would be lucky to not be invited to perform a physiological absurdity - unless in reality this is a joke posting .... actually

yes it has to be. Seriously, no professor is that clueless .... I mean .... nah, well maybe, nah! .... but I have to say on the market (again) ... you had me going there - the tone is perfect - the pomposity - the choice of language - the ACCEPT ....

Brian are you a 14 year old mean girl? How did you not catch that on the market (again) was parodying you?


Posted by: MacK | Sep 27, 2012 3:45:37 PM

@MacK - your premise appears to be that all law professors are worthless (whether as academics or as practitioners). So I won't debate after this.

I will note that I know a number of professors who consult on the side and make good money doing it. In my limited experience, they prefer the pacing of academic life but could make a living offering their services to non-academic employers. Maybe not the con law types, but business folks, IP/patent, real estate, land use, there are lots of positions both inside and outside of government. Certainly enough to absorb a few dozen professors in most major cities.

Posted by: on the market (again) | Sep 27, 2012 4:34:31 PM

You mean it was not a parody?

Yes I know several professors who consult and do a good job - but almost all were practicing lawyers for a decade before going into academia - some are partners of mine (adjuncting.) At there are many professors who practice law that I know and respect (Ken Feinberg for example.) So no, I do not think all law professors are worthless - BUT I do think the vast majority are deluded if they think that could make a living as practicing lawyers or that they have any idea what practicing law as a partner involved.

I mean seriously - you were joking when you said "[they could ] be very useful in directing younger associates towards fruitful areas of legal research" - that was self parody. You don't actually think a professor of IP law would be paid a lot to swan in and suggest that an associate read a few Federal Circuit decisions - even at Quinn Emmanuel (and I won't say more, I'd be recognised.) In reality in IP litigation we do work with professors - of physics, computer science, biochemistry, etc. and pay them a lot (and the odd economist (but they will say anything for money) - I have yet to see anyone running out and saying "we must hire a law professor to tell our associates how to do legal research." Indeed the very idea that you think this would happen is part of what made me think your posting was a parody ... that and the idea that a gentle life doing a few hundred hours a year would make you an effective lawyer.

So sad to discover it was not a parody - you have a real talent there.

Posted by: MacK | Sep 27, 2012 4:46:34 PM

@ on the market (again)

I don't doubt there there are a "few dozen" professors that would have no problem making a living practicing law if they lost their law professor gigs. The ones that come to mind are, as you said, those who meaningfully consult or practice on the side for real money. But that is still a small percentage of all law professors.

The professors that are purely "academic" professor who practiced or clerked maybe one year a decade or two ago and have not practiced since are delusional if they think they can bring some firm $400k/year in business and thus get a $150k/year salary. That is just fantasy.

Posted by: Cyferion | Sep 27, 2012 4:49:56 PM

"there's no imbalance between the supply of law graduates and the demand for them. The demand for law graduates is much larger than the number of legal jobs available."

Okay, if that is true, why don't you run a headhunter firm and get jobs for all those unemployed and underemployed law grads that I've been hearing about. You should be able to make a killing matching all those law grads with all huge demand for them.

This is just such a colossal joke of a post that I wonder if it is even serious.

Posted by: Cyferion | Sep 27, 2012 4:57:07 PM

Despite the venom here, no one denies that 1) law professors are highly credentialed; 2) the credentials in question - elite law school, circuit court clerkship, etc., - are highly valued by BigLaw as well as boutique firms; 3) some law professors do practice law and/or consult, while others have transitioned successfully to private practice as noted above.

The only real point of contention seems to be whether the typical mid-career (or late career) law professor could make a go of it practicing law. But even if MacK and others are right that he or she could not, that is not because these folks are "useless," but because they haven't been a part of the legal workforce for a substantial period of time. Teaching law and practicing law are different professions so the mere fact that one cannot easily transfer from the former to the latter shouldn't be that surprising or concerning.

Posted by: Anons | Sep 27, 2012 7:22:12 PM

Barbara Seville hit the point. The credentials that so many professors here seem to think will get them a nice - work 400 hours a year number at a law firm are what would have got them hired as a twenty-something junior associate with a 2100+ hours per year billing target and a 3-5 year life expectancy in a Law 250 firm. The typical professor bailed on that lifestyle at 2.6 years (or less - many 60ish professors have a decade of pre-academic which means the younger profs have less to keep that average.) Moreover, that many had chosen to go academic was apparent even when they were "slacking" as associates.

