Paul Campos, in The New Republic, shaves so many points off of official law school job placement figures that by the end of his essay he’s whittled the business of legal employment to practically nothing.

After revising the bogus reassuring numbers down and down and then down again, Campos concludes with a cui bono.

Yet even this does not exhaust the dire news for those about to enter the legal profession. Some schools have adopted the practice of placing their graduates in temporary positions, which, whatever the rationale, has the benefit of helping to inflate their employment numbers…

Nor have we considered how the “lucky” winners in the big law lottery often accept jobs that make them miserable, featuring insane hours and unfulfilling work, but which these graduates conclude they must take in order to pay their often astronomical educational debt (adjusted for inflation, public law school tuition has quintupled, and private law school tuition has nearly tripled, since the mid-1980s). If you’re a law professor and you want to get depressed, try to figure out how many of your recent graduates have real legal jobs that pay enough to justify the tuition that funds your salary, and also involve doing the kind of work they wanted to do when they went to law school.

All of this suggests the extent to which prospective law students need more and better information. Of course, such information will make law school look like a far worse investment than it does at present. Still, if we assume that the point of academic work is to reveal the truth, rather than to engage in the defense of a professional cartel from which law professors benefit more than almost anyone else, then this work needs to be done.

Humanities professors might not graduate many gainfully employed humanities professors, but few humanities professors receive between $150,000 and $300,000 in compensation each year.


Update: Two of my readers (see comment thread) have pointed out that my original attempt to come up with a reasonably plausible figure for law school professor compensation seemed inflated. In response to their comments, I’ve done some more poking around in the statistics. I now offer (see above) what seems to me a reasonable compensation range.

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17 Responses to “The essay as self-consuming artifact.”

  1. Daniel S. Goldberg Says:

    I don’t see in the article where Campos states that law professors pull down $300,000 a year. Although I am not a lawprof, I am somewhat familiar with salary structures in the legal academy, and my sense is that they are generally comparable to professional school faculty salaries.

    These structures are of course higher than faculty teaching at undergraduate levels, but I think it is an open question whether the former are overpaid or the latter are underpaid (they could of course both be true).

  2. GTWMA Says:

    Chronicle (2009-10) has average full for legal professions at $134,146, associate at $101,045, Assistant as $83,991, and newly hired assistant as $92,033

  3. theprofessor Says:

    30 years ago, I could perhaps have accepted a plea of “lack of information” for grads going to law school with the expectation of big and easy bucks right after graduation. But today? Come on. Are we supposed to equip undergraduate faculty advisers with baseball bats and beat the blatantly obvious into them?

  4. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Daniel, GTWMA: I should have given a salary range – I’ll do that.

  5. Daniel S. Goldberg Says:

    Sorry, UD, like Chevy Chase doing Gerald Ford, it was my understanding in reading humanities blogs that there would be no math . . . but how does the information GTWMA provided translate into a range of $200-$400k for lawprofs?

    Indeed, the Chronicle stats provided there are right in line with med school salaries (and this I do know since I recently had occasion to compare them at the entry level). If that’s right, then the object of your critique would have to be professional school faculty vs. undergraduate/graduate humanities faculty, rather than law faculty vs. undergraduate/graduate humanities faculty. No?

  6. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Daniel: I’ve been reading stats and playing around with the numbers (you saw them in a brief earlier incarnation) in order to be fair. At places like Berkeley (and there are quite a few law schools like Berkeley) it looks as though quite a few law profs must by now be making into the 300,000s, so compensation (not salary; compensation) that high is probably not so extraordinary.

    Here, from back in 2005, is a compensation list for a group of Berkeley and UCLA law profs:

    It’s possible their compensation hasn’t risen at all; or that they’ve all insisted on compensation reductions given the crisis in the field. I haven’t been able to find an updated list.

    Or again: From back in ’07:

  7. Daniel S. Goldberg Says:

    Thanks, UD. Last thing I’ll say on this and then I’ll hightail it the heck out of your comments:

    My outsider’s sense is that Berkeley looks and behaves like a private uni in its cost structure. If that’s right, and given the high COL in California, I think one should be careful in using compensation figures for full profs at the equivalent of an elite private law school to stand for the range of compensation for lawprofs.

    My point in all of this is that I am dubious that lawprof compensation is out-of-step with compensation for professional school faculty, and, as I indicated, I have personal anecdotal knowledge that the two are in the same approximate range, ceterus non paribus. Thus the concern over compensation should be the difference between professional and nonprofessional faculty rather than between law and nonprofessional faculty, unless of course one believes that lawprofs are less deserving of their salary than other professional faculty (not offering an opinion on this).

    I understand your concern about the value produced by law school, and my sense is that it is one many lawprofs share, as Campos’s example indicates. But FWIW, my general view of the labor market for academics in the U.S. is that how much most faculty are underpaid is a vastly more significant problem than how much some faculty are overpaid. Many would disagree with me, of course.

  8. Margaret Soltan Says:


    On COL, behaving like a private university, etc. — See these numbers from the University of Michigan.

    I find these numbers so amazing that I figure I’m misunderstanding the chart.

