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[T]he system is not sustainable in its present form. The graduation into a shrunken legal sector of students with hundreds of thousands of dollars of student debt, nondischargeable in bankruptcy, cannot continue.

Antonin Scalia, commencement address to the graduating class of William and Mary Law School.

Although he cites friend-of-this-blog Paul Campos, Scalia seems not to have read him (or the hilarious Brian Tamanaha) on law professors and their feelings about their salaries. Because Scalia says this:

[T]he vast majority of law schools will have to lower tuition. That probably means smaller law school faculties though not necessarily one third smaller. That would be no huge disaster. Harvard Law School, in the year I graduated, had a faculty of 56 professors, 9 teaching fellows, and 4 lecturers; it now has a faculty of 119 professors, 53 visiting professors, and 115 lecturers in law. A total of 69 then and 287 now. And cutting back on law school tuition surely means higher teaching loads. That also would not be the end of the world. When I got out of law school, the average teaching load was almost 8 hours per week. Currently it is about half that. And last but not least, professorial salaries may have to be reduced, or at least stop rising. Again, not the end of the world.

On that last point, here are the words of Kent Syverud, chair of the council of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar:

“The painful truth is that the problem with costs is that law professors and deans are paid too much relative to the amount of work they do… The whole problem of costs would go away tomorrow if our salaries were halved.”


So here’s the deal, as ol’ UD sees it. Harvard will continue to inflate its law faculty to infinity, because Harvard has a close to forty billion dollar endowment and can do anything. Let’s not use Harvard as an example of anything. Other law schools, even respectable ones, will go the cheesy for-profit online route (they will contract with a company to exploit their university’s name and offer third-rate law degrees by correspondence) before they start cutting classroom faculty or increasing work load.

Yes, this approach will degrade their university, and its law program, yet further. But in the short term it will protect that most unusual of graduate faculties – faculties which graduate many unemployable, deeply indebted attorneys, but faculties that continue to be paid in the hundreds of thousands for teaching three or four courses a year.

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2 Responses to “Congratulations, Suckers.”

  1. Mr Punch Says:

    By this logic there wouldn’t be a humanities PhD program left in America. The issues of (a) what a program costs to run, (b) what students pay for it, (c) what pay scales are like in the profession, and (d) what employment prospects are like – these are to some extent interrelated, but not in a straightforward way. Harvard, to take the example at hand, has addressed (b) with regard to the PhD (in terms of money, not time) and can presumably live with (a), but struggles with (d).

  2. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Mr Punch: There would be a few humanities programs left in America. Many have indeed closed, or radically downsized; others will certainly do so. The salary point also holds: Law professors make a great deal more than English professors, money that some supplement with legal consulting, etc. I am a huge fan of Elizabeth Warren (gave a good bit of money to her campaign, in fact) but all you have to do is look at her courses/salary at Harvard to know it’s a whole different universe from the humanities.

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