Law Professor Salaries 2006-07

For a couple of years now, the search term “law professor salary” or “law professor salaries” consistently has been one of the top 10 search terms used to find my blogs. It seems to be a topic of significant interest! See my earlier post: What kind of pay can a law professor expect? (March 2005)

Fortunately, we have some new data to obsess over. SALT has published its 2006-07 survey of law professor salaries. This gives a rough sense of the going rates for various law professors, although I must confess that I don’t find the numbers fully credible. For example, Gonzaga’s listing appears to contain an obvious error when the assistant professor median is $119k but the full professor median is only $82k. I’m sure this is reversed. Also, less than half of the schools responded, giving us an incomplete view of the field. Finally, I’m sure that most of the schools’ numbers don’t include summer research stipends, administrative stipends, retirement plan contributions and other financial incentives offered to professors, so I’m guessing the dichotomy between schools is even greater than indicated. (Those additional compensation factors may be included in the ambiguous “fringe benefits” category–I wasn’t sure what that column represented). Brian Leiter gives some good guidance for interpreting law professor salary data generally.

For some more reliable data, see Virgina’s law professor salaries, the SFGate report on UC law professor salaries and Paul Caron’s data comparing salaries at the UC schools and Virginia. As you can see, at the high end, some professors are making some eye-popping numbers.

In any case, taking the SALT data as given, note the big spread for assistant professors, ranging from a median of $70,000 at NC Central to a median of $143,000 at Michigan–a spread of more than 2X. The spread appears even larger at the full professor level. Ignoring the Gonzaga outlier, the median range is from $83,000 at DC Law School (a brutally low number) to $241,000 at Harvard–almost 3X!

The data also indicates the relatively slow progression of law professor salaries. At most schools, the full professor median is less than 50% more than assistant professor median, showing that salary increases are very low from year-to-year. (Harvard is one of the rare exceptions to this, where the ratio is about 2X). I’ve complained before that law professor salaries often grow at a rate lower than inflation, and I think this data provides some support for that. On the other hand, looking at my post from 2005, I see some positive growth in the numbers–at some schools in 2004, the median range for assistant professors used to dip below $60,000.

Finally, this data reinforces how to think about the financial implications of becoming a law professor. This is not a career path for those who want to get fabulously rich, and many of us make less than our students who take first year associate jobs at the big NY firms (now paying $160,000). However, most of us also make enough money to live a comfortable if conservative lifestyle. And we as law professors are generally better off than our academic peers.

HT: Andrew Perlman at Legal Ethics Forum