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Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Law Professors Are Paid Less, Work As Hard As Lawyers Do

Inside Higher Ed, ‘Poorly Paid’ Professors:

Professors earn about 15 percent less than others with advanced degrees, finds a study circulated Tuesday by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

The study, Why Are Professors 'Poorly Paid'?, uses data from the Current Population Survey to compare the salaries and other characteristics of those with Ph.D., Ed.D., J.D. or M.D. degrees. Those who reported their profession as "postsecondary teacher" were compared to everyone else. The study was conducted by Daniel S. Hamermesh, an economist at Barnard College.

In his comparisons of salaries, he found essentially no differences among those at the low end of the salary scale for professors and nonprofessors with advanced degrees. The gaps grew as one went up to the more highly paid in both groups.

Hamermesh also considered (but found evidence against) the possibility that the key factor could be the relative value of a J.D. or M.D. vs. a Ph.D. He excluded advanced professional degrees and found similar gaps between doctorate holders in and out of academe.

Another key finding from the study: "Although on average professors appear poorly paid compared to other highly-educated workers, their average weekly earnings are 44 percent higher than those of workers without advanced degrees (who are of the same age and have a workweek of the same length)."

To any who might imagine that lawyers and doctors work longer hours than professors, Hamermesh uses data from the American Time Use Survey to demonstrate that this is not the case. Hours of work are similar for professors and others with advanced degrees. There is a key difference: faculty members work more on weekends and less on weekdays than do others with advanced degrees.

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Right -- so that's why so many law professors are leaving academia and returning to law firms, where they will readily command a salary approaching 7 figures...

Posted by: Andy Patterson | Mar 6, 2018 7:59:13 AM

I don’t see how the headline “Law Professors Are Paid Less, Work as Hard As Lawyers Do” follows from the linked study, which covers a wide variety of degree-holders, not just those with J.D.s. It seems to me that law professors and practitioners with similar credentials would need to be compared instead in order to justify that headline.

I doubt that law professors and practitioners at big firms, for example, work comparable hours, particularly once one accounts for the significant amount of working hours that those practicing lawyers devote to non-billable activities. The study reports an academic work week of around 45 hours. If this is remotely representative of what law professors are working, they do not have schedules similar to comparably credentialed lawyers.

Posted by: Curmudgeonly Ex-Clerk | Mar 6, 2018 10:22:51 AM

Is this a self-reported study? I've never known law professors to work particularly hard. Good luck even finding them around the law school outside their 5 hours of class a week.

Posted by: Anonymous | Mar 6, 2018 11:00:30 AM

Since it won’t necessarily be obvious from the comments, the law professors I know (not necessarily a representative sample, but I can’t say one way or the other) greeted this story with: 1) skepticism about the figures; 2) disagreement that even if we did work the same hours, that has anything to do with what we “should” be paid; and 3) the observation that working even long hours (assuming that to be true strictly for purposes of argument) is more meaningful than having immense flexibility about *when* to work those hours and to work on what we want to work on, which is a tremendous good in itself. I can understand general reactions to such a story, but wanted to point out that some decent number of law professors had the same skeptical reaction.

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Mar 8, 2018 5:26:52 AM

For what it's worth, the law professors in my social media circle (not necessarily a representative sample, but I can't say one way or another) who have seen and reacted to this have shared my response: 1) skepticism about the accuracy of the finding; 2) the view that how hard law professors work has nothing to do with how much they "should" be paid; and 3) the strong view that even if the finding were accurate, it neglects the possibility that working long hours mostly on a schedule of one's own choosing, and mostly on topics of one's own choosing, is itself tremendously valuable. I certainly understand the responses here, and write only to note that at least some law professors themselves are skeptical about the numbers and doubly skeptical that those numbers, even if true, would have any relevance to the question of law professors' salaries or the many benefits involved in their jobs.

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Mar 8, 2018 8:33:05 AM

Apologies for the redundant comments.

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Mar 8, 2018 8:56:05 AM