March 25, 2015
Many legal educators believe that shrinking class sizes will help the students they do admit find higher paid work more easily and boost the value of legal education. They reason that if the supply of law graduates shrinks, then the market price law graduates can command should increase.
According to another hypothesis, now popular in the press, a decline in the number of law school applicants reflects the wisdom of the crowds. Students now realize that a law degree simply isn’t worth it, and smaller class sizes reflect a consensus prediction of worse outcomes for law graduates in the future.
Frank McIntyre and I investigated whether changes in law cohort size predict earnings premiums. Historically, they have not. Not for recent graduates, and not for law graduates overall. Nor have changes in cohort size predicted much of anything about the entry-level measures used by the National Association for Law Placement (NALP)—starting salary, initial employment, initial law firm employment.
How can both of these theories be wrong? One possibility is that they are both right, but the two effects offset each other. This seems unlikely however. If neither macroeconomic data nor Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) employment projections can predict law employment conditions at graduation, then how likely is it that recent college graduates with less information and less expertise could make a better prediction?
A more likely possibility is that there are other factors at play that prevent any strong predictions about the relationship between cohort size and outcomes / value added. For example, law schools may become less selective as cohort size shrinks and more selective as it increases. In addition, the resources available to law schools, and therefore the quality of education and training they are able to provide, may also change with cohort size. Since physical facilities expenses are not particularly variable in the ordinary course, most budgetary adjustments at law schools presumably take place with respect to personnel.
Anecdotally, many law schools appear to be managing the recent decline in enrollments by shrinking their faculties and administrations and using remaining personnel to teach classes and perform functions outside of their areas of expertise. Reduced specialization and a lack of economies of scale could affect the quality of service provided to students, offsetting any benefits to students from less competition at graduation.
Previous research in labor economics has found that resources per student are an important predictor of value added by college education, and that the use of adjuncts can lead to worse outcomes for students. (See here for a review)
Much of this is speculative—we do not yet understand why changes in cohort size do not predict law graduate outcomes, only that they do not predict outcomes. Given the historical data, it is probably not advisable to read too much into what the decline in law school enrollment means for students who will graduate over the next few years.
Instead, we should focus on the long-term historical data and the value of a law degree across economic cycles and enrollment levels.
January 26, 2015
December 11, 2014
MOVING TO FRONT(ORIGINALLY POSTED NOVEMBER 24, 2009)
With luck (and luck will help more than usual in what is a very tight year on the academic job market), some of you seeking law teaching jobs will get offers of tenure-track positions in the next couple of months. What then? Here's roughly what I tell my Texas and Chicago advisees they need to find out, and in the interest of having it written down in one place and for the benefit of others too, here it is (not in order of importance):
1. You will want to get (in writing eventually) the basic salary information, obviously, and the nature of summer research support and the criteria for its award (is it automatic for junior faculty? contingent on prior publication [if so, how much?]? awarded competitively (if so, based on what criteria/process)?). You should also find out how salary raises are determined. Are they, for example, lock-step for junior faculty? Fixed by union contract? (Rutgers faculty, for example, are unionized, a huge advantage and why they are among the best-paid faculty, not just in law, in the country.) Is it a 'merit' system, and if so is it decanal discretion or is their a faculty committee that reviews your teaching and work each year?
2. You should ask for a copy of the school's tenure standards and get clear about the expectations and the timeline. Does any work you have already published count towards meeting the tenure standard?
3. What research leave policy, if any, does the school have? A term off after every three full years of teaching is a very good leave policy; some schools have even better policies, most have less generous leave policies. (If there is a norm, it is a term off after every six years.) Many schools have a special leave policy for junior faculty, designed to give them some time off prior to the tenure decision. Find out if the school has such a policy.
4. One of the most important things to be clear about is not just your teaching load, but what courses you will be teaching precisely. You should ask whether the school can guarantee a stable set of courses until after the tenure decision. Preparing new courses is hugely time-consuming, and you also get better at teaching the course the more times you do it. As a tenure-track faculty member, having a stable package of, say, three courses (plus a seminar) will make a huge difference in terms of your ability to conduct research and write. In my experience, most schools will commit in writing to a set of courses for the tenure-track years (and do ask for this in writing), but some schools either won't or can't. In my view, it's a good reason to prefer one school to another that one will give you the courses you want and promise them that they're yours, while another won't--a consideration that overrides lots of other factors, including salary.
5. You should ask for the school's materials on benefits: retirement, life insurance, disability insurance, health insurance, and so on. The biggest, and certainly the most easily discernible differences, are often in the retirement and life insurance categories (sometimes longterm disability insurance too, though unlike life insurance, you're hopefully less likely to utilize this!). What is the university's contribution to retirement? At the low end are schools contributing only 5-6% of your base salary to retirement; the more competitive schools will be in the 8% range, and some will be higher. The big issue on life insurance concerns the amount you are guaranteed irrespective of your health history. 500-600K increasingly seem to be the norm. And, of course, if your health is perfect, this doesn't matter, but I've worked with plenty of candidates where this was a serious issue. (Life insurance companies have no incentives to insure faculty beyond the base amount they have to provide, so even health matters that strike you as trivial may disqualify you from more coverage.) A final benefits issue concerns education/tuition benefits for children. State schools don't offer these; the wealthier private schools do, and if you have kids or expect to have kids, this is worth looking into. At the high end is Chicago, which pays up to 75% of Chicago tuition anywhere for each child. Most of the wealthier private schools will pay 30-50% of the home school tuition for faculty children, wherever they go. Some will offer a larger benefit if your kids go to that school. But there are differences, and they don't track your ordinary expectations about prestige (e.g., last time I looked, the Wash U/St. Louis benefit was much better than the benefit at Penn or Cornell). In any case, get the information. But remember, university-wide benefits are rarely a subject for negotiation--the law school can't give you a higher benefit. Of course, if you have a competitive offer, they may be able to compensate for a significant benefits differential.
