Legal Writing Professors,
Salary Disparities, and the Impossibility of “Improved Status”
Amy H. Soled*
“Aren’t you happy with
your improved status?” a colleague recently inquired. “I mean, things are
better than they were before, aren’t they?” he continued.
Although I replied, “Yes,
things are better,” I didn’t really feel this way, but I knew the truth was not
what he wanted to hear. In his mind, the faculty already spent enough time
discussing the legal writing program, and he is not personally responsible for setting
my salary. Further, academics tend to shy away from salary discussions.
In the dictionary, the
word improved means “made better.”
On the one hand, by at least some metric, this was the case: I was no longer
called a “part-time lecturer;” instead, my new title had become “full-time
assistant clinical professor.” And, for the yearlong class I taught, I now had
a three-year contract as opposed to my prior semester-to-semester contract.
On the other hand, my
status had not improved. Now that I was deemed a full-time faculty member (i) I
was assigned 15% more first-time students, (ii) I could now be asked by upper-class
students to read, edit, and advise them on their journal notes and monitor
their externships throughout the calendar year, (iii) I was placed on several
academic committees, and (iv) I was expected to write scholarly articles,
without the possibility of a sabbatical or research funding. All of these additional
burdens came with no salary adjustment. While to the ear, “full-time” sounds
better than “part-time,” and the same is true regarding a three-year contract rather
than a semester-to-semester contract, having more students, academic advising
responsibilities, administrative obligations, scholarship requirements, and no
salary increase revealed a darker truth: My status had not improved.
As a woman, what I had
experienced is a commonplace phenomenon in legal academia. While not every academic
institution exhibits a disparity in faculty salaries due to gender,
in the majority, this is the case.
That is, women professors are paid less than their male counterparts,
often a result of implicit biases that work systematically against women.
Emblematic of the problem are legal writing professors, seventy percent of whom
Often pejoratively referred to toiling in “the pink ghetto,”
LAWRS professors are expected to work more than their legal academic counterparts
and, despite the breadth of their responsibilities, earn substantially less.
There should be a
concerted effort to eliminate the wage discrimination experienced by legal
writing faculty. A legal writing professor’s status cannot truly improve until the
pay gap that exists between those who teach legal writing and those who teach
other legal topics is closed. Until law schools address the economic disparity
between these two classes of professors, a legal writing professor’s status
will remain mired below that of her counterparts who teach other areas of the
This essay first highlights
the pay disparities that exist among doctrinal faculty and legal writing professors.
It then demonstrates the negative effect those disparities have on the employee
and the institution. Finally, it suggests ways to achieve pay parity and
improve the status of legal writing professors.
Legal writing professors
earn significantly less than professors who teach doctrinal courses.
The median salary for an associate professor is $168,840.
Compare this dollar figure to $95,664, the annual base salary of legal writing
faculty, hired full-time, on a tenure track.
However, seventy-two percent of legal writing appointments are untenured;
the average salary for a full-time untenured, long-term legal writing professor
and that of a short-term legal writing professor is $69,083.
No matter whether the
contract is tenured-based, long-, or short-term, the salary of full-time legal
writing faculty is far less than any other full-time law professor.
This pay disparity negatively affects the morale of legal writing professors and,
as explained below, negatively impacts the institution.
Effect of Pay Disparities
disparities create two classes of professors. This is unconstructive for legal education
because it (1) sends the erroneous message that legal writing is of secondary
importance, (2) limits legal writing faculty from participating in academic
endeavors, and (3) fosters sex discrimination.
Importance of Legal Writing Classes
First, the pay disparities
suggest that law schools do not think it is worth investing in legal writing or
those who teach it. As a preliminary matter, in recognition of its importance,
the American Bar Association (“ABA”) has made clear that legal writing is
essential to legal education.
All law schools mandate legal writing to be part of their first-year
curriculum, and the ABA will not accredit a school that lacks
faculty-supervised writing experiences.
But aside from the
accreditation requirement, every basic legal research and writing course is
designed to impart fundamental knowledge upon which both the student and future
employers rely, connecting the law school to the legal community at large. Students
value legal writing courses and recognize their importance, as they know these
courses expose them to the skills that they will need to utilize in their
internships and as part of their future careers. They routinely return to
school after the summer to report how they were able to use the skills they
acquired in their first-year legal writing course. Legal writing classes are
also significant to future employers. In selecting clerks or law firm
associates, judges and hiring partners inevitably review writing samples, the legal
writing courses job applicants have taken, and the grades earned by applicants.
Additionally, they often speak to legal writing professors regarding students’
legal abilities and favor those law schools that produce good legal researchers
and writers, as employers heavily depend upon these skills.
It is not just employers
in the legal community who evaluate law schools based on legal research and
writing; alumni of the school do so as well. That is, alumni are more loyal to
an institution when they feel connected to it or the people within it.
Because legal writing courses are usually smaller and students receive
feedback, students tend to establish closer bonds with their legal writing
professors compared with their doctrinal professors.
Legal writing professors are the ones to whom alumni return to seek career
advice or to review writing samples. It thus makes sense for law schools to
invest in professors who are the link between the academic community and the
bar. Alumni are aware that their lifeline to the school – the legal writing
professor – is not treated on par with other members of the law school faculty.
By fairly compensating members of their legal writing staff, law schools will
generate good will among alumni, which in turn could lead to greater financial
support of the institution. Ultimately, making salaries more equitable would
boost the school’s reputation for fairness.
Pay disparities send the
message that legal writing professors are inferior to other faculty members, undermining
the professors’ confidence and the contributions that many legal writing
professors make to the institution. Insecurity and feelings of worthlessness
hinder legal writing faculty from speaking at faculty meetings, participating
in colloquiums, and taking initiatives. While some may contend that these
things happen because of the lack of job security, pay equality would boost the
confidence of legal writing professors, propelling their productivity. Needless
to say, the institution would thrive if the potential of its entire faculty
Further, pay inequity
reduces worker utility.
