"I feel that having given up the chance at a seven-figure annual income is charity enough for the students..."There are two issues that cast doubt on Illig's claims. First, he assumes that he would have been an equity partner. Second, the timing of his exit from Biglaw is curious. Let's see if the numbers support Illig's claim.
Mr. Illig graduated from Vanderbilt Law School (which he attended for free!) in 1996. He immediately went to work for Nixon Peabody in New York City and remained there until 2003. Per Paul Campos, the going rate for a first year associate in 1997 at a New York City Biglaw firm was $116,000. So let's assume that was Illig's starting salary. I reviewed a 2012 study by recruiting firm Major, Lindsey and Africa. It states that equity partners in New York City firms received an average of $896,000, while non-equity partners made $338,000 on average. Corporate partners made an average of $847,000. Since Illig is a securities law professor, I am assuming that he fits here.
The timing of Illig's departure from Nixon Peabody indicates that he was not going to become an equity partner. Equity partnership is increasingly reserved for the very few. Instead, non equity partners are added to maintain long tenured employees' sense of career progression. It comes with a bump in pay, but not to the levels Illig claims he would have reached. According to the earlier referenced study, non equity partners made an average of $335,000 in 2012. This is still a significant amount of money, but nowhere near what an equity partner makes. I have no way to know if Illig had the book of business and/or the "superstar" status to warrant being made an equity partner. Biglaw makes it clear to associates starting in their sixth or seventh year at the firm whether they will make partner. At that point, the individual is either expected to leave the firm or continue on an explicit non-partnership track. Given the obsession with status and prestige in law, amplified in Biglaw, many choose to leave. The fact that Illig left after seven years at Nixon to take a position at the University of Missouri does not speak well of his prospects to become an equity partner at Nixon.
Illig is the textbook law professor. He does not seem like the kind of person who would be able to sit by and watch others who came to Nixon at the same time or after he did make a lot more money and enjoy much higher status than him. At Oregon, he is a big fish in a small pond. He has a salary that enables him to live comfortably, and works less than ten percent as much as he would have at Nixon. There are legions of sychophantic students hanging on his every word. It's a good life, and not one he would enjoy as a lawyer. Never mind that he makes his money off the backs of students who will flounder for the rest of their lives. Illig can get a chosen few jobs at Nike. But by sending this email, Illig reveals how a great number of law professors view students: annoyances who must be tolerated so that the professor can live comfortaby and enjoy many creature comforts their students will never experience.