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

Monday, February 4, 2019

Simkovic: Raising Tenure Standards Is No Free Lunch

Michael Simkovic (USC), Raising Tenure Standards Is No Free Lunch:

Brian Leiter and Paul Caron both recently noted a study by Adam Chilton, Jonathan Masur, and Kyle Rozema which argues that law schools can increase average faculty productivity by making it harder for tenure track faculty to get tenure.  While this seems plausible, denying tenure more often is no free lunch. 

A highly regarded study by Ron Ehrenberg (published in the Review of Economics and Statistics) found that professors place a high monetary value on tenure, and a university that unilaterally eliminated tenure would either have to pay more in salary and bonus or suffer a loss in faculty quality. After controlling for faculty quality, university rank, and cost of living, university economics departments that are less likely to offer faculty tenure must pay untenured faculty more, in part to compensate for increased risk.  Reduced tenure rates is associated with higher productivity, but it is costly. ...

Unless a law school has a large pot of money ready to increase faculty compensation, increasing tenure denial rates is risky business.

Brian Leiter (Chicago), On the Costs of Denying Tenure:

In almost all other fields, elite departments deny tenure at much higher rates than in law, where 95% get tenure according to Professors Chilton et al. By contrast, in other fields, rates of tenure appear to hover around 25%, maybe a bit higher. Somehow all these other fields have pulled this off; the interesting question is what's holding law back?

https://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2019/02/-simkovic-raising-tenure-standards-is-no-free-lunch.html

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Comments

"A highly regarded study by Ron Ehrenberg (published in the Review of Economics and Statistics) found that professors place a high monetary value on tenure, and a university that unilaterally eliminated tenure would either have to pay more in salary and bonus or suffer a loss in faculty quality. "

This is an amusing bit of wishful thinking. There are, of course, far more wanna be law professors than roles for them. A stroll through the data at Prawfsblawgs bears this out nicely. Even if we limit the wannabes to the half-dozen alma maters from which becoming a law prof is a realistic possibility, there are likely too many applicants. Law schools can be very, very picky. This is why we have seen such a drastic uptick in new prawfs who also have PhDs or VAPs AND major fellowships or whatever. So the bargaining power of prospective prawfs is quite limited. Law schools could cut salaries drastically and still have a surfeit of prof applicants, because most of these folk either 1) can't handle the workload at the AmLaw 200, 2) don't want to be in the private sector, and/or 3) feel that the practice of law is "beneath" them. And let's not forget that most of those PhD-JDs applicants were PhDs first, saw how terrible the job market and salaries were in their PhD discipline, and got the idea to head for the comparatively green law prof market, where salaries are higher and tenure much easier to obtain.

So to be blunt, law schools hold all the cards. If they wish to make tenure harder to obtain, they will still be bombarded by HYSCCN types dying to not have to bill their 2100 hours/year for that 1 in 25 shot at equity partnership.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Feb 4, 2019 2:34:43 PM

During the downturn, there are some law schools that tried cutting faculty pay and making it harder for junior faculty to get tenure.

These schools saw a massive exodus of their most productive faculty and had a hard time recruiting at AALS. If you look at any institutional metric (i.e., new SSRN downloads, total SSRN downloads, citation counts) you can see these plummeting at the schools that cut back.

If you look at Leiter's Law Reports on faculty laterals (away from institutions) you can also spot the trend for which schools productive faculty have been leaving over the last few years.

We've also seen a very big drop in the number of entry level candidates in the AALS entry level process (the "meat market"), and a decline in quality (fewer people with big firm experience and elite federal clerkships; not many Econ Phds).

You get what you pay for.

Posted by: It's been tried | Feb 5, 2019 1:22:11 PM

"We've also seen a very big drop in the number of entry level candidates in the AALS entry level process (the "meat market"), and a decline in quality (fewer people with big firm experience and elite federal clerkships; not many Econ Phds)."

The projection is strong here (except for the Econ PhD, I suspect). Oh, and newsflash! Those confirmation bias-confirming variables you mentioned... aren't the only hallmarks of who would make a good law prof. And does one year in Biglaw really even count for anything? I'm sure they are great at making first drafts and maybe even saw a client in a hallway once, but... it's doubtful they've ever seen, you know, an actual legal task from beginning to completion, with or without supervision. Daniel Webster they are not.

Why on Earth would I look at Leiter's websites (at least, those he hasn't been forced down from yet?)

"You get what you pay for."

Mmm hmm. This is why the average student loan debt at Thomas Jefferson Law School is higher than at Harvard Law School. Your Econ 1.01 bromidic analyses are just blowing my mind.

Again, many more wannabe law profs than slots for them. Period. This means... they do not have the upper hand. Supply, meet demand.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Feb 5, 2019 10:42:37 PM

Chilton et al want to impose austerity when quantitative easing is called for. That said, the trend towards the illusory "practice ready" graduate is heavily biasing hiring towards clinics. That's eating up budgets and weakening law schools place in the university.

Posted by: Anon | Feb 6, 2019 12:19:30 PM