Estimating the Costs of Legal Scholarship

Over at Inside the Law School Scam, Paul Campos reveals that he worked extensively with David Segal in helping Segal with his article on law professors and legal scholarship, and in particular with Segal’s estimate of the price students pay for legal scholarship. According to Campos, the basic methodology is to assume that 40% of law school operating costs pay the salaries of tenured or tenure-track professors, and that law professors spend 40% of their time writing articles. Multiplying the two suggests that 16% of law school operating costs pay for law review articles, which Segal estimates collectively at about $575 million.

I am no labor economist, and my comment is probably amateurish, but this strikes me as a puzzling way to calculate the costs of legal scholarship. It assumes that professors spend a fixed amount of time working and a fixed percentage of time writing articles. But that’s not the case, as professors spend a wildly varying amount of time working and a wildly varying amount of time writing. Some professors work very hard; some don’t. As a result, I would think that a better way to measure the costs of legal scholarship would be to compare the salaries of the professors who are active scholars with the salaries of the professors who are inactive scholars. (To determine the costs of X, compare the costs with X to the costs without X.) Consider an example. At a given school, it may be that a professor who spends 25 hours a week writing articles has earned merit increases in pay over time, and as a result is paid $40,000 more per year than a professor who doesn’t write articles at all. If so, that would suggest the costs of legal scholarship are somewhere in the ballpark of $30 an hour. That is, $40,000 additional pay for 1,300 hours of additional work.

This calculation has lots of problems, too, I realize. For example, it assumes that salary competition for active scholars has no effect on the salaries of inactive scholars. But at the very least I would think it’s a better gauge of the costs of legal scholarship than the methodology used by Campos that was followed in the Times article. Or so it seems to me, but then I’m about as far a way from my area of academic expertise as I can get. Comments are open, with corrections and criticisms particularly welcome.

UPDATE: Paul Campos responds, via e-mail: “You’ve misunderstood the calculation regarding the subsidizing of scholarship via tuition, probably because I stated it unclearly. While I estimate 16% of law school operating costs go toward subsidizing scholarship, the $575 million number isn’t 16% of operating costs – it’s 16% of collected tuition.”