Law Teaching Careers–PART II

This is the second of a five part series of posts about law teaching careers. See Part I. This series was instigated by an email interview I had on the subject. Today, I deal with the second of the reporter’s five questions.

2) What kind of pay can a law professor expect, relative to private practice? (And versus other professors in other disciplines).

Law professor pay varies by school and type of position. For an entry-level tenure track position, the range between the highest-paying school and the lowest-paying school may be close to 100% (i.e., the top-paying schools will pay approximately 2X the lowest paying schools). Pay also varies by geography. Having said that, I think that all schools pay less for entry-level than the top law firms pay their first year associates. And, in many cases, new full-time tenure-track law professors have substantial experience before entering the teaching market. For example, in my case, I had 8 years’ experience as a practicing attorney before taking a full-time job. My starting law professor salary in 2002 was about 40% of my 2000 salary as a 7th year associate at a law firm.

Also, pay raises for most professors are very low–often below the rate of inflation. As a result, many professors see their inflation-adjusted earnings decrease over time. If an entry-level professor thinks the initial starting salary is tough to live on, it may only get worse over the course of their career.

Nevertheless, law professors also usually get paid noticeably more than other academics. Further, while I could be earning more, I think many schools pay a salary that allows a comfortable (not lavish, not destitute) lifestyle. Though it’s easy for law professors to envy the pay of others (especially some of the students that we are teaching), the reality is that many law professors do OK financially.

More on this topic tomorrow.

UPDATE: Peter Yu reminded me of the SALT salary survey, which gives hard data on salaries by region. I see starting salaries ranging from the high 50,000s to the 120,000s.

UPDATE 2 (May 2007): I’ve posted new data and new comments here.