The possible parade of horribles include, but is not limited to, greater
On a personal level, I have seen time and energy that could have been spent on
innovative pedagogy or scholarship, instead spent on addressing employment
concerns. That is, pay equity issues are distracting, and legal writing
professors could be more efficient and productive if they did not have these
issues on their minds.
If law schools eliminated pay equity issues, they would reap the benefits.
C. Wage Discrimination Based
Finally, the pay
differential between legal writing faculty and doctrinal faculty is a byproduct
of the wage disparity in academic institutions between male and female
professors, and it fosters sex discrimination. The classroom setting is a
microcosm of society, and the gender pay gap in law schools reflects the gap
that exists outside of the law school. Law schools should not actively participate
in the wage discrimination that plagues this country. The law school – an institution
that challenges society’s inequities – should be leading the charge to
eliminate this miscarriage of justice.
Compensation is usually a
But the first step toward rectifying pay disparities is to expose them, not
just to mention that they exist.
Faculty must openly talk about pay disparity. Professors’ salaries at public
institutions are available, but this information needs to be broadly publicized.
At private institutions, legal writing professors should inquire and learn what
their writing and non-writing colleagues earn. These numbers should be distributed
to alumni and the public and, in addition, faculty should meet with university
administrators and boards of trustees to collaborate on ways to close the pay
Further, law schools need strong
leadership to take remedial action and address wage discrimination. True leaders
will not perpetuate an inequitable status quo that hurts individuals, the
organization, and society.
Law school deans have the power to close the pay gap in several ways. First,
they could earmark funds to eliminate substantial salary differentials that are
attributable to gender,
like those who teach legal writing. Second, they could accelerate promotions
and advancements for legal writing faculty, enabling them to receive
appropriate salary increases that come with such promotions. Third, they could establish
a task force that focuses on adjusting faculty salaries to make the
discrepancies more equitable.
The task force would study and highlight when a variation in pay cannot be
explained by a variable independent of gender.
By closing the pay gap, law
school deans will tighten the internal fabric of the school. Pay equity would
strengthen faculty loyalty and warm the cultural climate without having to
touch a thermostat. Further, by eradicating discrimination of some faculty, law
school deans can distinguish their schools and receive positive press.
Ultimately, this could lead to an increase in alumni donations.
Not every professor should
earn the same salary, but pay differentials should not be based on whether a
full-time faculty member teaches legal writing or some other course. Instead, the
difference in pay among faculty – regardless of the course the faculty member
teaches – should be determined based upon a number of factors such as
educational background, scholarly productivity, performance in the classroom,
Law schools should support
their faculty holistically. The first step towards equality is to erase the pay
gap that exists between legal writing professors and other faculty members.
Until this is done, legal writing professors will always be de facto second-class
citizens compared to their colleagues. Pay equity will improve the status of
the legal writing professor and, by extension, the quality of legal education
Clinical Professor of Law, Rutgers Law School. The author would like to thank
Jay A. Soled for his unwavering encouragement and support. The author would
also like to thank her legal writing colleagues who always “improve” her
 Deborah J. Merritt, Salaries and Scholarship, Law
School Café, https://www.lawschoolcafe.org/2018/01/13/salaries-and-scholarship/
(Jan. 13, 2018).
 Improved, Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary
(10th ed. 1997).
 Constance Wagner, Change
from Within: Using Task Forces and Best Practices to Achieve Gender Equity for
University Faculty, 47 J.L. &
Educ., 295, 349 (2018).
 Id. at 306.
 Id. at 311.
 Jo Anne Durako, Second-Class
Citizens in the Pink Ghetto: Gender Bias in Legal Writing, 50 J. Legal Educ. 562, 562 (2000).
 Id. at 578.
 Merritt, supra note 1.
ALWD/LWI Annual Legal
Writing Survey Report of the 2017-2018 Institutional Survey 8,
 Id. at 58.
 Id. at 138.
 Merritt, supra note 1.
 American Bar Association 2019-2020 Standards and Rules of
Procedures for Approval of Law Schools, Ch. 3, Standard 303(a)(2), https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/legal_education_and_admissions_to_the_bar/standards/2019-2020/2019-2020-aba-standards-chapter3.pdf (August 2019).
 Susan C. Wawrose, What
Do Legal Employers Want to See in New Graduates?: Using Focus Groups to Find
Out, 39 Ohio N.U. L. Rev. 505,
 George D. Kuh et al., Student
Success in College 119 (2005).
 Ann Iijima, Lessons Learned:
Legal Education and Law School Dysfunction, 48 J. Legal Educ. 524, 528 (1998).
 Wagner, supra note
3, at 324.
 Emily Breza, Supreet
Kaur, & Yogita Shamdasani, The Morale Effects of Pay Inequality, 133
Q. J. Econ. 611, 635 (May 2018).
 Id. at 636.
 Id. at 640.
 Id. at 616.
 Id.at 612.
 Wagner, supra note
3, at 324.
 Laura Freebairn-Smith, Impact
of Gender Pay Inequity on Morale and Work Culture, Psychology Today, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/change-your-mind-change-your-money/201903/impact-gender-pay-inequity-morale-and-work-culture?amp (March 6, 2019).
 See Wagner, supra
note 3, at 354 (noting that usually the administration will focus on only the
worst cases, or the remedy requires an aggrieved faculty member to negotiate an
 Freebairn-Smith, supra
 See Wagner, supra
note 3, at 335.
 Id. at 337-43.
 Id. at 351.