The Business of Running
a Law School
I confess that as a faculty member I gave little thought to the business of
running a law school. Deans don’t
have that luxury. Someone has to
pay attention to things like budget, payroll, physical plant, purchasing,
admissions, career services, and (most important of all) the kind and quality of
service that we provide to students in the classroom.
Stated abstractly, we are a nonprofit business that provides a service
(legal instruction) to about 800 customers each year, and we – like all
businesses – have to balance our books. From
a business point of view the most interesting challenge we face is that our
costs increase every year, and they are driven by social changes over which we
have no control. I want to try to
explain briefly why costs keep going up, and mention some of the strategies that
schools employ to cover them.
The biggest cost involved in running a law school is the cost of instruction.
Let us use the courses we teach as a rough index of that service.
(There’s more involved: time outside class, teaching in the library and
on computers, work on journals, etc.) When
Boston College Law School opened its doors in 1929 its first-year curriculum was
not very different from what it is today. The second-and third-year curriculum looked like this:
Bills and Notes
Public Utility Law
Income Tax Law
Inheritance Tax Law
Conflict of Laws
Practice and Pleading
at Law & in Equity
Wills and Probate
Here are the second- and third-year courses we offered last year:
Business Bankruptcy: Chapter 11
Commercial Law: Payment...
Commercial Law: Secured…(2) Consumer
Antitrust (Trade Regulation)
Introduction to Accounting
Employee Benefits Law
Mergers and Acquisitions
Estate and Gift Tax (2)
Int’l Aspects of U.S. Inc.Tax
Taxation I (2)
Taxation II (2)
Dispute Negotiation (2)
Legal Ethics Seminar
Moral Responsibility of...
Professional Responsibility (4)
Trials and Appeals
Appellate Advocacy: Full-Year
Conflict of Laws
Domestic Relations: Trial Practice
Legal Interview. &
Scientific and Expert Evidence
Trial Practice/Evidence (2)
Trial Practice (8)
African Law and Development
European Union Law
Foreign Relations Law … U.S.
Int’l Business Transactions
Commercial Dispute Res. International Environmental Law
Int’l Human Rights Seminar
International Trade Seminar
Law of War, War Crimes ... London
Family Court Practice
Fam. Law: Child, Parent, State
Fam. Law: Child Protection
Fam. Law: Hot Topics for... Fam. Law: The
Health Law & Policy
Health Law & Policy II
Regulation of Prof. Athletics
Trusts and Estates (2)
Adv. Prop.: Property and Society
Adv. Prop.: Commercial (2)
Environmental Law, Advanced
Environmental Law: Teaching
Environmental Law: Toxic Torts
Frontiers in Env. Law & Policy
Land Use Planning
Real Estate Transactions
Intellectual Property Seminar
Trademarks & Unfair Comp.
Administrative Law (2)
Adv. Con Law -Federalism
Civil Rights...Public Schools
Civil Rights Litigation
Constitutional Law II (4)
Housing Policy and the Law
Legislative Process (2)
Local Government Law
State Constitutional Law
Supreme Court Seminar
Atty. Gen. Clinical Program (2)
Atty. Gen… Seminar (2)
Civil Litigation Clinic (4)
Civil Litigation Clinic Sem. (4)
Homelessness Litigation Clinic
Judge & Community Courts (2)
Judge & Comm... Seminar (2)
ULL Externship Program (2)
Women and the Law Clinic
Women & the Law …Seminar
Criminal Justice Clinic (4)
Criminal Justice Clinic/Seminar
Immigration Law Practicum
Juvenile Justice Seminar
Juvenile Rights Advocacy (2)
Juvenile Rights Advocacy II (2)
Advanced Legal Research
Legal Writing (6)
Criminal Law (3)
Criminal Law Seminar
Criminal Procedure Advanced
Criminal Procedure (3)
Death Penalty Seminar
Domestic Violence and the Law
Federal Criminal Law
American Legal Education American Legal
American Legal Theory
English Legal History
Equity Concepts Seminar
Foundations of Western Law I
Foundations of Western Law II
Gender and Legal Theory
Jurisprudence: Cont. Probs.
Law, Medicine & Pub. Policy
Life and Death Decisionmaking
Postmodern Legal Theory
Constitution at the Start ...
And here is a picture
showing how each of the categories I have used to clump courses have grown at
That , in briefest form, is why legal education is more expensive today than it
was 72 years ago – we have to pay more people to teach more courses.
Of course there are other costs involved, and let me say a word about them
before I say why the curriculum has grown like this.
