Valuing Legal Scholarship

Nobody thinks that Porsche dealers give cars to law professors because they like them.  I mean, sure, who doesn’t like them, but still they have to pay for that Panamera Hybrid.  And they can, because unlike federal judges and criminal defense lawyers, senior professors at law schools averaged an income of $330,000.  And that was in 2006.

Had the flow of information stopped there, it would have been impressive.  Not as impressive as the Dean, who makes an extra hundred grand, but sufficiently impressive in a capitalist society to appreciate that a bunch of guys and gals whose very thoughtful efforts need not have helped a single living person are still pulling down enough dough to live a perfectly adequate middle class existence.

Then comes the kicker, that tiny bit of information that makes one wonder how such smart people manage not to walk into walls on a regular basis. Via the ABA Journal,

Top law professors make big bucks—money that supports law review articles that can cost as much as $100,000 each in salaries and other costs, according to an estimate made at a conference on the future of legal education.

The cost can range from $100,000 for an article by a well-paid tenured professor at a top school to $25,000 for an article by an assistant professor at a lower-paying school, says Hofstra University law professor Richard Neumann. He made his estimate at a Future Ed conference in New York last weekend, the National Law Journal reports.

In the grand scheme of allocating scarce resources, how is it possible that lawprofs believe that a dedication of $100,000 toward the completion of such critical scholarship as Harry Potter and the Half-Crazed Bureaucracy, 104 Mich. L.R. 1523 (2006) is a good use of capital?

Why do you care if some pointy headed lawprof thinks his desire for scholarship (which is connected at the hip to his desire for tenure) is sufficiently important that it’s worth the expenditure of $100,000?

 Neumann argued that expensive research doesn’t necessarily benefit students who end up paying for the articles through their tuition, the story says. He cited research suggesting that 43 percent of law review articles are never cited elsewhere. “At least a third of these things have no value,” he said. “Who is paying for that? Students who will graduate with six figures of debt.”

Yes, it’s that nasty old truism, somebody has to pay the freight.  As few member of the Academy throw bake sales to cover the cost of scholarship, it’s the money being paid by law students that covers the cost.

As noted, 43% of law review articles are never cited elsewhere.  What’s unknown from this post is how many are never even published, because law students who are very important editors before being unemployed Biglaw hopefuls think them unworthy of their prestigious journals.  Indeed, Eric Johnson at  PrawfsBlawg was prompted to write post about how to reject a law review article. 

Understand that we don’t take rejection personally. Thanks to ExpressO, the law review article submission process has become exceedingly depersonalized – and that’s on both sides of the equation. I understand that law reviews are generally getting hundreds of submissions, but law professors are commonly making hundreds of submissions at once, or at the very least scores of them.

Envision a large used car lot, except where there ought to be some beat up Chevy with “like new” written in marker across the windshield, there are reams of virtual paper with upturned corners and a big red


That’s you law school tuition at work.  That’s the debt you will carry when your kids need braces.  That’s why law schools allow young people to sit at desks and be tolerated by scholars whose true wish is to get out of their quickly so they can go back to their computers and continue typing out the next great work of scholarship, in the hope that some other law student carrying similar debt will think well enough of their work, and of their importance in the Academy, to find a spot to publish their intellectual baby.

Members of the Academy believe with all their heart that their scholarship is at the heart of the law school experience, the driving force that makes higher education, well, higher.  They use lofty rhetoric to justify the need to further the understanding of the law, because the 86,532 law review articles already published haven’t sufficiently illuminated matters. 

And they need you, law students, and you, parents of law students, to pay for them to do so. 

Had lawprofs put their generous salaries to good use, by the purchase of a really hot car with a reasonable resale value that would bring them some measure of enjoyment for years to come, plus give students something to admire about them besides their fine taste in attire, it would be completely understandable.  But no, that’s not where the big bucks are going.  The money is being squandered on the affectation of the Academy, the quest for the definitive law review article that will be admired by all the other scholars and cited by courts in every circuit.  This is the goal of the scholar.

This is what law students are paying for.  So what if you can’t produce a tawdry motion after completion of three years of law school, or find the debt crushing the life out of your twisted body as your resumes fill landfills on Staten Island.  Without law review articles, the experience of law school wouldn’t be nearly as rich.  At least for the law professors.

One comment on “Valuing Legal Scholarship

  1. Pingback: Freedom Is Not Free | Simple Justice

Comments are closed.