Sunday, April 2, 2017
New York Times Reporter Elizabeth Olson Claims That Professors Earning Less than First Year Associates are Paid like Law Firm Partners (Michael Simkovic)
New York Times reporter Elizabeth Olson recently complained that the Dean of the University of Cincinnati College of Law was suspended after attempting to slash faculty compensation (“Cincinnati Law Dean Is Put on Leave After Proposing Ways to Cut Budget”). According to Olson, “law schools like Cincinnati [pay hefty] six-figure professor salaries that are meant to match partner-level wages.”
Olson goes on to cite the compensation of the current and former Dean of the law school. This makes about as much sense as citing newspaper executive compensation in a discussion about reducing pay for beat reporters.
Data from 2015—the latest readily publicly available—shows that law professors at Cincinnati earned total compensation averaging $133,000. A few professors earned less than six figures. Only one faculty member—a former dean and one of the most senior members of the faculty—earned more than $180,000. Including only Full Professors—the most senior, accomplished faculty members who have obtained tenure and typically have between seven and forty years of work experience—brings average total compensation to $154,000 per year.
As Olson herself reported less than a year ago, first year associates at large law firms earn base salaries of $180,000 per year, not counting substantial bonuses and excellent benefits. With a few years of experience, elite law firm associates’ total compensation including bonus can exceed $300,000. Law firm partners at the largest 200 firms can earn hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars per year according to the American Lawyer, and often receive large pensions after retirement.
Most lawyers have less lucrative practices than those at big firms, but lawyers still typically earn more than law professors. Average total personal income for “lawyers, magistrate judges, and judicial workers” who worked at least 30 hours per week was $164,000 according to the 2015 American Community Survey (which reports salary for 2014). Indeed, an apples-to-apples comparison using BLS data for lawyers (which excludes law firm partners and solos) and law professors shows that lawyers earn more that law professors at every point in the earnings distribution. Law firm partners, even at relatively small firms, typically earn more than the average lawyer or law professor.
Most law professors graduated from elite law schools with strong marks and either left big law firms or relinquished options to join them. The reality is that professors make financial sacrifices to advance knowledge and serve the public interest through scholarship, teaching and service. In return for years of dedicated service, if they are awarded tenure, faculty are promised security of compensation and position.
New York Times reporter Elizabeth Olson apparently believes that even financially stable Universities should renege on those promises. Reporters are entitled to their own opinions, however mean-spirited. But reporters should at least check their facts.
Contrary to Ms. Olson’s claims of shrinking demand for legal services, recent government data shows the number of employed lawyers increasing and compensation stable or gently increasing. These are signs of growth. The last time the number of employed lawyers fell compared to the previous year was 2008 or 2009—approximately 8 years ago.