Shifting Law School Faculty Demographics

By Robert Kuehn, Washington University School of Law

In 1980, one-third of law students and only 14% of all law teachers were female, and a mere 9% of students and 4% of faculty were identified as non-white. Today, law faculties are more diverse by gender and race/ethnicity. Yet, the demographics of faculty subgroups diverge widely and, importantly, faculty remain less diverse than their students.  

Focusing principally on law clinic and field placement teachers (full time, excluding fellows), over two-thirds identified as female (cis or trans) in the latest 2019-20 Center for the Study of Applied Legal Education (CSALE) survey. The graph below reflects a trend of increasingly female clinical faculty beginning in the late 1980s/early 1990s and continuing through all five tri-annual CSALE surveys:[1]


Newer clinical teachers are even more predominantly female ─ 73% of those teaching three years or less are female. Within clinical teaching areas, those who primarily teach field placement courses are more predominantly female than those who primarily teach in a law clinic — 82% of field placement teachers are female compared to 65% of clinic teachers.

By comparison, 47% of all full-time law teachers were identified as female in 2020 law school ABA annual reports, an increase from 40% in 2011, 32.5% in 2000, and 24% in 1990. However, ABA results include the overwhelmingly female clinical and legal research and writing faculties. If clinical (67% female) and legal writing (70% female) faculty are removed from the 2020 ABA totals, women constitute fewer than 38% of full-time non-clinical/non-legal writing faculty, as illustrated below.[2] In contrast, 54% of J.D. students in 2020-21 were female, compared to 47% in 2010, 48% in 2000, 43% in 1990, and 34% in 1980.

Faculty have increased in racial and ethnic diversity since 1980. The percentages of full-time clinical teachers by race/ethnicity are shown in the table below. Surveys indicate steady, but slow, growth in the percentage of full-time non-white clinical teachers (excluding fellows) over the last four decades.

Clinical Faculty Race/EthnicitySALT 1980[3]SALT 1986AALS 1998[4]CSALE 2007CSALE 2010CSALE 2013CSALE 2016CSALE 2019
White95%92%87%87%86%83%80%78%
Non-White5%8%13%12%13%15%17%18%
Other/2 or More Races<1%1%1%3%3%3%

Among newer clinical teachers of three years or less, the percentage of white teachers was slightly lower at 76%. Within clinical teaching, 77% of primarily law clinic instructors and 83% of primarily field placement teachers are white.

In the 2020 annual reports, 21% of full-time law faculty were identified by their schools as “minority,” an increase from approximately 17% in 2011, 14% in 2000, and 10% in 1990. The most recent ALWD/LWR survey identified 13% of legal research and writing faculty as non-white, multiracial or other, compared to 12% reported non-Caucasian in its 2010 survey.  

Similar to gender, law school faculty are less racially/ethnically diverse than their students: 34% of students were identified in 2020 annual reports as minority, an increase from 24% in 2010, 21% in 2000, 14% in 1990, and 9% in 1980.

 Available surveys and reports do not include recent information on the age of law faculty. There has been no change, however, over the five CSALE surveys since 2007 in the median number of years of prior practice by those teaching full time in a law clinic or field placement course, remaining approximately eight years. Excluding those hired into temporary fellow positions, similarly across CSALE surveys the median number of years of prior practice experience among newer faculty teaching three years or less in a law clinic or field placement course has been eight years.

In sum, while the diversity of law school faculty has been increasing over the past four decades, it still lags behind the gender and racial/ethnic diversity among students. And even though schools are hiring increasingly more female faculty, women continue to be disproportionately hired into traditionally lower status/lower paying clinical and legal writing positions.[5] There may be no easy fix to these issues, but the first step towards addressing them is to be aware of the numbers.


[1] “SALT” percentages are from Richard H. Chused, Hiring and Retention of Minorities and Women on American Law School Faculties, 137 U. Pa. L. Rev. 537, 556-57 (1988) (also reporting 14% of all law teachers as female and 5% as non-white in 1980). “Angel” percentages are from Marina Angel, The Glass Ceiling for Women in Legal Education: Contract Positions and the Death of Tenure, 50 J. Legal Educ. 1, 4 (2000).

[2] The 2020 ABA annual reports identified 4,399 female and 4,986 male full-time faculty (5 reported as “other”). Removing 1,157 female clinical teachers (67% of the 1,727 full-time clinical faculty reported by the 95% of schools that participated in the CSALE survey) and 649 female legal research and writing teachers (70% of the 927 full-time LRW faculty at the 169 of 203 ABA schools that participated in the 2019-20 ALWD/LWI Legal Writing Survey) results in 2,593 full-time female non-clinical/non-legal writing faculty. Further removing 848 male faculty identified in the CSALE and ALWD/LWI surveys results in 38.5% full-time non-clinical/non-legal writing female faculty. If the missing 5% of schools in the CSALE survey and 17% in the ALWD/LWI survey are accounted for, 37% of 2020 full-time non-clinical/non-legal writing faculty were female.  

[3] The 1980 and 1986 SALT surveys excluded faculty from minority-operated schools and, therefore, likely underrepresented non-white faculty.

[4] “AALS” percentages are from an AALS Clinical Section database reported in Jon C. Dubin, Faculty Diversity as a Clinical Legal Education Imperative, 51 Hastings L.J. 445, 448-49 (2000). [1] Robert R. Kuehn, The Disparate Treatment of Clinical Law Faculty (2021), https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3760756.

[5] Robert R. Kuehn, The Disparate Treatment of Clinical Law Faculty (2021), https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3760756.

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.

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