    But if I’m not, and if Michigan isn’t all that out of line for the top schools, I’d be comfortable revising my range upward.

  9. anonprof Says:

    Hi Margaret–I’m a law professor. The average starting salary for assistant professors is around 100k a year, though a few make below that, and a few schools, such as Michigan or Georgetown, may well pay much more–150 or so. For full professors, there is probably a wider range; a competent full professor at an OK school would likely earn around 150k, while a “name” professor at a school like Michigan could easily earn 250k. Why are we paid so much? The logic is that we could make so much more in private practice, so salaries have to be higher. Not as high as what lawyers are paid in private practice–I took a 50% pay cut to leave private practice and teach, for instance–but higher than what other profs are paid. Is this fair? Well, from an economic point of view, sure–lower law professor salaries too much and you would no longer get good lawyers to teach. This is not to say, of course, that english or philosophy profs shouldn’t be paid more, just to point out that you won’t be able to stock a law school if you pay us much less.

  10. anonprof Says:

    Oh, and according to this:

    The average full professor of law at Colorado makes about 180k, while a new professor makes around 120k.

  11. Margaret Soltan Says:

    anonprof: Many thanks for the comment. I’d like to respond to this:

    ‘…lower law professor salaries too much and you would no longer get good lawyers to teach.’

    Couple of things. Many law professors seem pretty easily able to enhance their compensation by consulting in various ways. I think when you add all the enhancements available to a – let’s say money-motivated – law professor’s situation, you get money that’s not outrageously far from private enterprise money.

    Speaking of which – As you know, given the excess of lawyers (even very good ones), those private sector salaries are declining in many places. (There are other reasons for this – opting for in-house attorneys to save money, etc., etc.) Eventually, the life of a not-too-stressed, intellectually-satisfied law prof will look even more excellent than it does to the good lawyers — because not only do you get an enviable style of life, not only do you get what you really want to do (as opposed to the over-worked unhappy corporate life of many highly paid attorneys), you get compensated quite well for doing it.

    Even if you don’t get compensated in the $500,000 and up range (though as my example from U Mich in an earlier comment shows, you might well do this), you might very well be attracted to university legal life in itself, in other words — as a good thing to do for the world, as intrinsically worthwhile, etc. This was always true for quite a lot of attorneys, and remains so. Which is to say that these positions are extremely hotly contested. I’m not at all afraid of your Build It and They Won’t Come scenario.

    Finally – I think it’s unseemly that public law schools – especially new ones like Irvine that advertise themselves as specializing in public interest law – use the same Throw-big-bucks-at-them-or-they-won’t-come argument. Big bucks for me but not for thee! Let me pat your innocent head as you go off to work for a shabby non-profit, little one! Good girl!

  12. anonprof Says:

    Margaret–I agree absolutely that being a law professor is a very, very desirable job–those of us who made it are fortunate for many reasons. But there is also a salary level below which a good lawyer really won’t take the job, and I suspect that level is somewhat higher than the equivalent level for, say, an english professor. To put in bluntly, we have options that humanities PhDs don’t (not saying that’s right, just the way it is). A law school has to attract people not only to teach fun classes like constitutional law, but also drier but indispensable classes like securities law or partnership tax, and people who can teach those classes have a lot of options. I’ll also point out that lawyers with a few years’ experience can earn around 150k from the Federal government (GS-15), so law professors’ salaries should not be too far below that.

    As for your comment about public law school salaries–actually, I don’t mind how much they pay their teachers, so long as their students don’t graduate with so much debt that they can’t afford to be public interest lawyers. The scandal isn’t professors’ 250k/yr salary, it’s students’ 40k/yr tuition.

  13. Paul Campos Says:


    A couple of clarifications on the earlier points that have been made about salaries:

    A range of $140K to 300Kish is accurate for top law schools. (As you suspected the Michigan numbers are deceptive. All the listed salaries over $300K other than the dean’s aren’t “real” — they’re administrative fictions of some sort). Mid-tier schools are more likely to have a range from the low $100s to the mid $200s. Lower tier schools pay less, perhaps $80K to high $100s.

    A caveat: all top and most mid-tier schools pay out significant summer research support money (really a salary supplement) to the large majority of their tenure-track faculty. This can range from 10K to 50K a year, depending on the school and the base salary.

    Law school professor salaries have risen by about 50% relative to inflation over the past 25 years.

  14. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Paul: Many thanks for those clarifications.

  15. Michael McNabb, Attorney Says:

    In February the University of Minnesota Law School held the first annual “Casino Night” for alumni. See For the law students the real casino is law school itself where they gamble $150,000 for tuition and living expenses over three years in return for a ticket to the bar exam and a dismal job market. See the October 27 post on Above The Law at

  16. University Diaries » “[I]f we assume that the point of academic work is to reveal the truth, rather than to engage in the defense of a professional cartel from which law professors benefit more than almost anyone else, then this work needs to Says:

    […] the salary issue: As Campos noted in a comment on this blog: A range of $140K to 300Kish is accurate for top law schools… Mid-tier schools are more likely […]

  17. University Diaries » Hm. An attack on Gordon Gee that doesn’t even… Says:

    […] by Paul Campos. An […]

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