How Has the Recession Affected Legal Writing Programs (‘ Funding)

Unless you’re a legal writing instructor, or spend a lot of time searching the internet for professors embarrassing themselves, you’ve probably never heard of the Legal Writing Institute.  The LWI has almost 2000 members, with representatives from each of the ABA’s 184 accredited schools.

Every year the LWI conducts a survey of legal writing programs, collecting exciting information such as how many years the director of the program has been at that school, and how many teaching assistants a professor is allowed to have.  But, each survey also contains a “Hot Topic” section.  In 2009, as you might expect, the hot topic was the recession.

Given the focus on the economy this year, it seemed appropriate to ask how Legal Writing programs have been affected by the economic downturn.
The good news is that nearly half of all programs reported that they had not been affected by the economic downturn, either in any way at all (32%) or in any way that proceeded beyond discussion of possible negative effects (15%). And another 18% reported only voluntary reductions in expenses. Similarly, approximately half of all programs reported no change in their professinoal development funds, again either at all (36%) or beyond discussion of possible reductions (13%), and 18% reported only voluntary reductions. However, 13% reported that it was harder to get approval to use the funds, 11% reported decreased travel funds, and 5% reported reduced or eliminated summer research grants. Salaries in LRW programs, on the other hand, were reported to have been frozen in 50% of responding programs. Still programs in which salaries (including COLA and merit increases) were unaffected (27%) outnumbered 5 to 1 the programs in which salaries were reported to have been reduced (5%).
Further good news is that the majority of the programs that responded indicated that there had been no changes to the permanent structure of the program, no changes to past practices for hiring permanent faculty, and no significant reduction in the number of legal writing classes.

There were a total of 9 questions in the Hot Topic section.  They pretty much just dealt with the salaries, hiring, and funding of legal writing programs.  Here is one question that you might think would be a hot topic during the recession:

Fewer graduates are able to find legal jobs upon graduation, and many who are employed will find there is not as much work to be done as there normally would be.  Law schools have traditionally relied on the private market to provide substantive education and skills training.  With fewer opportunities to gain on-the-job training, has your legal writing program altered its curriculum to help bridge this gap in education?

Of course, that issue appears nowhere in the survey.  The LWI has more important issues to concern itself with, such as paid sabbaticals. To be fair, the LWI’s mission is to make a cushy job even cushier.  It’s there to help the teachers.  And, now, I’m not saying the LWI ought to become an advocate for their students, or that it should be at all concerned with the value their classes offer to students.  But, if you happen to feel that way, the president of the LWI is Ruth Anne Robbins, and you can find her contact information here.

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11 Responses to “How Has the Recession Affected Legal Writing Programs (‘ Funding)”

  1. Gary Says:

    Cushy jobs? Hardly. Legal writing professors are at the very bottom of the law school totem pole in terms of pay, status, perks and cushy workloads. They make less than even their clinical counterparts and are often not treated by law schools as actual professors (e.g., not given a vote on school committees, not eligible for tenure, denied other privileges, etc.)

    Also, they are already student advoctes. They (along with the clinical instructors) are the professors that have the most (and sometimes the only) direct, personal contact with the students. They give the individualized feedback on writing. They meet with the students about resumes and writing samples. (Do you think many torts professors do that?) Because of all this contact, they write a lot of the recommendation letters. And all of the ones I know regularly make calls to judges and attorneys they know pushing them to hire their students. So I don’t think it’s fair to lump them in with your impression of the typical law professor — they really are a different breed.

    Incidentally, LWI’s membership is not limited to legal writing professors. It is open to judges, practitioners and all others interested in legal writing. And it’s free. Maybe you’d like to join and see these differences firsthand?

  2. bl1y Says:

    Gary,

    Yes, cushy. Now, it might not seem to if you compare them to full professors, but let’s try comparing them to the typical law school graduate.

    Starting with salary, University of Miami is offering $70-79k, Widener is offering $60-69k, and Western State is offering $70-79. Miami requires 2 years legal practice experience, Widener doesn’t specify minimum experience, and Western State “prefers” 2 years practice and 1 year teaching. Assuming these positions are fairly typical, you’re looking at a person with 2-3 years of experience earning about $71,000.

    In 2008 the median starting salary for an attorney was $62k, and in 2006 the median starting pay was $52k. Three years in, your typical working attorney won’t be earning as much as a legal writing instructor, especially when you consider that many law professors have side jobs either with law firms or as consultants, mediators, etc.

    Next let’s compare hours worked. At NYU our lawyering professors taught the equivalent of one and half classes (lawyering was 4.5 credit hours per semester). Now, of course the job has a lot of work to be done out of class, you have to work on the curriculum, hold office hours, grade papers, etc. If you have an in-class to out-of-class ratio of 1:4, you’re working 22.5 hours a week.

    Let’s see how much a typical attorney works… Most firms set their target billables at 2000 hours, and there’s a lot of non-billable work to be done as well. If you have a ratio of billable to non-billable of 4:1 (which is pretty decent), you’ll be working 50 hours a week, more than twice a legal writing instructor, but probably earning a few thousand dollars less.

    But wait, it’s worse. Being an attorney is a year-round job. Law professors work two 16 week semesters. Assuming a lawyer gets 4 weeks of vacation, they’re working 48 weeks, which I’m pretty sure is a lot longer than 32 weeks. In fact, while an attorney might be expected to work 2500 hours in a year, a legal writing professor is probably putting in about 720.

    You sure you still don’t think it’s a cushy job? You could double that estimate and it’d still be a pretty sweet gig. Why do you think so many lawyers leave the profession to take these jobs?

    You don’t get to vote on school committees? No shit. In what industry are the most junior people part of the management?

    No tenure? Try that complaint with the 20,000 attorneys who were laid off. Unless you make partner, attorneys are at-will employees and can be fired at the drop of a hat, and even partners can be squeezed out easier than a tenured professor. At least a legal writing instructor knows the job won’t end before May.

  3. Magda Says:

    I would like one of these jobs, too. I am not the best legal writer, but for this money, I can work at it.

    Where can I apply for these jobs?

  4. bl1y Says:

    http://www.lwionline.org/employment_listings.html

  5. Magda Says:

    Your a dear guy, BL1y. You may yet get a BJ.

  6. Ken Chestek Says:

    bl1y–

    I practiced law for 21 years before entering academia as a legal writing professor. Trust me, your estimates of the hours legal writing professors put in is laughably short.

    I don’t work less hours as a legal writing professor than I did in practice; I work MORE hours, for less pay (a LOT less pay). I don’t get summers off; I either teach a summer course or I do research and writing in order to advance my profession.

    I know it is fun to spout off and demonize groups of people, but please base your comments on actual facts and not your imagination of what our job must be like. Legal writing professors are the hardest working members of the legal academy, and are among the students’ best friends.

  7. bl1y Says:

    As a legal writing professor, you should be aware that conclusory statements generally carry very little weight. Perhaps a breakdown of your various weekly tasks and how many hours they took would help.

    I have a hard time thinking my own lawyering professor spent more than 20 hours a week at the job. She had two teaching assistants to handle things like students who needed help with research, and our BlueBook exercises were evaluated by a computer. She provided only basic feedback on written assignments, was given model answers for larger projects by her department, and neither evaluated or was even present for the students’ mock oral argument at the end of the semester.

    See how “nuh-uh, we work hard!” isn’t exactly compelling in the face of evidence to the contrary?

  8. Olga Says:

    It sounds like BL1y has been dissed.

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