Sunday, June 29, 2014


Each year law school publications publish about 8,000 articles.These are written by law professors and a few judges and practitioners.   In addition, law faculty publish books (often recycled articles), casebooks, book chapters, and edit books compiled of the writings of others.  How much does it cost? That is hard to say but here is a rough estimate based on my law school. Let's say the average yearly earnings of a law prof is $150k. At my School you teach 9 hours year instead of 12 on the theory you are doing research. So about 37K a year goes to research per faculty member. In addition, anyone who wants to can research in the summer for about 15% of his or her salary. Most people do this so add another 20K for a total payment for research of 57K.  We have a large faculty, conservatively at 50 people. So my school invests about $2,850,000 a year in law professor research. For that each of our 1000 students could be given a $2850 scholarship or have tuition lowered by that amount. Or 15 well paid faculty could be hired and class sized dramatically lowered.

For $2.85 million you might want to know what you get. But there is no connections between money spent and the usefulness of what is written. Unlike other areas in which someone makes a proposal and someone doling out the money decides if it is worthwhile, there is no similar gate keeping in legal research unless you count the 23 year olds who decide what gets published where.

As I noted, UF is a big operation. Let's say it's the biggest and that all of the other 200 laws schools are half as large and, thus spend half as much money on legal research. That would be $1.4 million times 200 or $285 million per year. No, you did not miss something, Each year law schools invest about 285 million dollars on law professors writing mainly law review articles, books including casebooks, chapters for books, or editing books of chapters written by other people.

It is a scam? That is not easily answered. Some of the works are useful. Many are interesting and there is something to be said for that too. How useful it is impossible to know. For example, 33 of  lead articles in the top 100 law reviews in 2003 have been cited by at least one court somewhere. Sixty-seven have not. Of the 33, most show no sign of actually having influenced the decision.  Maybe that is not so bad but of the 100 lead articles in the secondary reviews at those same top schools, only 8 have been cited by any court anywhere.

Judicial cites, as every law professor reading instantly thought to him or herself upon reading this, are not the only way to assess usefulness. It is but one way but you would think if you were going to spend $285 million dollars a year on something you would do it based on something more than a hunch or faith that most of it is not wasted.


I have not counted the research assistants, secretarial aid. submission fees, copying and, of course, travel in the name of legal scholarship.

And here is a final kick to the gut. When these projects generate income, the professors keep it although only the most hypocritical reading of copyright law could lead one to believe the scholarship is not "work for hire" with the earnings going to the employer.

1 comment:

Michael Cicchini said...

It's tough to measure the value of a law review article. As a practitioner, although I write some that are not very practical, many of them ARE practical. For those law review articles, I often get calls and emails from other practicing lawyers telling my how they used my work to enforce a plea bargain, to get some evidence admitted at trial, etc. This type of praise never shows up on a "most frequently downloaded by professors" list. However, it demonstrates that some law review articles still have real value and purpose. Citation-count obsessed profs may not even be aware of this, or if they are, may not care about this because it can't be measured or put on a CV. And, by the way, the cost for me to write an article is my time and the small fee to Expresso. Why any school would pay a prof a bonus or stipend to do what they're already paid to do is beyond me.