One added cost is inflation. But
I will set that aside because the dollars students are paying have changed at
the same rate as our costs. A
second and more significant one is that when the curriculum changes shape, so
must our buildings. If all students
take the same courses, as they do in the first year, and as they used to in the
second and third years, we can teach them all together at the same time in large
rooms. When instead we offer a
large number of elective courses, classes will perforce be smaller and more
numerous, and this calls for more and smaller rooms.
We also need more offices to house a larger number of faculty.
A third cost is the expense of running a library capable of serving a
much larger curriculum. (We need books on international law and intellectual property
law, for example.)
Why has the curriculum grown so? This
is the interesting point, and it is one that makes us a very different kind of
business than McDonald’s. McDonald’s
hires more employees as its customer base expands; it builds more and bigger
stores as the demand for its hamburgers increases.
Law schools grow at a much faster rate than their customer base.
(To put it in the terms we usually employ, the student-faculty ratio is
constantly decreasing.) Here is a
picture of the rate of growth in our faculty and student body, taking 1940 as
We add faculty so that we can teach a constantly expanding curriculum.
If McDonald’s operated this way they would
hire more employees as their menu got larger.
And they would quickly go out of business. So why do we do it? And
how can we survive if we pay so little heed to elementary market forces?
The answer to the first of those questions is actually fairly obvious.
We are in the business of educating students for the practice of law,
and the law is much more complicated than it was just a few decades ago. This is not just a matter of slicing up the same loaf of
bread into smaller and smaller pieces. There
is much more law today than there was 20, 40, and 60 years ago.
One reason for this is scientific progress.
Look at the growth in Property courses over the last 40 years.
In 1960 we taught 4. In
2000 we taught 14. This is
because between 1960 and 1980 we had an explosion in environmental law. Congress enacted the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and
the Environmental Protection Act. We
also made laws dealing with radiation, ocean dumping, noise abatement,
pesticides, sewage sludge, and toxic substances.
And between 1980 and 2000 we saw the development of intellectual
property: personal computers, cable TV, digital recording, the world wide web,
cloning, the human genome project. To
regulate this activity we passed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the
Audio Home Recording Act, and so on. We
can’t prepare students to practice law in these areas by teaching them about
mortgages and Blackacre.
Here is a second example – the result largely of changes in communications
and travel. In 1960 we taught 1
course in International Law. Today
we teach 16. The world is a much
smaller place than it was only a few years ago because we can deal instantly
with Bonn and Hong Kong. Fax,
e-mail, portable phones, fiber optics, and satellite communications have
replaced the postal service. Containers
have revolutionized international trade.
As a result we have laws like NAFTA, markets like the European Union,
the World Trade Organization, and so on.
We can’t prepare students for these changes by teaching them Grotius
Here is a third. I am tempted to
say that moral progress is also driving the growth of the law, but that’s not
exactly right. I do not believe
that people are better today than they were 40 years ago.
But it is certainly true that we rely on the law much more often to
enforce our moral convictions. Look
at our courses in Public and Criminal Law.
The increase in Public Law results above all from the civil rights
revolution begun in the 1960’s: the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting
Rights Act of 1965, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (1967), the Fair
Housing Act (1968), Title IX (1972), the Rehabilitation Act (1973), the
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (1975).
And the growth of Criminal Law began with the Warren Court’s efforts to
write a constitutional code of criminal procedure.
You get the idea. I need to
add one more point – one that concerns how rather than what we teach.
The fastest growing slice of our curriculum is our Clinical courses.
There were none in 1960, 4 in 1980, and 22 in 2000.
This actually understates the amount of faculty resources we devote to
this area. We have six full-time
faculty members who teach Legal Reasoning, Research, and Writing (LRR&W) in
the first year, and the various charts I have provided depict only the
Our growth in this area has been more pronounced than other private
schools’ of our size, but they too have grown.
The explanation for the change is different from the ones we have
examined. It has something to do
with an intellectual shift in pedagogy. In
1987 the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar created a task
force to study what it perceived as a growing disjunction between the academy
and the practicing bar. The product
of that study – the McCrate Report published in 1992 – stressed the
importance of skills like counseling, negotiation, communication, factual
investigation, and the recognition of ethical dilemmas, in addition to legal
research, reasoning, analysis, and problem solving.
In 1996 the ABA amended its Standards for Approval of Law Schools to
require “at least one rigorous writing experience,” “adequate
opportunities for instruction in professional skills,” and “live-client or
other real-life practice experiences.” (Standard 302(a)(2)-(3), (d))
This change in how we teach has altered the faculty composition even more
than it has affected the curriculum, because clinical and legal writing faculty
teach smaller classes, on average, than traditional faculty.