I know any number of brilliant lawyers, including a Yale Law Journal Editor, cum laude Harvards, a couple of ex-Supreme court clerks, Oxbridge, Fulbrighters, etc., who tried at legal practice and never managed to get a secure 'gig' in BigLaw - or even medium law. The main factor was the ability to bring in clients - and bringing in clients has a lot to do with what you did as a junior lawyer. (Professors should also be concerned about the pervasive contempt practicing lawyers have for many of their number.)

In any event, most current law professors pretty clearly bailed out of legal practice as first year associates (whether they hung around an extra year while looking for a teaching slot.) That means that to return to legal practice they would have to go back and get that experience in their early 30s to 40s. There is a reason why BigLaw likes 23-26 year old associates - you need to be young, numb and easily overawed to take the crap that a junior associate endures, not to mention the hours. Frankly, I do not see a former law professor as being willing to endure what it would take to get them to an experience level to make them useful, or being sufficiently self-effacing to happily take direction from associates and partners considerably younger, but more experienced than them - indeed I doubt many law professors have the necessary work ethic (and most lawyers would tend to wonder, we know what a professor's hours are like.)

In any event, it does seem likely that a fairly large number of academic lawyers will be testing the private practice job market in the medium term if current trends continue .... let's wait and see ...

Posted by: MacK | Sep 28, 2012 5:05:19 AM

How many law schools do you reasonably expect will close? Applications are off about 20-25%, but class sizes are also shrinking. I guess things could continue to get worse instead of evening out. But I haven't heard people suggesting that anything more than 5-10% of schools might be exposed to the risk of closure. How large is the average law school faculty? 50 full-time profs. So, we are talking about 250-500 law professors?

And, presumably, these are from the lower ranked schools. I would think that the lower ranked schools would have a higher proportion of professors who were capable of reentering the law firm work-force. These schools appear to me to be less focused on esoteric scholarship and more concerned with teaching black letter law. But maybe my experience is too limited.

I think that law firms would snap up a number of these folks for the same reason why they pay $280k bonuses to supreme court clerks who often are just biding their time until they get a law prof. slot. Prestige.

Posted by: on the market (again) | Sep 28, 2012 3:20:55 PM

Ultimately only when it actually happens can any of us know for sure. But if it gives you comfort to think that all those profs are going to be paid $280k or whatever other fantasy bonuses or salaries from law firms for "prestige" then go ahead and think that. Like I said, a very small handful that actually have REAL experience and were practicing, like say Dean Kathleen Sullivan, can do it. Its just wishful thinking though that each and every, or even most profs are going to be "snapped up" SIMPLY FOR "PRESTIGE". Sullivan herself didn't get "snapped up" solely because of prestige but because she ACTUALLY PRACTICE IN FRONT OF SCOTUS MANY TIMES rather than just being some egghead.

Posted by: Cyferion | Sep 28, 2012 6:25:42 PM

"I think that law firms would snap up a number of these folks for the same reason why they pay $280k bonuses to supreme court clerks who often are just biding their time until they get a law prof. slot. Prestige."

As my uncle would say in response to "there are poor people starving in Bangladesh" .... name 2, or 3 or 4? And then let us explain why they were different from the other 18-24 cut loose each year.

Posted by: MacK | Sep 29, 2012 11:27:40 AM

MacK.

I am a relatively new prof. I am a JD/PhD. I never worked in a firm because it is irrelevant to what I wanted to study and it would be irrelevant to the courses I teach. Prior I did consulting work for various foreign governments and government agencies on legal reform projects.

I took at ~50% pay cut to become a law professor. I did it because love to teach and work on public policy with the independence tenure ultimately provides. I work at a T2 teaching exclusively first year courses. I have near perfect student evaluations. My articles are widely cited across the globe.

With a few variations, this describes the state of affairs for the majority of my age cohort in legal academia. It is extraordinarily competitive and every year people do not get jobs on the teaching market who are otherwise working in what would be considered very desirable positions in private practice, government or the non-profit sectors. Go to websites, look at faculty profiles. Look at current affiliations, past work, current work. You need to identify the useless law professors.

I also I fully support clinical education. I fully support reducing law school to two years, ending the ABA monopoly on accreditation, and a collective decision to refuse participation in the US News rankings. I also am from California where online/non-JD options exist for law practice and the market has responded with no enthusiasm. I have also helped family members and friends try to start solo practices. It is a horrible economy and I have no doubts I am as lucky as I may or may not be hard working.

