Paul L. Caron

Monday, October 3, 2016

Former Dean:  Under The Radar Faculty 'Bloodletting' Is Resulting In A Lost Generation Of Law Profs

Bales 2TaxProf Blog op-ed: Faculty Bloodletting, by Rick Bales (Former Dean, Ohio Northern):

I've heard from faculty members at two law schools just this week who report (not for attribution) that their law schools either are laying off a substantial number of faculty (the faculty member's word was "bloodletting") or that buy-out offers have been made to all faculty. These are respectable schools, and the downsizings I am referring to have not yet been reported in the blogosphere as best I know. That probably means there are many more occurring than we know about.

I've also had occasion to browse recently the faculty bio pages of several law schools. Given the paucity of hiring over the last several years, it comes as no surprise that many schools are top-heavy, but the extent of this at some schools is astounding. It appears that at some schools, there is almost no one on the tenure-track faculty within a full generation of the average age of the students we are trying to attract.

Given the dramatic downturn in admissions, faculty downsizing is not unexpected and at many schools inevitable. But equally unsurprisingly, the pain has not been evenly distributed. Staff were cut first, then non-tenure-track faculty, then tenure-track but not-yet-tenured faculty.

We seem to be in the process of losing a full generation of faculty. This does not bode well for the future of law teaching, legal scholarship, or law school leadership. I think we would be wise to begin planning for this generation gap now.

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To the limited extent that law schools have been hiring, it's mostly entry level people who are cheaper rather than laterals who are more experienced, better teachers, and more accomplished scholars. In other words, law schools are responding to lean times by lowering quality and lowering cost in ways that law students might not notice early on when they decide which law school to attend.

Or law schools believe that faculty with more than a few years of experience are overpaid, since they are not more productive than those at the entry level.

This is a stark contrast to private practice, where mid-level associates with 5 or 6 years of experience can expect to easily make more than twice as much as entry level lawyers, even if they opt to move in house for a cushy 9-6 corporate law job.

It's not surprising if many law graduates from elite schools come to the conclusion that the private sector is a much better bargain than law teaching.

Posted by: Mind the gap | Oct 8, 2016 11:20:20 AM

When did Rick become FORMER Dean at ONU?

Posted by: BC | Oct 4, 2016 8:57:34 PM

"I'm sorry. Entry level legal practice has never been more lucrative? Maybe at large firms in big cities, but not for most."

Any candidate with a even a semi-realistic chance at landing a tenure track professorship will have multiple offers to practice in a big firm in a major city for top of the market salary.

Posted by: JM | Oct 4, 2016 11:02:19 AM

Buy-outs and the like make good news copy, but I suspect that a lot of downsizing has been accomplished via attrition (e.g. not filling faculty slots as faculty retire). My own school must be down to about 22 or so tenure-track FTEs. This kind of downsizing is hard to track, as it requires comparing past to present FTEs, and breaking out faculty by tenure-track vs. academic staff or similar non-tenure-track titles (something that many law school websites do not make particularly easy to do)..

Posted by: Jason Yackee | Oct 4, 2016 8:30:41 AM

Schools are using the "crisis"to concentrate power in management and hire more people who will be more compliant. The downsize in student populations is merely an excuse.

Posted by: mike livingston | Oct 4, 2016 4:20:20 AM

I'm interested in hearing more, but I think it's difficult to know what to make of the argument without numbers to back this up. What are the numbers of professors at each generational level, and what numbers of professors are sufficient?

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Oct 3, 2016 7:28:51 PM

I'm sorry. Entry level legal practice has never been more lucrative? Maybe at large firms in big cities, but not for most. If it were so lucrative, you'd see more young lawyers actually landing jobs. You are correct though, the world does need far fewer law professors (and law schools).

Posted by: anon | Oct 3, 2016 3:46:46 PM

This is an important event. The young generation is starting to realize that there is no future in legal academia. Tenured law professorships are just another group of jobs horded by Baby Boomers. To the contrary, the entry-level practice of law has never been more lucrative. This world needs far fewer law professors, and it appears we are on that track. An ancillary effect will be that the group of people historically most prone to respect legal faculty (top law schools grads who can realistically aspire to join them) will, having been shut out of the profession, begin to view them negatively along with most other segments of society.

Posted by: JM | Oct 3, 2016 1:39:54 PM