Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Tamanaha Attacks 'Liberal' Law Faculty

Law faculty were once the less-paid counterparts in the legal world. They found a higher calling to teach and  made the trade off for quality of life over the higher salary and longer hours of private practice.

Well, at least that used to be the case. With the faltering of the legal economy, most law professors, today, make more than many lawyers entering private practice. Brian Tamanaha, a Washington University at St. Louis law professor and author of the book Failing Law Schools, is calling out law faculty for their contribution to the law school crisis.

In a forthcoming essay, Tamanaha notes that “[t]uition increases meant yearly salary raises, research budgets to buy books and laptops, additional time off from teaching to write (or to do whatever we like), traveling to conferences domestically and abroad, rooms in fine hotels, and dining out with old friends. A sweet ride it has been.” All at a time when the average tuition of law schools has exploded. "In 2001, average tuition at private law schools was $22,961, he writes. A decade later, it was $39,184. When fees and living expenses are taken into account, the cost of obtaining a law degree can exceed $200,000."

Tamanaha does make a few good points about the class implications of rising tuition and places the blame, at least partially, on the shoulders of 'progressive' law faculty. "The pricing structure of legal education has profound class implications. High tuition will inhibit people from middle-class and poor families more than it will deter the offspring of the rich with ample resources. Law school scholarship policies … in effect channel students with financial means to higher ranked law schools, reaping better opportunities, while sending students without money to lower law schools [where they qualify for better aid packages]. A growing proportion of elite legal positions will be held by people from wealthy backgrounds as a result. … Yet as law school tuition rose to its current extraordinary heights, progressive law professors did nothing to resist it.”

Maybe it is time for law faculty to take a good, long look at their contribution to this mess.  It's clear that the law school pricing structure needs to change to give law students/graduates a fighting chance. Whether I agree with Tamanaha's assertions or not, he sure knows how to get people talking. 

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