Monday, May 6, 2013

Rubbing SALT in Law Students' Wounds

Tenure for law professors is in danger. This week, news came out that the ABA might loosen the tenure requirements for law school faculty. This potential development has many professors up in arms. Through their lobbying group, the Society of American Law Teachers, professors argue that “changing the accreditation standards to weaken the requirements regarding tenure would have enormous and unfortunate implications for the quality of legal education." Is this really the case though? As we all know, law professors are interested only in preserving a privileged lifestyle, regardless of law graduates plunging into a financial hell as a result.

In his brilliant book, Failing Law Schools, Brian Tamanaha detailed the ABA’s historical role as a lobbying group that fixed law faculty salaries at an artificially inflated level. This was accomplished through the requirement that a majority of law faculty be tenure track positions, as well as bald price fixing through the release of salary information among professors to aid faculty negotiations. “In 1995, those accusations were leveled by the Department of Justice in an antitrust suit that charged that A.B.A. standards had artificially inflated faculty salaries. The A.B.A. signed a consent decree, agreeing to a number of strictures intended to pry the process out of the hands of legal academics and end the fixing of salaries.

The Society of American Law Teachers (SALT) has taken up the ABA’s mantle. Today, with the intense competition created by law schools’ obsession with prestige, law faculty salaries are higher than ever. These high salaries drive the runaway inflation in the cost of a legal education. Yet, whenever a proposal is made to reduce professor salaries, SALT rides to the rescue and vociferously fights on the professors’ behalf. SALT has also taken up the annual salary survey that the ABA was forced to discontinue due to the aforementioned 1995 Department of Justice consent decree.

Tenure allows law professors to maintain the best part time job in America. Law professors claim that tenure is necessary to help maintain scholarly output. But does tenure really encourage scholarly output? Witness the case of Barbara Holden-Smith, law professor at Cornell. According to a post on Ramblings on Appeal, Holden-Smith has not published any scholarship since 1996; at least none that was published in a law review or journal. As of 2005, the teaching load at Cornell is 3 courses per year. So, for the last 17 years, Holden-Smith has worked 20 hours or less during the school year while collecting a handsome salary for the privilege.

Failing Law Schools touches on the depths of law professor laziness in much more depth. As dean at St. John’s, Brian Tamanaha was tasked with finding a way to motivate tenured professors to either publish more or increase their teaching load. The annual salaries and summer research grants were not enough. Certain professors operated like Holden-Smith, content to coast. Others fattened their wallets as partners at law firms or consultants. If gratuitous financial motivation is not enough to motivate professors into actually working because they already make so much money, the only option is a mechanism for revoking tenure.

In his extremely self-serving and offensive article on the Huffington Post, Lawrence M. Solan proposes that law firms reduce first year associate salaries. How about your own salary, Mr. Solan? Might Mr. Solan forgo his summer research stipend so that students at Brooklyn Law School can avoid Income Based Repayment program?

In an upcoming article in Stanford Law & Policy Review, Brian Tamanaha pulls back the curtain: ““Tuition increases meant yearly salary raises, research budgets to buy books and laptops, additional time off from teaching to write (or to do whatever we like), traveling to conferences domestically and abroad, rooms in fine hotels, and dining out with old friends,” Tamanaha writes. “A sweet ride it has been.” Further, “SALT’s major initiative on the challenges facing legal education was to sponsor a conference in Honolulu in December 2010,” Tamanaha writes. Though the rising cost of legal education was on the agenda, “the greatest urgency [was] placed on perceived attacks against the law professoriate.”

Until we change the current tenure system, the cost of legal education will continue to rise unabated. If the law schools themselves are unwilling to do so, then the market will make the changes for them, as prospective law students see that law school holds little promise of a secure future. Like American car manufacturers in the 1980s, law professors refuse to change while the world is passing them by. Perhaps a few of them will soon join their former students in the bread line.


  1. I, for one, am not going to volunteer a pay cut on the threat that the market will stop demanding my services. I think I'll just wait and let the market speak.

    I think it is absurd to expect professors to give up money. Let the market speak!

    1. Let the market speak? You mean the market in which the federal government heavily subsidizes the thing being sold by providing unlimited financing no matter the price? You mean the market in which the seller avoids corporate income taxes by claiming nonprofit status, despite enormous profits? You mean the market in which the seller is located in palatial, luxurious accomodations, on which it does not have to pay property taxes because it is affiliated with a university? You mean the market in which the federal government awards generous grants for the employees to (pretend to?) conduct research on topics of their choosing? You mean the market in which the regulator (the ABA) and the regulated (the law schools) are comprised of the exact same people? The market in which the sellers and regulators (same thing) collude to raise prices every year? The market in which the seller of services that cost more than $100,000 does not have to provide sober information to prospective purchasers, the way that the seller of a security provides a prospectus or the the seller of real estate provides a disclosure statement? In fact, not only does the seller not have to make any disclosures at all, they can even publish incomplete and downright fraudulent information about the future value of the the thing they are selling? To that market, you say, "Let the market speak!"?????

