9.27.2012

Who Pays Law Profs?

I recently read a blog post I found to be interesting, particularly when one places it in the context of the IBR-centric world many recent law graduates reside in, from Professor Jason Solomon on the salaries he and his colleagues enjoy. While I am reposting his comments in their entirety below, it is worth stopping by the original blog to see the comments his readers posted in response to Solomon.

"Like most people, I try not to think too hard or often about my life. It's a pretty good one, but reflection is a dangerous enterprise. Sometimes, though, I like to take stock. But I'm having trouble figuring out the answer to the most basic question about how I make my living: who pays my salary

Most of the funding for most law schools today comes from student tuition. The students, though, pay very little of that tuition in "real time." It comes from the federal government in the form of loans, and has to eventually be paid back. Now in the good old days -- call it 2006 -- it was easy to say: "OK, today's students are paying me for their education because they're taking loans out now that they'll pay back once they have decent-paying jobs as lawyers."

But at least three things have happened that make this no longer true, as has been well-documented by others:

(1) law school has gotten way more expensive; (2) the un- and underemployment rate for new law graduates is at least 40% and likely higher, and starting salaries even for the lucky ones who get real lawyer jobs is clustered between $30k and $60k and (3) the gov't capped loan payments at 15% of income (soon to be 10%) through the Income-Based Repayment (IBR) Program and will forgive the cost of the rest after 25 years (soon to be 20) for all those whose salary-to-debt ratio make it impractical to ever pay the loan back.

So most recent law graduates, for now and the foreseeable future, will be on IBR soon, if they aren't already. Their loan payments will be capped, but as a result, they won't even be keeping up with the interest accruing on the loan. These payments will provide the gov't some additional revenue in the short-term, but in 20-25 years, there's going to be a debt on Uncle Sam's books for each student for hundreds of thousands of dollars of principal and unpaid interest. When that gets "forgiven," it just means the cost gets transferred to the taxpayers, adding to the deficit.

Which means my best answer is that taxpayers in the 2030s and 2040s mostly pay the salaries of me and my fellow law professors. What do you think?"

While Solomon waxes a bit philosophically where pragmatism would do, it is nonetheless interesting to note that he is at least aware of (and willing to publicly discuss) the situation many students are in. This is more than can be said of many of his colleagues, and indeed many administrators. It doesn't fix the easy money-driven supply/demand issues which plague the legal profession currently, but it is something...

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