6. Finally, once you have an offer, this is a good time to raise issues about the employment prospects for a spouse or partner. Sometimes you may just want help: can the Dean help the significant other make relevant professional contacts in the area? Sometimes you may be hoping for more: e.g., a position in the law school, or in another university department, for the significant other. It is certainly fair to explain the situation and ask. Schools vary in their ability to response effectively to these situations, but many have formal universities policies pertaining at least to spouses who are academics. Raise the issue, and see if the school can help. But realize that the school made you the offer, and they may be able to hire you, and that's that.
The last point relates to a more general issue. If you don't have other offers, you are not in a position to bargain. Period. You may certainly ask about things, raise concerns, etc. But unless you're going to walk away from a tenure-track offer (not a wise thing to do in this market), don't make demands. And even then, a collegial discussion about issues of concern is far better than demands. Even if you have other offers, this advice applies: proceed with caution and respect for the institution. You can report that School Y is offering you a salary 20K higher, and ask whether the Dean of School X, to whom your talking, has any flexibility on this front. But remember: you may end up at School X (because of location, or colleagues in your field, or a better teaching load etc.) and living with that Dean and the other faculty for many years to come. Don't poison the well by displaying a sense of entitlement and self-importance before you even get through the door. Remember: no matter how good you are, you're quite dispensable--in almost every instance, you need the job more than the school needs you. Approach any 'bargaining' or discussion of the package in that spirit. A good school has every reason to want you to succeed and to try to help fashion a package of professional duties and support in that spirit. A good school doesn't need a prima donna.
I invite signed comments from faculty or deans on these issues. A comment without a full name and e-mail address won't appear. Post your comment only once; comments are moderated and may take awhile to appear.
Good luck to all job seekers!
October 26, 2014
LSAC data here. Since the trend appears to be for applicants to apply later in the cycle, the final decline for this year is likely to be less than 8% (in the last few years, the September/October drop was always greater than the final total decline). But a continued decline of any kind means that law schools uncertain about whether to hire new faculty will likely err on the side of not hiring.
October 20, 2014
October 15, 2014
Here's a couple of words of advice I typically share with Chicago candidates, but others might appreciate:
First, although this can be stressful, it should also be fun: lots of law faculty will want to talk about you and your ideas over the next couple of days! You will form intellectual and professional relationships even from interviews that don't lead to callbacks. Enjoy the scholarly dialogue and learn from it.
Second, remember that every hiring committee is a black box: you don't know its internal priorities and squabbles, its biases and agendas. So don't waste time speculating about how you did (candidates, in my experience, are uneven judges of their performance, in both directions), and remember you are bound to bomb an interview, but life will go on. Forget about it.
Third, bear in mind that hiring committees come to the hiring convention with different charges from their home schools. Some will be authorized to offer some callbacks even before the weekend is out; others will have to report back to the rest of the committee at home before doing anything. Don't draw inferences from silence, or from the fact that someone you know got a callback before the weekend was over--even when hiring committees are allowed to make some quick callback offers, it's almost always the case that the full hiring committee back home will make decisions about other callbacks at a later date.
Best of luck to all the job seekers out there!
October 08, 2014
Barry Friedman (NYU) writes with an excellent set of questions and observations:
Here’s a thought worth maybe tooting on your blog. It never ceases to catch my attention how much school hiring is driven by signals from other schools. School X will interview candidate Y and love him/her, or will love him/her on paper, but will never move forward for an interview absent a strong signal from some number of schools they consider competitive. Yet, in this tight market, those signals get fewer – especially at the call back and offer stage. It has the effect I think of killing candidates that otherwise would get interviews or offers. Yet, paradoxically, if schools had confidence in their internal assessments (and it is not like this is one person deciding; it is an entire faculty or faculty committee) this sort of market provides a real opportunity to steal that person you loved without a fight.
So why do schools do this? I think in most cases it is because they lack confidence in their own judgments. But what do readers think? I would prefer signed comments, but you must, in any case, include a valid e-mail address, which will not appear.
September 22, 2014
Schools vary in their procedures for scheduling interviews with candidates at the "meat market," but a typical pattern is this: after an initial cull of candidates in the first AALS distribution, schools begin doing "due diligence," which typically means talking to references and reading work by the candidates. Appointments committees usually only meet once a week. At each meeting, the Committee will take a decision on some of the candidates they've been reviewing, and then contact them to schedule interviews. The same thing will happen the following week and so on, until all the spots are filled. For schools that do a lot of 'due diligence,' the process of scheduling 15 or 20 candidates to see could easily take four weeks. It's important for candidates to realize that this is how many schools proceed, so the fact that an anonymous person on some blog reports they have an interview at school X does not mean you, a hopeful candidate, will not get an interview with school X. School X may have only just begun, and may be scheduling interviews for weeks to come.
August 26, 2014
August 20, 2014
...it will once again include the feature that permits one to search by law school attended (a feature that mysteriously disappeared last year). Judy Areen, the new Executive Director of AALS, tells me they have a first-ever Chief Information Officer that fixed this. Thanks to Judy and the AALS!