For example, we have four clinical faculty assigned to our Legal
Assistance Bureau in Waltham. Each
teaches a section of the Civil Litigation Clinic that is limited to six students
per semester. The Immigration Law
Practicum taught by one of our clinical faculty and a graduate assistant is
limited to 15 students. The
LRR&W faculty teach almost exclusively in the first year.
Typical sections of first-year classes – like my class in
Constitutional Law – have 90 students. LRR&W
faculty each teach 45 students. The
reason for this significantly lower student-faculty ratio is that the teaching
of skills requires closer individual attention and more feedback, a difference
not unlike the one we see in medical education when students move from the
classroom to internship and residency.
have been discussing the reasons for the growth in our curriculum and faculty.
The picture I have described is not unique to Boston College.
It’s the same everywhere. And
it is such a radical shift that when I first recognized it (remember I’m new
to the business end of law schools) I wondered how we manage to survive, with
costs continually going up and student-faculty ratios going down.
It turns out that there are a dozen strategies for coping.
We have adopted some of them. And
if the trend continues (and it will), we will have to look at others.
One way to cope with the problem might be to hold costs constant by
freezing the curriculum in its current (or some earlier) form. The extreme form
of this suggestion is out of touch with the reality of modern law practice.
We can’t ignore ERISA and teach Wills because Wills are more
“basic” or “traditional.” Pension
plans are where Americans have their money.
Neither can we decline to teach Title VII, or the Clean Water Act, or the
Digital Millennium Copyright Act. They
are the laws that our graduates must be familiar with in their practice.
There is a trend among elite schools to reduce the teaching load for
faculty from four to three courses per year.
This allows more time for scholarship, which is another form of service
to the academy, the profession, and the public.
Resisting this trend is a way to get more courses per dollar of income.
And for some faculty it is a good match with their skills and interests.
But as a comprehensive solution it has serious drawbacks.
One is that scholarship is itself the most important means of education
for faculty, who are paid with tuition dollars to be on the cutting edge of
their fields. A second is that
scholarship is itself a form of public service – in the long run perhaps our
most lasting contribution to the practice of law.
A third, related to the second, is that the reputation of our faculty
(the single most weighty factor in rankings polls) is established on the basis
of what they write. A fourth is
that the market for teachers is an efficient one, and if we want to attract the
best faculty we need to keep an eye on what the competition is offering.
There is a little room for increasing tuition, but not enough to solve
the problem. We already charge
$25,854. If we increased that by
10% we would be at the high end of the market.
10% more tuition revenue would buy about four more associate professors.
But it would also have side effects.
We might scare away poor but well qualified students.
There must be some relation between price and demand.
Student body size.
We could increase this. We
aim for a student body of 810. Georgetown has 1964.
Suffolk has 1708. Harvard has 1655.
That would give us more income, and more customers, for more courses.
But it too would have side effects.
One would be a need for more space.
A second would be an impact on our ranking. We get the best students we can attract, so additional
students would come in at the lower half of the class.
In this regard it pays to be small.
A smaller student body gives us a better student/faculty ratio, better
GPAs, and better LSATs. A third
consequence is intangible, but maybe more important. Boston College is a very
happy school where the faculty know the students and the students are pleased
with their educational experience. This
might be less true if we were bigger.
The sector of our faculty that has increased the fastest lately is the
long-term contract faculty – those who teach clinical courses or Legal
Reasoning, Research, and Writing (LRR&W).
In 1960 there were no such people. Today
there are 12 – six of each. Clinical
and LRR&W faculty are regular full-time faculty members, but they are hired
on a long-term contract basis. They
do not get tenure, although after six years of teaching and a faculty review
process they are given a form of job security that is reasonably similar.
Neither clinical nor LRR&W faculty are expected, as a condition of
their employment, to do published legal research (though they may do so if they
wish). Because they do different
work than tenure-track faculty, and come with credentials and experience
appropriate to their roles, most law schools pay them less than tenure-track
faculty who graduated the same year. This
is a common method of hiring more faculty at a lower cost. It too has side effects — in this case on job satisfaction.
At Boston College we have attempted to ameliorate these differences,
though doing so forecloses one common route to cost savings.
An even better way to save money on teachers is to hire adjuncts.
Last year we had 30 in the Fall and 35 in the Spring.
This is something that schools in big cities do.
