Sunday, February 3, 2008

The Cost of Scholarship to Non-Elite Law Schools

I've been resisting the temptation to get into the discussion lighting up the legal academic blogs these days: responses to Brian Tamanaha's post on why non-elite schools (I'm guessing that's what US News calls the third and fourth tier, though perhaps that includes some schools in US News' top 100) should avoid interdisciplinary studies. Mary's been talking about the value of interdisciplinary work for a long time. There's a ton to be said here and I hope to talk about applied legal history at some point, though that'll have to wait for another visit since my time is drawing to a close. But right now I don't want to get wrapped into a debate over the value of interdisciplinary work.

Tamanaha's debate has crystalized, it seems to me, into a discussion of the cost of faculty who write scholarship, be it traditional or interdisciplinary. Tamanaha's moved in the direction of discussion of costs of faculty another recent post. It's important to ask what causes the high cost of legal education. It's easy to blame the faculty for them. I want to address a piece of the cost, which I have not yet seen anyone else mention.

One way to run a law school is to do away with the writing component of the job and ask faculty to teach more. And that might make a lot of sense for third and fourth tier law schools. (And I suspect that some third and fourth tier schools already have such a model--at least I suspect that some of those schools' faculty routinely teach more than four courses a year, which is the standard load in law schools these days.) You might think of this as the community college model of running a law school--a faculty of talented, smart, dedicated, excellent teachers.

How much would eliminating writing as a component of the law school faculty duties save our students? Well, there are a bunch of ways of thinking through this. One way is to ask how much we pay faculty and how much we would save if we eliminated those obligations.

So, take a hypothetical fourth tier law school with 21 faculty. Each faculty members costs $110,000 per year and teach 12 hours a year. Then increase their teaching load to 18 hours a year (a three-three load.) That increase by 50% in the teaching load would allow us to reduce the faculty to 14, for a savings of $770,000 per year. If all of that savings were passed on to student body of 630, that's a savings of $1222 per student. That is perhaps not the earth-shaking transformation in legal education (or the cost of it) that we might hope for. Yet, this might very well be something some schools want to do and it's a choice some students might opt for as well.

There's a lot that can and ought to be said for faculty scholarship; this is just a rough attempt to get a handle on the immediate financial costs to the law school.

Perhaps there is more of it already going on than I'm familiar with--but for the moment let's assume that increases in teaching loads beyond 12 hours/year are rare even at fourth tier schools. Why we're not seeing more of this? It would seem to me that there are sufficient opportunities for fourth tier schools to innovate in this direction, if there is a need for this and if it makes sense. In short, I'm wondering, if dropping scholarship is such a great idea, why hasn't it happened yet? I wouldn't imagine that the ABA's accreditation standards (particularly 402) would prevent this change.


Troy said...

The actual savings to the student would be $1,222 times three years plus interest over what are increasingly 20 and 30 year student loan repayment schedules. Faculty bear some responsibility for cost in my mind (not as much as the bars). Law school resembles a racket at times. Students borrowing or spending upwards of $100,000 for a career where median salaries don't really justify that expense (given housing markets in high salary cities, cost of living in general plus undergrad loans, etc.)

A lot of the traditional legal research is of dubious usage (which is not the same as "interesting") and perhaps quality -- especially if it's done on the backs of students.

I love the interdisciplinary approach though and think it provides better and more useful research -- and helps law students prepare for careers outside of the law (and/or makes them better lawyers).

Alfred Brophy said...

Yes; thank you. You're absolutely right and I'm sorry that wasn't clearer in my post: increasing the teaching load by 50% would result in a savings of $1222 per year per student (assuming the savings was passed on to the students). This might very well be something some schools want to do and it's a choice some students might opt for as well.

I agree that everyone in legal education needs to think through ways to improve our product and to save money.