It is a complex matter, but your approach is juvenile, unproductive and ultimately more about imagining a set of facts that valorizes yourself rather than demonstrates any real reflection.

Btw, you uncle is an asshole. Genetics.

Posted by: AnonNewProf | Sep 29, 2012 12:35:54 PM

AnonNewProf:

You took a 50% pay cut to become a law professor ... with the benefits that provides, a relaxed working week, considerable freedom to pursue you own interests, all backed up by a salaried tenured position where you have no obligations to bring in clients or business. Don't kid youself.

My uncle, who you just an asshole, made that comment to a nun asking to eat something horrible. Later he worked all over the world with desperately deprived people. He used to remark though on the NGO types who flew in, business class in safari jackets (what are the epaulets for) all of whom seemed to be "JD/PhD[s] consulting ... for various foreign governments and government agencies on legal reform projects." I think they were referred to as "blivets" - (look it up) and you are a somewhat overfilled. And by the way, know that the people that have to deal with you around the world really think that of you, and they were not auditing your expenses or dealing with the self righteous "is it because I support human rights" and "it's a witch-hunt claims."

Moreover, you still miss the point - you may have swanned around the world when you "did consulting work for various foreign governments and government agencies on legal reform projects" but outside various overfunded NGOs and the State Department or maybe DG I you will not find that many people willing to hire you to practice law. By the way, diplomats and aid workers are not the only people who recognise what "consulting work for various foreign governments and government agencies on legal reform projects" actually means.

You are are a .... and not fit to wash my uncles very dirty shoes (as opposed to yours, left out for the shoe shine boy.)


Posted by: MacK | Sep 29, 2012 12:51:18 PM

Yes, I've been offered to join firms repeatedly. Yourour idea of what it means to "practice law" is somehow amazingly circumscribed. International private law isn't law? Arbitration isn't law? I am lucky to have access to this realm of practice if I want, and in large part because I have language skills and experience that would allow me to rainmake for international practices if I was interested in just making money.

And yes, I could have a more relaxing work week if I didn't choose to go into academia. I week that didn't involve administrative meetings, grading, open office hours, writing a book, rewriting syllabi or all the other challenges that come with taking an academic job seriously.

My previous salary was based on working about ~25 hours a week outside of travel, as I spent the other half of time working pro bono for underfunded local NGO's and other nonprofits. I didn't/don't work for the World Bank. I don't work for Soros, or anyone who I feel does useless work. Some governments pay too much, but this is how international pro bono work gets funded for an independent consultancy. My paid work involved microfinance projects and my pro bono establishing worker cooperatives. I know all the critiques of such superficial development work and have written about them but I seriously doubt your uncle did any thing in this realm as not only are JD/PhDs rare in such work, but the terms you use are generationally misplaced.

Though I do fly business class sometimes when I can upgrade based on my miles. I also lived in a less wealthy country for three years doing fieldwork on 18K a year as a grad student doing field work. I paid my way through college and so on. I have family members with too much debt from for-profit colleges. My class background inspires me to try to make choices to actually change things, no just shoot off at the mouth.

The point is that your anti-intellectualism and personal broadsides leaves you convincing no one of anything. Perhaps it makes you feel good. But it simply alienates people, and makes things more difficult for those who are working to make things different.

Posted by: AnonNewProf | Sep 29, 2012 1:27:10 PM

Inter alia, before anyone thinks I was harsh on AnonNewProf, consider this.

A Tier 1/2 law professor's basic pay - starting - is between $150,000 and $160,000 - by AnonNewProf account he too a "~50% pay cut to become a law professor." Which means that while sporting his safari jacket around the third world, with those cute little epaulets, he was pulling down $300,000+ while advising a string of the type of countries where the "various foreign governments and government agencies" need the advice of a newly minted JD/PhD - with by his own account no actual legal experience "on legal reform projects."

I think we all know the sort of person that gets the $300k gigs (more than the US Secretary of State makes) advising foreign governments. The sort of person who regards anyone who points out the outrageous nature of such gigs as engaging in an "approach [that] is juvenile, unproductive and ultimately more about imagining a set of facts that valorizes yourself rather than demonstrates any real reflection."

Of course AnonNewProf might not be that bad ... he/she might just be lying about their pre-prof career, assuming no one can do rudimentary arithmatic...

