Law school faculties 40% larger than 10 years ago

The average law school increased its faculty size by 40 percent over the past 10 years, according to a study by The National Jurist to be released in late March.

This increase in staffing accounts for 48 percent of the tuition increase from 1998 to 2008, the study shows. Tuition increased by 74 percent at private schools and a 102 percent at public institutions from 1998 to 2008.

The increase in staffing does not take into account the increase in support staff, which most law school administrators acknowledge has also increased. But no reliable data is available for that.

Law school observers say the dramatic increases are related to two things — an increased need for specialization and the U.S. News & World Report rankings of law schools.

“Law schools tend to believe that their faculty reputation is driven by scholarship and they are very interested in U.S. News,” said William Henderson, a law professor at Indiana University Mauer School of Law. “Lowering your faculty-to-student ratio improves your [U.S. News] ranking and increases time for scholarship.”

Henderson said the typical teaching load has dropped from five courses a few generations ago to three courses today.

“Professors are spending less time in the classroom,” he said. “Now whether that is a smart use of a social resource is another question. It is very expensive to pay for faculty research.”

From 1998 until 2008, the number of law faculty at 195 ABA-accredited law schools grew from 12,200 to 17,080 — a 40 percent increase. A subset of that total, the number of deans, librarians and other full-time administrators who teach more than tripled — from 528 to 1,659.

While part of this increase was in part-time faculty, that category grew at a lower pace— 33 percent — than full-time faculty.

All of this has lowered the average student-to-faculty ratio from 18.5-to-1 in 1998 to 14.9-to-1 in 2008. It was an estimated 25.5-to-1 in 1988 and 29-to-1 in 1978. In other words, there are twice as many law professors per student today as there were 30 years ago

The National Jurist compiled these numbers from the ABA’s Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools. We also compiled salary data that the Society of American Law Teachers has collected over the past 10 years, and compared these figures with tuition increases. We derived estimates for the total amount spent on faculty salaries in 1998 compared to 2008, and then compared the increase in expenditures to the increase in tuition.

The full story will be released with the March 2010 issue of The National Jurist, expected to be at law school newsstands in late March. The National Jurist also publishes a digital version of its magazine, available at in mid-March.

— Jack Crittenden, editor-in-chief of The National Jurist