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Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Motivations For Law Schools To Use Adjuncts to Fill Gaps in the Curriculum or to Reduce Expenses

Before i move out of Prawfsblawg for the holidays i want to thank Howard for the chance to post and also to close with a bit of musing about use of adjuncts in the law schools in 2017 and beyond.

First, though, in response to a comment, here are the results of a survey about nine years ago.

A significant percentage of the courses offered by law schools are taught by adjuncts. The median of the forty-four schools that provided this information is 24%; the range was 5% to 40% with the great bulk of schools between 20% and 30%.

Next, here is a partial list of the advantages adjuncts bring to legal education

  1. They bring extra brains, vocal cords, eyes, ears, and feet to the curriculum.
  2. Adjuncts are usually easy on the school's budget (although some schools have cut them or cut down on new adjunct taught courses to save a few dollars and/or since full time faculty may have excess capacity).
  3. Adjuncts, particularly in metropolitan areas, provide a pool of lawyers with special expertise and interest as well as a comprehensive knowledge of the subject matter and its application.
  4. Adjuncts give students supplemental perspectives and insights into legal reasoning, critical thinking, and crafting legal arguments, as well as into the subject matter of the particular course.
  5. Practicing lawyers and judges are often uniquely situated to teach practical skills courses, such as trial and appellate advocacy.
  6. It is perception, and perhaps reality, that adjuncts provide networking opportunities for employment during law school and after graduation.
  7. Finally, if a school works to create a working and communicative faculty community, which includes both full-time faculty members and adjuncts, and successfully encourages meaningful interaction among them, both the full-time faculty and the adjuncts will benefit as will the law students. This interaction can also dilute any resentment or disrespect that may exist from full-time faculty members to adjuncts or from adjuncts to full-time faculty members.

Now for a partial list of the risks that adjuncts bring to legal education.

  1. Although many law schools require that adjuncts have “office hours” and be accessible by email and by phone, adjuncts generally are less available than full-time faculty members to students to address their questions about the course and other concerns the students may have.  
  2. Although some adjuncts do write articles, nearly all of the true legal scholarship is done by full-time faculty and very little is done by adjuncts.
  3. Adjuncts regularly have “emergencies,” which interfere with class and with preparation for class. As the pace of practice picks up, adjuncts will likely sacrifice their preparation or even their class time. If the drowning adjunct fails to develop effective additional or alternative resources and the law school is unaware of this situation, it is likely the course will be a dismal failure.
  4. Just as adjuncts may be better teachers than full-time faculty, they may also be worse teachers. More often than not, adjuncts are ignorant of the benefits of various alternative teaching methods and either lecture or fall back on a harassing use of the Socratic method.In addition, they often underestimate the importance of grading and violate school grading and median scoring policies.
  5. Finally, a greater percentage of adjunct means there is less “there” there in the core of the law school.

The current pressure on law schools to be more practical would likely push law schools to find additional ways to make use of adjuncts in the curriculum.  The recent reduction in revenue to many law school seems, anecdotally, to be pushing law schools in  opposite directions.  On the one hand, since adjuncts are much less expensive than full time faculty this should push law schools to use more adjuncts.  On the other  hand, deans looking for short term ways to reduce costs and constrained by salaries of tenured faculty might reduce or freeze adjunct-taught courses and push full time faculty who are less busy with fewer students to teach the courses formerly taught by adjuncts.  Fascinating to watch all of this.

Posted by david lander on December 14, 2016 at 02:00 PM | Permalink


I'm going to echo GruntledAdjunct (and I'm FT) when it comes to adjuncts canceling and not sufficiently preparing. Plenty of our FT colleagues have no practice-related emergencies but still cancel all the time and fail to prepare sufficiently. Sure, there is a chance that an adjunct will have unexpected practice demands that make it impossible for them to give the course adequate attention, but it's also possible to not ask the adjunct back next semester! My sense as a student and now as a prof is that the adjuncts take their teaching jobs very seriously, budget time in their schedules for it, and are often times more responsive to emails than FT folks.

Posted by: Anon | Jan 13, 2017 6:32:48 PM

Is there any real evidence for number 3? Part of agreeing to teach a class means taking the responsibility seriously, and my impression is that adjuncts are at least as conscientious about their responsibilities as FT faculty.

And even assuming that adjuncts do in fact cancel more, that it will lead to problems is a second assumption that seems unfounded to me. If I can't make my class in, say, advanced real estate drafting, and I get a partner who is also expert in the subject to cover for me for a night, is this a case where the course is likely to fail?

And as for the scholarship aspect...I think there's been a trend towards more writing by nontenure track people in a law review format. As it seems there's been a movement towards abstraction among even FT faculty who do doctrinal subjects, that leaves a vacuum for higher-level but still practically useful legal scholarship.

Posted by: GruntledAdjunct | Dec 15, 2016 7:55:51 PM

I feel strongly that the writing and research of full time law profs constitute an important contribution to the growth of the law. For an example of what can happen see: The Strange Death of Academic Commercial Law by Larry T. Garvin
Ohio State University - Moritz College of Law Ohio State Law Journal, Vol. 68, 2007 Ohio State Public Law Working Paper No. 74

Posted by: David Lander | Dec 15, 2016 12:13:54 PM

"Although some adjuncts do write articles, nearly all of the true legal scholarship is done by full-time faculty and very little is done by adjuncts."

How is this a 'risk' of hiring more adjuncts? Is there a worry that we might face a critical shortage of new law review articles?

Posted by: Derek Tokaz | Dec 15, 2016 6:38:53 AM

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