The Disparate Treatment of Clinical Law Faculty

By: Robert Kuehn, Washington University School of Law

In her recent presidential message, Abolish the Academic Caste System, the president of the American Association of Law Schools (AALS) called on law schools to address the caste system within law faculties by providing parity in security of positon and salary to non-tenure/tenure track faculty, such as the overwhelming majority of law clinic and externship instructors.[i] Data from the just completed Center for the Study of Applied Legal Education (CSALE) 2019-20 Survey of Applied Legal Education of  95% of law schools and 1,300 law clinic and externship instructors show widespread disparate treatment of clinical instructors (i.e., law clinic and externship instructors) and a lack of progress in providing parity between those who teach in law clinics and externships and those teaching doctrinal courses.[ii]

In 1998, 46% of clinical teachers were in tenure or tenure-track positions.[iii] Yet as the chart below indicates, the percentage of clinical faculty in tenure/tenure track positions, even when including lesser status clinical/programmatic tenure positions, has declined to just 29%, and decreased by more than 30% over just the last 12 years (temporary appointment clinical fellows excluded from all tables).


  Source: CSALE 2019-20 Survey of Applied Legal Education

Though there have been notable exceptions at a few schools, law clinic and externship hiring has disproportionately been for contract positions since the 2010 downturn in law school applications and accompanying financial challenges.

This increasing pattern of hiring non-tenure track clinical faculty can be seen below when comparing employment status to years of clinical teaching. Forty-six percent of clinical faculty teaching more than 12 years are in traditional or clinical/programmatic tenure or tenure-track positions. In contrast, only 23% of those hired within the last four-six years and just 16% of those hired in the last three years are in tenure/tenure-track positions. Although some clinical faculty hired into non-tenure-track positions may be permitted to move later into tenure-track positions, those limited instances cannot account for the increasingly lower status among more recently hired clinical instructors.


Source: CSALE 2019-20 Survey of Applied Legal Education

Non-tenure status has consequences for clinical faculty, beyond the limited participation in faculty governance and lower prestige that generally come with appointments other than traditional tenure. The table below compares the salaries the over 70% of law clinic and externship faculty not tenured/tenure track with the salaries reported by doctrinal faculty at the same schools. These clinical faculty are paid, on average, $30,000 per year less than their doctrinal colleagues at similar points in their careers. Even when salaries of clinical faculty with traditional or clinical tenure/tenure track are included in the calculations, clinical faculty on average make over $20,000 less than their doctrinal colleagues.

Sources: CSALE 2019-20 Survey of Applied Legal Education; 2018-19 SALT Salary Survey

The disparate treatment of clinical faculty in tenure appointments is most pronounced at schools ranked higher in the U.S. News annual law school rankings. Among schools with at least half of their clinical faculty in tenure/tenure-track positions, only one school ranked in the top 25 primarily appoints clinical faculty to traditional tenure-track positions, yet over 36% of the 50 lowest ranked schools provide this status to their clinical faculty.

Source: CSALE 2019-20 Survey of Applied Legal Education

Some law school clinical education programs even treat types of clinical instructors differently, providing less security of position and salary to those who teach in externships. CSALE survey data show that externship instructors are less likely to have traditional or clinical tenure/tenure track when compared to their law clinic peers (25% vs. 38%) and are almost 15 times more likely to be primarily in an administrative position with only occasional teaching responsibilities and sometimes little training in externship pedagogy.

Source: CSALE 2019-20 Survey of Applied Legal Education

Salaries of externship instructors also are considerably lower, with median annual salaries, on average, $20,000 less per year than those of law clinic instructors:

Source: CSALE 2019-20 Survey of Applied Legal Education

The latest CSALE survey shows that in spite of occasional stories about a school adopting tenure for its clinical faculty, the AALS president is right ─ the academy remains highly caste-like in its disparate treatment of clinical faculty, especially at higher ranked schools and even within clinical education programs at some schools. Indeed, if anything, progress toward parity appears to be slipping as an increasing percentage of new teaching positions in law clinics and externships are without the security of position and salary of doctrinal faculty.