      If it's "the market" you believe in, then remove all subsidies, government financing, corporate welfare, special treatment, price fixing, bailouts, conflicts of interest, etc., and require the seller to provide candid, truthful, sober information about what they are selling. In other words, the government should treat law schools like a business. Then we'll just see what the market has to say about law professors' salaries.

    2. But, but, but Anon...if you did all THAT, then there would be actual risk in the market! Everybody wants to live by the sword, but not actually die by the sword. Funny how that works.

      The "Little People" get the priviledge of taking risks, the "Important People" get guarantees and bailouts.

    3. Wow 8:57, nice one!

    4. wow, JeffM and all other law profs just got put on notice by 8:57 Anon. A+ comment. JeffM, what's your rebuttal?

    5. It's an easy rebuttal. 8:57 put up a straw man and beat it down. My post was saying to allow the market to address the issue of cost. The market is not the government, the professors, the bar associations, et al. It is the law students. As the students' demand decreases, this change in the market will cause corrections which need to be made. Who, with more than a pea brain, is going to volunteer themselves pay cuts when a sufficient supply of people with money are still trying to gain admission?

      And you want them to LOWER the cost? So that demand can go up and we can flood the market with even more lawyers?

      Or are you saying they should lower the cost and maintain or reduce the number of students? Fat chance there.

      The market will be the only thing that will drive price. About the only part of 8:57 which I tend to agree with, in spirit, is the concluding paragraph. But again, all of this is designed to reduce demand. No student loans = no demand, for example.

    6. 8:57 here. JeffM, I'm afraid I don't understand your rebuttal, and I don't even understand what you think the "straw man" was.

      My point was that it is not logically consistent to defend the status quo and argue, "Let the market decide!" because the status quo is not a properly functioning market. Instead, the status quo is the result of all of the gigantic market distortions that I listed (and I left out a big distortion, namely that student loan debt is not dischargeable in bankruptcy).

      I actually think you are right that it is absurd to expect professors to voluntarily take pay cuts or accept restrictions on tenure. The evidence is overwhelming that they will not do so -- they'll take everything that's not nailed down. I also agree with you that the market should decide. Where we evidently part ways, however, is that I do not think the status quo is letting the market decide.

    7. Sure, it is. Look at the precipitous drop in law school applications since 2004. Professor Barros (Widener?) is saying he expects the class size next year to drop from 120 to 80. The market is ruling.

      I am not defending the status quo. I am saying that the market will deal with it, just as it always does. The market is reflexive, so you can always expect some lag time. But the data irrefutably points to increasing transparency of what a legal career is all about.

    8. 8:57 again. Yes, eventually market forces will prevail -- even when the market contains huge distortions. If something can't go on forever, it won't. The problem is that the market distortions create a bubble, and the carnage when the bubble bursts is devastating. Just ask an unemployed recent law grad with huge student loans. Meanwhile some people make out like bandits, e.g., law school professors.

      In a properly functioning market that doesn't contain government-sponsored distortions, there will not be a bubble because the market feedback will be relatively instantaneous. "Lag time," as you call it, would be greatly reduced. Law school tuition would have never been inflated in the first place, and the supply of lawyers would always roughly equal demand. That's what really happens when you truly "let the market decide" -- not these awful boom-and-bust cycles that ruin some people's lives and unjustly enrich others.

      It sounds A LOT like you are defending the status quo, and your initial comment in particular strongly suggests it. If you're not defending the status quo, then please tell us what you would change.

    9. Well, I wish the answer was easy. I definitely think the student loan market has distorted everything and created a college bubble. It's absurd. The idea was to help disadvantaged kids. Instead, the schools milked it. That's the Law of Unintended Consequences, 54 USCA 1232.01(a)(a)(ii).

      But yeah, subsidies always are manipulated. I am no fan whatsoever of rigging markets. But I am a realist in the sense that I know there will be nothing we can do about it. The entire US economy is rigged - from food production/marketing, to health care, to "you name it." It's all a bubble. The best thing an individual can do for himself/herself is to avoid playing in that game. Getting out of debt is one of the best ways - even if doing so requires a person to live with mom and dad or live like a pauper for a good while. Get out of debt.

