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Friday, December 09, 2016

Comparison of law school adjuncts to adjuncts in other parts of the university

Surveys have confirmed the perception that adjuncts play a major and important role in US legal education. The most recent surveys which were conducted in 2007 and 2010 have demonstrated the extensive use of adjuncts at most U.S law schools. They have also pointed out the courses most often taught by full time faculty members and the courses that are taught by adjuncts, most of whom are judges and lawyers with other full time jobs. The sparse literature about law school adjuncts and their role in the pedagogy ASSUMES that they have little in common with adjuncts in other parts of the university. This assumption is based on the notion that most law school adjuncts have other lucrative jobs and are more in the nature of volunteers rather than folks trying to earn a living with their teaching.


Adjuncts in other parts of the university have been organizing and unionizing to provide better conditions and protections. Compare the lot of the English PhD in Boston, who is qualified for a full time job but has to make do with several adjunct positions in order to pay the bills with that of the lawyer or judge who has a full time gig but is teaching a trial practice or copyrights or sports law course. It is eye opening to consider the following: "Although teaching remains the province of tenured and tenure-track professors in some elite colleges and universities in the United States, this arrangement is increasingly anomalous in many other institutions of higher learning. “Contingent professors” (here used interchangeably with the term “adjuncts”) refers to anyone teaching at the tertiary level who is not in the tenure stream. This entry refers principally to those with higher degrees who are paid by the course. The shift away from the tenure system may not have been as rapid as is often thought (it dates back at least some decades), but it is a sweeping change. Contingents now constitute a significant majority of academics. In 1969, over 78 percent of faculty were tenured or tenure-track; by 2009, that figure had declined to about 33 percent. Research faculty, graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows are not included in those figures; if they were, the overall representation of adjunct or contingent faculty in higher education would be considerably higher. Adjuncts in Higher Education in the United States Tobias Hecht, Isabel Balseiro, Daniel Maxey http://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780199756810/obo-9780199756810-0136.xml


As 90% of the law schools have been reacting to a significant reduction in revenues and customers perhaps it is time to look deeper and see what we can learn from similarities between use of adjuncts in other parts of the academy. For example, tenure and tenure track. "Thoughtful Clinicians point out that increased and expanded use of adjuncts is just another way for the schools to increase the percentage of “faculty” off the tenure track where they have far fewer protections." See: Daniel Thies, Rethinking Legal Education in Hard Times: The Recession, Practical Legal Education, and the New Job Market. 59 J. Legal Educ. 598 (2010). Also interesting to note that the most recent article on this topic was written by a law student. He is now in practice and a member of the ABA Section of Legal Education Accreditation Committee.


Among the topics that require further study in this area:

  1. H0w does use of adjuncts in law schools compare with their use in business schools and med schools?
  2. How carefully do law schools watch and  "supervise" the teaching by adjuncts?
  3. Has the extent of teaching by adjuncts changed in view of the reduction in revenue and number of students during the past few years; and if so what does the signify?

Posted by david lander on December 9, 2016 at 11:35 AM | Permalink


Thanks for the information! Google says it's on the Thompson Coburn website, but clicking on it gives me a 404 error. I suppose Hein is always an option.

Posted by: GruntledAdjunct | Dec 15, 2016 7:59:01 PM

I'd be curious to see the details on "most of whom are judges and lawyers with other full time jobs". In particular, I wonder what the, say 25th and 50th percentile non-law school salaries are across the entire cohort (i.e. putting in a zero for those that only work for law schools).

My sense is that a significant number of law schools, especially less prestigious ones, use adjuncts in what the post styles the undergraduate mode. That some of these more or less professional adjuncts also see clients now and then isn't really to the contrary.

Posted by: brad | Dec 12, 2016 4:52:33 PM

First, thanks for the heads up on the definitional difference. I agree that it is sort of an apples and oranges comparison but it is hard to develop comparable information. I had not been following the numbers on the rest of the University and was struck by the changes. My article "Are Adjuncts a Benefit or a Detriment?" University of Dayton Law Review, Vol. 33, p. 286, 2008 discussed the results of a study I did some years ago and has info current as of then on the various courses. The ABA study and survey on Best Practices may have some of that information a bit more current but not much.
Best Practices of the Use of Adjunct Faculty ISBN: 9781614380450
Author(s): Eric J Gouvin Sponsor(s):
Section of Legal Education and Admissions To the Bar
ISBN: 978-1-61438-045-0 Product Code: 5290102 2011, 125 Pages, 8.5 x 11 A survey of how many ABA-approved law schools manage their adjunct faculty programs, including recruitment and hiring, training, review and evaluation, retention and recognition, and transition to full-time teaching.Additional Information
Table of Contents: 5290102_toc.pdf
Best Practices of the Use of Adjunct Faculty

The forms submitted by law schools do list the number of part time and full time faculty but that is imprecise as a measure. I am hopeful for a more current survey soon and then perhaps more posts or some sort of article. This is an area that needs analysis and has few independent watchers.

Posted by: David Lander | Dec 12, 2016 12:02:06 PM

A while ago I saw the statistics how adjuncts are spread across law school disciplines/courses, but I can't seem to find them anywhere. Would you happen to have these figures and a source?

Posted by: GruntledAdjunct | Dec 11, 2016 12:54:33 PM

"“Contingent professors” (here used interchangeably with the term “adjuncts”) refers to anyone teaching at the tertiary level who is not in the tenure stream."

Doesn't really make sense to use the terms interchangeably, especially if you're discussing adjuncts in the context of both law schools and the rest of the university. There are contingent faculty who have a full time position at the school but are on short term (1-3 year) contracts. There's also full-time long-term teaching positions that are simply not tenure track but also aren't contingent. The latter are on par with any other white collar job.

An interesting area to study might be how law and grad programs are affected by the rise in adjuncts at the undergraduate level. There've been studies discussing how students graduating with little or no improvement to their analytical or writing skills, and I strongly suspect an increase in adjuncts is playing a role there (just imagine how effectively you could teach if you taught 5 courses a semester). If they bring that lack of skills with them to law school ...well, you're gonna have some problems.

Posted by: Derek Tokaz | Dec 11, 2016 10:32:47 AM

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