The AALS has moved lately towards an Executive Committee comprised entirely of deans and former deans. If the members of the Executive Committee support their president’s call to end the caste system, they could act to do so at their own schools and call upon their fellow deans across the country to do the same.


[i] Darby Dickerson, Abolish the Academic Caste System, AALS News (Fall 2020), at https://www.aals.org/about/publications/newsletters/aals-news-fall-2020/presidents-message-abolish-the-academic-caste-system/.

[ii] Center for the Study of Applied Legal Education (CSALE), 2019-20 Survey of Applied Legal Education (2020), at https://www.csale.org/#results.

[iii] Richard K. Neumann Jr., Women in Legal Education: What the Statistics Show, 50 J. Legal Educ. 313, 328 (2000).

[iv] 2018-19 SALT Salary Survey, SALT EQUALIZER (Nov. 2019), at https://www.saltlaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/SALT-salary-survey-2019-final-draft.pdf.

Using What We’ve Learned About the Effect of Racism and Economic Disparities on Law Students During the Pandemic

Jennifer S. Bard, Visiting Professor of Law, Levin College of Law

In my last two blog posts, I wrote about how law school’s structure unfairly benefits students who come in knowing how the game is played and those with the resources to play it under the best possible conditions.  I’ve also linked legal education to the systemic bias of the legal profession.

Our current situation, a still spreading deadly pandemic that has so far claimed over 250,000 lives in the U.S., has intensified those inequalities for everyone.  The evidence is already coming in of how the Pandemic is harming first-generation students.  

But it has also provided a clearer window into what was always apparent to student services professionals but not so much to faculty–how much harder the law school experience is for students who come to it with fewer resources of every kind.   

For example, online learning is only as good as the environment in which students learn and we are already seeing effects on students with the least resources. In normal times, all of our students have near 24/7 access to quiet, safe, comfortable places to study, engage in co-curricular activities, meet with faculty, and even take exams. Places without pets, younger siblings, or household chores.  They have lightning fast internet, large monitors, bulk printers, and IT support for when things go wrong.

But of course a lot of what’s going isn’t visible in a 50 minute Zoom session.  On campus, students have access to food either directly, by attending events, or can sometimes be signed up for university meal plans.  But in a world where by some estimates, pre-pandemic as many as half of all U.S. college students experience food insecurity hunger is an increasing peril as is homelessness.   The end of the moratorium on evictions means that as many as 8 million people will lose their homes over the next four months. 

We  also know that during the pandemic college students are facing worse mental health and that for many of our students home is not a safe place as they face abuse from parents and domestic partners. Research is emerging that like other segments of the population, students are drinking more during the Pandemic and are likely part of the increase in overdose deaths.

And then there’s the virus itself. As we all know (and have known for a long time), it very much does infect young adults–and it can hit them hard.   All the factors that contribute to racial bias in health care are magnified by those that put Black, Indigenous, Latino communities at greater risk of infection and, once infected, at greater risk of dying.  In addition, the harm caused by the uncertainty, fear, and loss triggered by living in pandemic conditions.  These are only magnified by our law students who have faced trauma as bar examiners  are caught flat footed and many of the pathways to employment, such as in-person summer placements, were disrupted.

Layered on top of economic disparities issues of systemic racism, sexism, and homophobia, these economic disparities mean that students come into law school with very  different levels of debt. Which itself is affected by racial disparities.   These factors are magnified in law students who come to us after four years of borrowing money for college. (The best information on law school debt is at Accesslex).

The Pandemic will end, and law students will once again have full access to law school facilities. But this glimpse into the real differences in backgrounds and resources should be a starting place for us to look at the law school experience, the gateway to the legal profession.

If any good can come from the experience of being so much closer to our students’ day to day lives, it should be an increased urgency to think about how we can make law school more inclusive. 