BU last year had 59 and 48; Columbia had 51 and 74; Northwestern had 104
and 42. It’s harder for schools
located in small towns (Cornell had 9 and 15) because there are not as many
qualified lawyers practicing there. This
practice is understandable and useful. Like
all part-time employees, adjuncts cost less than full-time workers because they
are not paid benefits. Adjunct
teachers at law schools come even cheaper because most earn a substantial income
from the practice of law. Many are
alumni who offer their services at sub-market rates out of attachment and a
feeling of gratitude to their alma mater. Staffing
courses with adjuncts rather than regular faculty costs about one-fifth as much
per credit hour, figuring in only salary and benefits. If we add the savings on office space, staff support, and so
on, the difference is more impressive still.
Adjuncts are not just cheaper than regular faculty.
At some things they are better. We
offer eight sections of Trial Practice, and all are taught by adjunct faculty
who are judges or practitioners. The
reason is that the class prepares students for jury trials – jury selection,
opening and closing arguments, and direct and cross-examination. On the other
hand, though, there are reasons to be careful about overdoing it with this
solution. Our regular faculty
provide students with benefits no group of adjuncts, however able, could hope to
offer. If we hire right, our
full-time faculty will be the real experts – often internationally renowned
experts – in what they do. They are not just really smart.
Life in the academic world gives them the freedom to develop their
expertise to an unusual degree. It
is the rare practitioner who has time to write the definitive treatise on
Environmental Law, or The Federal Law of Attorney Conduct.
Moreover, the full-time faculty are here all the time.
This is their job. And much
of the job of teaching takes place in the office, at lunch, and before and after
Boston College offers 21 courses in Business Law (loosely defined) –
tax, corporate, and commercial law. But
we can increase our course possibilities through a partnership with Boston
College’s business school (the Carroll School of Management).
We offer a joint JD/MBA program which opens up the Carroll School’s
curriculum to our students. And
there is room for expansion and efficiency here.
I think we could make better use of these resources, and perhaps achieve
some economies, if we put our minds to it.
LLM programs allow law schools to add tuition-paying students who will
use the building in off-peak hours, who will not count for U.S. News rankings
purposes, and who will help to pay the cost of additional faculty.
In some kinds of programs classes can be offered at night because many
students work downtown during the day. And
because these are not JD students, their GPAs and LSAT scores do not figure in
the rankings numbers. At Boston
College we have historically frowned on the idea of graduate programs.
But from a business point of view they might be worth a look.
The challenge is to build in a
way that capitalizes on and reinforces the intellectual and community culture
already in place.
Business schools do this and make a great deal of money on it.
Law schools traditionally have not.
Once again we might ask why not.
This is obviously an important component of any solution.
What it really amounts to is getting our most successful students to help
pay our rising costs after they graduate. The
most attractive aspect of this solution is that it has none of the side effects
of solutions 1-6, and can be implemented without program changes, unlike
Foundations. The Hewlitt
Foundation just gave Stanford University $400 million dollars. There are others
– the Soros Foundation (the Open Society Institute’s Program on Law and
Society), the Olin Foundation, the Keck Foundation, the Lilly Foundation –
that give money to law schools. Like
most law schools, we have not done much of this in the past.
We should look at areas of the school that might attract such support.
It is surprising to me that the training of lawyers is not more generally
understood as a public good. Part
of the explanation for this is that the media are fond of portraying the
plantiffs’ bar in an unfortunate light. But
the legal profession bears the burden of making and enforcing rules that allow
our increasingly complex society to function smoothly, and of counseling people
about how to live within them. If
the cost of education for this work outstrips the resources of students to pay
for it, society will be the loser. We
understand that government should bear part of the burden of training people to
provide other public goods (like medicine).
And we willingly provide tax support for legal education at state
universities. Private schools
provide public benefits in equal measure. They
have some reason to ask for public support.
I don’t think that there is a “right” combination
of these solutions. I’m pretty
sure that standing still (1) is a mistake.
And most people would agree that gifts and grants (10-11) are
particularly appealing because they have fewer side effects than other
solutions. It is this – and of
course the need for new infusions of capital – that explains the explosion of
fundraising activity at law schools in the past twenty years.
These are now things that every law school has to do. Government help
(12) offers the prospect of almost unlimited support.
But it would come with strings attached, and some schools would rather
not pay that price. As for the
others (2-9), different ones will appeal to different schools.
The balance of course loads (2) and scholarship is a zero-sum game.
Schools that want to hold an elite position must give their faculty time
to write, and this means smaller course loads.
But not everyone cares about rank in the polls.
The amount of tuition (3) a school can charge varies somewhat with rank.
The ability to use adjuncts (6) depends on geographic location.
It also affects the teaching environment in a variety of ways.
The formation of partnerships (7) is easier at universities with other
strong graduate programs. I don’t
have recommendations about how to balance these various factors; the decision is
one that people close to the school can make best.