      That way, you don't have to depend on bubbles for survival. This country is built on debt - modern servitude - debtor slaves.

      But I digress.... I think you know how I feel.

  2. Here is a link to SALT's survey of median law professor salaries, pre and post-tenure.

    Note that the median salaries listed exclude such goodies as "health care benefits, retirement benefits, dependents’ tuition benefits, domestic partner benefits, travel funding, book allowance, research assistant funding, or summer research and teaching stipends." (although the summer stipends are listed in a separate column).

    I begrudge nobody a good living. But these law professor salaries are really shameless in light of the immiseration of their students. And don't expect gratitude or humility from the likes of SALT. To hear SALT talk, you would think that civilization itself would end if the ABA did not force law schools to provide a tenure system in order to retain accreditation.

  3. Here's a real bottom feeder, Lawrence W. Kessler of Hofstra Law School. According to his CV, he didn't publish anything between 1976 and 1996, and he hasn't published anything for over ten years. ( According to Rate my Professors, he scores a 2.8 out of 5. Finally, according to Brian Leiter, Hofstra paid this scavenger $229,273 in the 2000-01 fiscal year( Imagine how much he must be making now.

    1. Wow, and I thought Barbara Holden-Smith was bad.

    2. This gets better-- there was a NYLJ article in the last year with a quote from Kessler. He complained about having donate salary back to the school to attract students through scholarships. He said the problem is that better off students who likely did well because of extra prepping and such and who could afford school tuition are the ones who receive the scholarships (merit), rather than less well off students. In other words, his salary is not the problem!

  4. LawProfs...the ultimate rentier class.

  5. Whats the point of getting law profs to work even harder to produce "research" that's really just longer versions of blog comments with 200 footnotes to things no one's ever read.

    Lets be thankful they don't work harder in that sense!

    Maybe working harder should mean - more teaching contact? Of course that's equally useless as teaching if its about feminist evidence theory or Nietzschean constitutionalism.

    Man, they are ruining students and wasting Federal $$$ to produce this evil, useless stuff!!!

  6. It took years for LawProfs to acknowledge that law student job market is tanking. Almost an instant response to an attack on tenure.

    This just highlights, it is lawyers v lawprofs. It has always been that way.

  7. I had Kessler for torts when I was at Hofstra. He is the worst professor at Hofstra. Very lazy. I don't think he ever prepared for class.

  8. How about instead of salary figures we use total compensation figures when talking about law professor pay?

    These **** in the University of California system are pulling 300k/ year pensions; paid-in-full healthcare for life; and they all seem to "write" their own textbooks that they then require students to purchase to the tune of significant royalties.

    Tenure at my UC law school protected some of the most egregiously incompetent "teaches" I have ever encountered. Professors who were panned universally and consistently for decades by students. Professors who in all that time never changed, improved, or gave a damn.

    Professors who got their jobs being part of the nepotistic "in-crowd" holding the "correct" radicalized political opinions and who pay harpy-esque lip service to "social justice" while they knowingly and intentionally rape the futures of their 'poor' and 'minority' students.

    Had enough yet?

  9. On the "total compensation"

    University of California:

    Beginning July 1, 2012, members (teachers) will contribute 5 percent and UC will contribute 10 percent. I believe that double-matching; very generous!!

    Increase comp by 10% + adjust for tax deferral and un-taxed interest benefit of retirement savings. Fat stacks, y'all!!

    Next, the University of California offers a no-premium-cost healthcare plan option to their employees, with co-pays and deductibles lower than what I paid as a student on their forced healthcare plan. Per the federal government, the value of a family (4 people) healthcare insurance is about $27,000./ year.

    Next, let's not forget that law school has the shortest semesters of any college institution - actual class time, about 10 weeks. So, essentially profs get 4 months of paid vacation a year. But WAIT, there's also rolled-over paid vacation!!!

    Next, free, employer-paid life insurance, and accidental death and dismembership insurance!

    And last, but not least, a password-protected goodies section entitled "employee perks." Cocaine and strippers? Who knows! It's just a publicly-funded university system, so it must be none of your damn business, john q. public!

    Other Benefits

    Additional miscellaneous benefits.

    Scholar Share College Savings Plan
    Sittercity Program
    Employee Assistance Program
    Golden One Credit Union
    Pre-Tax Transportation Program
    Auto and Homeowner's Insurance
    Employee PERKS (password protected)

  10. Unfortunately there are a lot of Larry Kesslers out there. They get their tenure, then they think why should I have to publish; I wrote my three articles. Why should I have to prepare for class; I can do it off the top of my head; the students aren't paying attention anyway. Being a law professor is the perfect profession for the lazy.