Yesterday NPR Boston had on BC Law Dean Vincent Rougeau and Law School Transparency Director Kyle McEntee to discuss the crisis of legal education. We'd link to it, but we couldn't find it right away, and really it wasn't that interesting. One comment did stick out though, Rougeau discussed how law needs to be less about business and more about being a respectable middle-class profession. Yes, there'd still be room for people making big bucks at big firms, but the aim shouldn't be to come out of school with a six-figure salary, or even to get a six-figure salary decades into your career.
$100,000 puts you at the 94th percentile for incomes. $75,000 at the 89th percentile, $60,000 at the 83rd, and $50,000 at 76th. There's some argument about where middle class ends and upper class begins, but $75,000 would be doing quite well, especially if debt came way down and hours were a sensible 1,600 billable + 400 nonbillable a year.
That got us thinking though. If the legal profession should be largely made up of middle class professionals, what about legal education? We decided to look at one of the worst offenders when it comes to professor salaries, the University of Michigan. [See the correction at the end.]
Michigan's highest earner $805,000 a year. There are 12 professors earning $500,000 or more per year. Another 10 earning $300,000-$500,000. Another 43 earn $200,000-$300,000. There are a total of 117 faculty and staff members earning more than $100,000 a year. Not counting people earning less than that, the school spends a whopping $30.6 million a year on compensation. [Here's the data.]
So, what would happen if we gave those salaries a haircut? If we cut amounts over $100,000 by 50%, and amounts over $200,000 by 75%?
The resulting savings would be $11,766,000. Per year. Not to mention payroll taxes.
In-state tuition at Michigan is $46,830. The savings from salary cuts would be enough to pay for 83 students to attend for free. Each year. 84 if we count the 1.45% savings from the medicare tax (we're too lazy to do social security also).
Just to be perfectly clear, we don't mean 28 1Ls, 28 2Ls, and 28 3Ls are getting a full ride from this money. We mean that next year 84 1Ls will be given $140,500 dollars and their full three years will be immediately paid off in advance. Entire tuition bill for all of law school gone, done, paid for. Next year, another 84 1Ls get the same deal.
This money would allow 22.2% of students at Michigan to get a full ride. Currently, only 3.8% of Michigan students receive a full tuition (or better) scholarship. 90% of Michigan students take out loans, and the average debtload of those borrowing is $110,500.
Instead of 1 in 26 Michigan students getting a full ride, 1 in 4 would.
Some of the very high salaries were for lecturers who work only a few weeks, but their salaries were reported as if they earned that amount for the year. This significantly reduces the total amount Michigan is spending on its professors, though we do have to wonder if it's prudent to pay a visiting speaker $15,000 a week. Just how good is that speech?
If we remove all of those lecturers from the haircuts, as well as adjunct assistant clinical professors (who may have the same reporting problem), the total savings comes down to $5,082,000. While significantly less than the original amount we wrote about, that's still enough savings for 36 members of every class to get a full ride. Instead of 1 in 26 Michigan students getting a full ride, a little better than 1 in 8 would.