In my next post, I will be more specific starting with a proposal reduce the cost of a law degree by moving a year of course work to the undergraduate level.  Doing that would reduce the barriers to entry in the legal profession that saddle lawyers with debt and deprive most individuals in need of legal help from those best trained to assist them. 

Best Practices in 2020

Sean M. Scott, President and Dean – California Western School of Law

As a dean, I have spent a tremendous amount of time over the past six months contemplating best practices as regards to students and how to manage the challenges wrought by COVID 19.  Should we move to pass/fail grading?  How can we incorporate best practices for online learning and teaching into our classrooms?  What are best practices as to the administration of exams? We have spent less time as a community discussing the impact of the virus on faculty, particularly untenured faculty.  The virus has intensified the existing tension between the demands of career and the demands of family.  For those faculty with school aged children, or elderly relatives, those competing demands are likely to negatively impact the faculty member’s ability to diligently pursue their research and scholarship.  What should the legal academy’s response be to those whose research and writing have been derailed because they are home schooling, or caring for elderly relatives whose isolation and physical vulnerabilities create increased demands on caregivers?  The faculty most likely to be facing this dilemma are women, as women regardless of sexual orientation, remain primarily responsible for childcare and elder care. 

Anecdotally, my conversations with my dean colleagues reveal that they are addressing these issues on a case by case basis.  Some faculty on the tenure track are approaching their deans seeking an extension of the tenure clock.  Other faculty are reluctant to seek such an extension, fearful that the request will be detrimental to their bids for tenure.  COVID has exacerbated this long-simmering tension between work and family demands.  What should a best practice be under these circumstances?  My recommendation is that we take the burden off of individual faculty members to make specific requests from their deans, and move towards a policy of granting a blanket one-year extension of the tenure clock for all pre-tenure faculty.  Faculty could opt out of the extension, rather than having to seek an individual accommodation.   As a best practice, it would reflect a profession wide recognition of the sacrifices that faculty who are caregivers must make, and takes a stand that they should not be penalized for meeting the immediate needs of family, the byproduct of which may be the delayed ability to focus on their research and writing. 

Dean Darby Dickerson — on Equity, Security, and Status

Many of us were inspired to hear AALS President Darby Dickerson, Dean, UIC John Marshall Law School speak about “caste”, “candor”, and “change” during her address at the January 2020 Annual Meeting.

In this new article, first posted in the AALS Newsletter, she follows up with some worrisome data from the 2019-2020 CSALE study, works through potential harms to schools and students, and issues a call to action to address issues of pay equity, security, and status.

We value the conversations and discussions that often happen live and informally at in-person conferences as we share our progress (or lack thereof). So, dear readers, please let us know in the comments about any promising practices or initiatives at your schools. How are leaders addressing pay equity, security, and status in an era of hiring freezes and financial insecurity? What changes are you working toward?

Warmly,

Davida and Melanie

Let’s Take this Unprecedented period of Rapid Change to Consider What Can We Learn from the Delay of Fall On-Campus Interviewing: Further Thoughts on Equity and Inclusion

 

Jennifer S. Bard, Visiting Professor, University of Florida, Levin College of Law

In Tuesday’s post I suggested that we take the opportunity of dramatic, unexpected, and unwanted change delivered to legal education by the arrival of the Covid-19 virus and the need to rapidly revise decades, if not centuries, of conventions regarding grading and ranking that are tailored to the needs of a majority culture representative of the Harvard Law School Class of 1880 for whom it was created.

I also suggested that these historic grading conventions encouraged the persistent lack of diversity in our profession.

Today, I look at the opportunity that the likely delay of Fall (late summer) On-Campus Recruiting provides to evaluate one of the justifications for these grading practices which is the need to support our students’ ability to compete for the most high paying post-graduate jobs: employment at a “Big Law” firm (usually defined as one of about 200 firms employing more than 200 lawyers).  I take as a starting point the foundational point of this post: we don’t have the information we need to make good decisions about the consequences of the curricular conventions common to almost every U.S. law school.