Posted by: MacK | Sep 29, 2012 1:28:00 PM

Sigh, my starting salary as a prof was 105K. The 150/160 are for HYS and some NYC schools. I was in grad school for close to a decade building my consultancy. Yes, I learned to work the private contracts in my specialized niche very efficiently as someone from a family without wealth is often motivated to do early in their career. Once again, you can quibble all you want about what you perceive to be possible in a field you know little about. But the point remains, you attack blindly and alienate widely.

Posted by: AnonNewProf | Sep 29, 2012 1:37:45 PM

So now what we have is that in an aid world where many aid workers make $30k a year after 10-20 years in the field and where US foreign service officer pull down maybe $90k you deserved (because of your JD/PhD) $210k - that was big of you. Moreover, since you did not deny it, you do seem to have that cute safari jacket with the epaulets.

Actually, AnonNewProf - you are rather clueless. You got hit over the head with a standard complaint of everyone who works on aid in foreign services, USAid, DG I, various NGOs and you managed to confirm the stereotype of the air consultant (in the back of the plane they have ruder names for the consultants up front.)

As for your decade in grad school building your consultancy - someone close to me worked in consultancies just like the type you describe. There was that off little rule in USAid contracts about the proportion of the budget that had to be spent on US services ... it was terribly lucrative for the consultants (which is why this person bailed in disgust) - since spending a dollar in the target country meant finding ways to spend much more in the US.

I think you know about that - why don't you explain...

Posted by: MacK | Sep 29, 2012 3:59:10 PM

One final point - yes I have said a lot. What I find genuinely astonishing on this forum is the utter lack of self-awareness of so many law professors - the inability of so many to realise that they do not have to be caricatured because they do it for themselves.

The smug self-satisfaction exhibited by "on the market (again)" with his assumption that a large law firm would be choking to have a law professor "directing younger associates towards fruitful areas of legal research." That many law professors have "deep experience in one field or another," or that swanning around as the required US contractor on USAID consulting contracts makes someone a legal god-figure would be too ludicrous for someone to come up with. I did honestly think "on the market (again)" was satirising the law professoriate.

Every day I get resumés from desperate kids, up to the ears in debt, all to pay for law school. I used to try to say something encouraging - but I don't much anymore - because what can I say. There are 50,000 graduates for some 20,000 positions (and maybe 2/3s of those are good jobs.) US law schools are producing 5 graduates for every 2 jobs. While doing this they are rewarding a group of people who see no real reason why they should write anything of merit to the actual practice of law.

Moreover, as a group you are delusional. As Stein put it, "what can't go on won't." Law schools cannot continue producing 50,000 lawyers per year when demand is for 20,000 - so legal education capacity has to fall into line eventually with demand. Government will not keep paying for an ever rising number of unemployed law graduates ... sooner or later underwriting standard will appear (and when that happens the lack of sympathy for the newly unemployed law professors will be astonishing.) Law schools cannot continue with a cost of attendance over $200,000 per year when new law graduates are mostly earning sub-$100,000. When that happens it is not going to be about "on the market (again)"'s "5-10% of schools might be exposed to the risk of closure" - it is going to be between a 50-60% capacity cut - which means 50+ law schools closing and many shrinking class sizes - to get down to around 20,000 graduates a year.

How upset will people be - the BLS actually counts just under 14,000 law professors a 50% cut in capacity is really 7,000 (I will not that "on the market again" manages an estimate "How large is the average law school faculty? 50 full-time profs" which would mean many fewer (but he is well informed.) Now for many law professors losing that tenured job will be, for them and their family, painful. But realistically - 7,000 law professors, spread across the US, who would have any sympathy. Since he is here, why doesn't "on the market again" explain how the 14,000 law professors are all ex Supreme Court Clerks and editors of the Harvard/Yale law review - I'd like to know how this works?

And here is the big issue. You as a group obviously think I am being nasty and harsh. I am a "pussycat" compared to what many in the legal profession think of law professors. Views out there are savage! And as for you former students....just be happy so many are unemployed and thus won't be interviewing you if you do get cut loose.

Posted by: MacK | Sep 29, 2012 5:03:31 PM

"Every day I get resumés from desperate kids, up to the ears in debt, all to pay for law school." No, MacK, you don't, since you're just an Internet blowhard, not a lawyer. But you've certainly got the trolling down to a fine art.

Posted by: Brian | Sep 30, 2012 5:49:44 PM

Brian

Please, please, may the day come when I see your resumé,

Then you'll know....

Posted by: MacK | Sep 30, 2012 6:06:37 PM

Brian

The real trolls are people like you who know that FOR MOST law school is a taxpayer funded scam where the law profs like yourself are the winners and the law grads and taxpayers are the losers.

