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Monday, February 12, 2007

How Many Law Professors Make $330k?

In an otherwise compelling Weekend Wall Street Journal op-ed arguing for increased pay for federal judges (Judgment Pay), former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker writes:

[W]hat is the reasonable level of judicial compensation? Consider the district courts where the greatest number of judgeships are. While judges cannot expect to equal the salaries of partners in large law firms, the National Commission determined that their compensation should be comparable to that of law school deans, senior professors and other nonprofit leaders. Today, at $165,200, district judge salaries fall more than 50% below what many law school deans or their top professors make. Moreover, unlike those academics and the leaders of nonprofit institutions, there is very limited possibility of earning other income.

Is it really true that "many" law professors (let alone deans) make $330,400 a year?  The data suggest not:

• The most recent salary data peg the median law dean salary at $229,561 and the average law professor salary at $136,634.

• The latest SALT salary figures for the 88 responding law schools report the highest median salaries for full professors at these schools:

  1. Texas:  $185,037
  2. Hofstra:  $179,000
  3. Touro:  $172,125
  4. Ohio State:  $164,774
  5. Houston:  $157,301
  6. George Washington:  $154,900
  7. Illinois:  $153,829
  8. Pace:  $153,352
  9. Florida State:  $152,990
  10. Connecticut:  $151,500

Of course, these are average and median salaries and thus may not reflect the salaries of the "top professors" to whom Volcker refers.  But I have previously blogged the Top 10 law faculty salaries at the University of California law schools (Berkeley, Davis, UCLA), Michigan, and Virginia, and they fall well short of Volcker's $330,400 figure:

Faculty_salaries_at_elite_law_schools

Update:  For additional data, see More on Judge and Law Professor Salaries, which notes in part:

From the 2003 Volcker Commission report:

A recent study by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts of salaries of professors and deans at the twenty-five law schools ranked highest in the annual U.S. News and World Report survey found that the average salary for deans of those schools was $301,639. The average base salary for full professors at those law schools was $209,571, with summer research and teaching supplements typically ranging between $33,000 and $80,000.

Adjusted for inflation, the $301,639 average dean's salary at the Top 25 law schools would be worth $338,023 in today's dollars, while the $209,571 full professor base salary would be $234,850 which, when combined with the inflation-adjusted summer stipends of $36,981 - $89,650, would put the total compensation of full professors at Top 25 law schools at $271,831 - $324,500.

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Comments

Could it be an error? Maybe he meant that law professors make 50% more than judges. That gets you to a much more reasonable $250/year. Doesnt seem like law professors are making that much on average anyway. However, at some schools, some professors get free luxury housing that would cost them thousands otherwise.

Posted by: Doug | Feb 12, 2007 10:59:10 PM

Does Volcker's figure include just salary, or also external compensation in the form of consulting fees, book and treatise royalties, etc.? I know that my law professor father supplements his salary quite nicely with income from such sources. I would assume that a great many other "top professors" would have at least some additional income from such sources.

Posted by: PatHMV | Feb 13, 2007 8:25:43 AM

The SALT numbers leave out many, if not most, top law schools (including Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Michigan, Notre Dame, Vanderbilt, Georgetown, NYU) -- which is undoubtedly the pool that Volcker is thinking about, particularly in our "Winner Take All" income distribution. Based on your Michigan and Virginia numbers, it seems likely that the salaries at a number of these schools are indeed pushing $300K for top professors, and that law school deans are probably somewhere above that.

Posted by: Hoosier | Feb 13, 2007 9:46:14 AM

I think Doug is on the right track, but I don't think Volcker's comment is an error at all. A salary level 50% less than $250K is $165K. Volcker didn't say 50% "of" law school salaries, he said 50% "below" (i.e., less than) them.

Posted by: Rob | Feb 13, 2007 10:28:44 AM

I read it like Doug does, that the writer claims judges income is 75% of law school profs. Poor wording though. Anyway, once you get above 150k, you're not going to get much sympathy about not getting paid enough. For example, if an assistant prof gets 50k (a nice norm, some get less, some get more), is a full prof really worth 3x as much to the school? That is, can one full prof do the work of 3 assistant profs? Perhaps they can get 3x more grants, but that's not the same thing. We shouldn't base our 'value' system based on who can wallow at the troff the most.

Posted by: Rob | Feb 13, 2007 11:47:37 AM

Rob,
50% less than $250k is $125k.
50% more than $165k is $250k.

Posted by: Sameer | Feb 13, 2007 1:28:39 PM

Could it be that he's including consult income? I'm a forensic pathologist, not a lawyer, but many folk in my profession make almost as much through private consults as they do with their "day" job.

Posted by: William Oliver | Feb 13, 2007 1:31:45 PM

I have enormous respect for Paul Volcker, but I think his data is probably flawed. In any event, his statement also fails to account for the fact (unless there has been a dramatic recent change in this regard) that a federal judge, upon retirement, continues to receive the same amount per year as his or her salary for the final year (or perhaps the average of the final three years' salaries) until death. I don't know any law professors who get that kind of deal.

Posted by: Keith | Feb 13, 2007 9:21:05 PM

If a law professor makes 330k year, that is not his base income, because they will be only able to make that much if they have a source of consulting income. Because your average full professor @ a good university makes 150k, and deans 250-300k yearly.

Posted by: Rick James | Nov 21, 2008 1:49:58 PM

As others suggest, I believe this is rather confusing because of

i. the lack of a coherent definition of what it means to be a "top" professor,

ii. the lack of a coherent definition of compensation

I could probably find an economist to tell you that, since most law professors also had the option to be practicing lawyers, they are by definition better compensated (in terms of money, benefits, free time, and so forth) than anybody else. If by contrast I am supposed to be making $333,000 in cash, Paul, can you please send my check?

Posted by: mike livingston | Jan 2, 2009 8:26:18 PM

top professor also means top professor at a top university, i.e, harvard, yale, columbia, chicago, etc.

Posted by: tom wolfe | Jan 6, 2009 6:40:26 AM