We do know, however, that despite efforts (at varying levels of success) among law schools  to diversify their student bodies, this has had little effect on the diversification of the legal profession.  There is, moreover,  persistent evidence,  that discrimination plays a role in the interviewing practices of Big Law Firms and impacts the careers of those who are hired.  This could be intensified by the Covid-19 related slowdown of the economy.

What if our current  student grading and ranking practices are both 1) not in the best interests of the education of most of our students and 2) are playing an unwitting role in the lack of diversity in the legal profession by over-emphasizing early success?

The  first hint that a nearly universally adopted grading system based on sorting students for the benefit of Big Law firms may not be in anyone’s best interests is the absolute lack of uniformity in the role that Big Law plays in the employment of law students.  Consider, for a moment,  what we would think of a medical treatment that was administered to all patients but developed to help only 20% of patients or a restaurant that served food that would be appealing to only 20% of its customers–not much probably.  Yet despite serious efforts by many smart and caring people, the basic structure of legal education is exactly that.  81% of the roughly 190 (ties play a role in the count) law schools ranked by the otherwise defunct magazine, U.S. News & World Reports, send less than 20% of their graduates to Big Law firms. Only 9 law schools (all within the top 15) had 70% or more of their graduates employed at graduation with big law firms. Stick with this list of numbers, because it may surprise you.

The next 5 law schools had 60% of its students working in Big Law, 7 had 40%, 7 had 30%,  9 had 20%, 2 had 19 %, 4 had 18%, 6 had 17%, 6 had 16%, 5 had 15%, 2 had 14%, 4 had 13%, 2 had 12%, 11 had 11%. 10  had 10% and the rest-80 more law schools,-had less than 10% of their students employed by a Big Law firm at graduation.  Of that 80, thirty had less than 5% and 14 had zero.  Yet despite the vast differences in the likelihood that any student at any class rank will be hired by a Big Law Firm, almost every one of these schools has some form of grading curve and comparative ranking.

What would happen if most law schools took a step back-and just stopped?  What if they developed a grading system best suited to their educational goals of having the most students reach the highest possible level of legal competency?

The cynical answer is that Big Law would simply by-pass them in favor of the few that continued ranking.  But not so fast.  While there’s no basis to say that Big Law is unhappy with the pool they get from this practice, they certainly are aware that their hiring practices are very inefficient, and are giving increasing thought to how they might do better. Perhaps the pyramidal business model of today’s Big Law firm is an  historic accommodation to their hiring methods,  not a desirable outcome.  Also, current hiring methods are not resulting in the kind of diversity that their clients are asking them to achieve.  Indeed, many law firms, notably Holland & Knight, are working hard to increase diversity.

They also probably know how atypical their reliance on grades is among comparable organizations hiring graduate students. Kellogg Business School Professor and Sociologist Lauren Rivera’s book Pedigree recounts her research based on “embedding” herself in the hiring practices of law firms, banks, and consulting firms.  What she finds is not surprising—all three industries are more interested in the prestige of the graduate school than in the actual ability of any individual student.  But only law firms fail to incorporate any kind of competency based evaluation in the admissions process.   At least in part, this is because prestigious business school have long refused to even release grades to employers.  Thus, employers have had to develop an interview process that involves analyzing case studies, behavior based interviewing, and answering technical questions. We see similar retreats from grade based hiring in medical residency programs.

Would the tests that law firms themselves develop be any more equitable than the ones that, cumulatively, make up a GPA?  Maybe not.  But they could be more targeted toward what students learned in law school, rather than what they brought in with them.

So, given this opportunity for a pause in the hiring cycle and a freeze, for many schools, in the first year ranking process we could partner with our university collogues who conduct research in higher education, such as that on the curricular barriers to the success of underrepresented populations in STEM education, to see if what we are doing achieves the results we want.  And if not, to start the process of working with the legal profession to achieve something we both want: a diverse and equitably recruited cohort of lawyers who provide the highest possible quality of representation for their clients.

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