The state bar has been serving up a lot of softballs. Its most recent came in the form of an email, asking me to donate thirty minutes of my time for its latest dues-funded project: a survey on how to improve law schools. “This survey,” the bar promises me, will “undoubtedly advance the profession.” That’s a bold claim, and one that I seriously doubt. But I might have participated were it not for an even bolder claim: the bar tells me to donate my time because “educating tomorrow’s lawyers is a shared responsibility.”
I’m pretty sure that’s not true. Instead, I’m pretty sure that law professors are responsible for “educating tomorrow’s lawyers.” Let’s take a look at some numbers to support my novel claim:
First, law profs get paid a lot of money. Here’s a nice link to recent law professor salaries at a couple dozen law schools. The median tenured prof salary at Iowa Law, for example, was $199,800 for the 2012-13 school year. (You have to add the base salary to the “summer stipend.”) Probably more typical is the Nebraska Law median of $161,720. On the other hand, some places pay much more. When you count other creative payment schemes such as “forgivable loans,” Texas Law, for example, has paid “much of its senior faculty between $320k and $410k per year.”
Second, these salaries are funded by — you guessed it — the students. Well, not really the students. They’re just the “student loan conduits” that are used to funnel money from the lenders to the law schools. But still, they’re on the hook for the non-dischargeable debt. Well, not really, because politicians like to float loan forgiveness programs, in which case we taxpayers will ultimately foot the bill. But for now, let’s just say that students are paying for it by taking on an average debt load of $150,000.
So, there you have it: law students pay law profs to teach them; law profs cash their paychecks; ergo, “educating tomorrow’s lawyers” is the responsibility of law profs.
But, according to a recent article by Paul Campos, many new law profs don’t have any experience actually practicing law, and those who do have experience average only 1.4 years in rather rarefied (i.e., non-courtroom) settings. Worse yet, a growing contingent of law profs don’t even have law degrees but instead have a Ph.D. in one of the social sciences. (The Ph.D. in economics is currently the degree du jour among the elite law schools.)
So even though law profs have the responsibility to educate tomorrow’s lawyers, the real question is whether they’re up to the task.