But the day of reckoning is coming. Then we'll see how many law profs can get $280k bonuses in law firms and how many won't.

Posted by: Cyferion | Oct 1, 2012 9:25:51 AM

Poor Cyberion, you're confusing two different issues here. MacK is a fraud and a blowhard. That truth is compatible with the truth that a minority of law schools are a bad investment at any price, and a much larger number of law schools are a bad investment at the sticker price. Some law schools will either close or shrink over the next decade, though probably not enough to satisfy your thirst for "misery loves company." Some of those faculty will fine work in private practice, some will find work teaching law elsewhere, and some will be unemployed and suffer like the other unemployed. Why the prospect of more human suffering in an economy in crisis makes you feel better might be a good topic to take up with a therapist.

Posted by: Brian | Oct 1, 2012 9:55:20 AM

I wasn't implying that all law profs will get $280k bonuses at law firms. Merely that that the type of competitive pressures/prestige-seeking that compels law firms to pay more than a quarter million dollars to a Supreme Court clerk with no promises that they will remain at the firm, MAY incline them to hire a law professor as an employee.

Otherwise, I seem to largely agree with Brian's last point. Some law schools may close in the event that demand continues to decrease. This will be bad for current employees of the school, including administrative help, catering, law professors, etc. Why is this something to celebrate?

Even if YOU feel scammed or you know someone who does feel scammed by law school, closing other schools won't make YOU any better off.

Finally, I assume that the 14,000 academics cited by MacK includes non-tenured faculty. Many of whom already derive the majority of their salary from other sources. To MacK's point (?), most are not ex Supreme Court Clerks or editors of the Harvard/Yale law review. Unclear why they would have to be to get a job as a practicing lawyer. I'm neither and feel confident that I'll do fine if I leave academia for a job back in practice.

Posted by: on the market (again) | Oct 1, 2012 10:47:38 AM

On the market again - your objection to the 14,000 number depends on who you think is credible - you of the Bureau of Labor Statistics. By the way, interesting backing away from your earlier positions - now it is some law firms might think that some professors would be worth $280k bonuses. Hmmmmm

I think you have more credibility problems.

As for Brian - this is a law professor? really? Come on Brian, post your resumé - or tell us the school you pretend to teach at so we can actually quote its real employment statistics. Hell, you want to cover yourself, give us a choice of 5 in the same ranking area ....

Bet you don't.

I know who I am, what I do and what I earn - you hope I am not who I say I am because ....

Posted by: MacK | Oct 1, 2012 11:11:47 AM

on the market (again) -- This is just nitpicking, but the SCOTUS bonuses are usually paid out over a period of a few years to mitigate the concern you raise (i.e., a SCOTUS clerk will take the $280K and then promptly leave). Not that I know this firsthand.

Posted by: Just to clarifu | Oct 1, 2012 11:19:26 AM

Clarification- Fair enough. I only know friends (not myself) who were paid clerkship (not SCOTUS) bonuses in a lump sump upon their return to the firm. And I have a friend who just left the Court and was discussing going to a firm to cash-in, but didn't expect to stay long. So I assumed (apparently wrongly) that the cash was all up front.

MacK - send a link to the BLS stats? I'm sure they are correct, it is just that they may be aggregated in a way that hurts rather than supports the point that you are trying to make.

And yes, some law firms would probably hire some law professors. Remember, I said 250-500 would likely need jobs and these would be spread out over the national economy. That's all I ever suggested. Some law firms would hire some current academics.

I also never said the law profs would get large bonuses. Just that the type of firm that pays $280k to a SCOTUS clerk is prestige driven firm. Law Profs are viewed as prestigious jobs. Therefore, some prestige-driven law firms might be inclined to hire former law profs to practice part-time (6-700 hours a year) in exchange for a salary sufficient to pay most people's bills.

Posted by: on the market (again) | Oct 1, 2012 12:18:30 PM

Oh, if you're talking non-SCOTUS clerkship bonuses, they usually are paid out in a lump sum. At least at those firms that pay them (and not all do, which is something I DO know about firsthand, much to my chagrin). But there's a big difference between $50k and $280k.

(And I'm not saying that no firms pay out the SCOTUS bonus all at once. Just that (1) I've not heard of them, and (2) that would be a little insane without some guarantee that the person is going to stay there at least three years or so. But lots of firms are insane.)

Posted by: Just to clarify | Oct 1, 2012 12:31:12 PM

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