Teaching at a law school “is a wonderful life.”

December 17th, 2011

The more you look at a law school’s ledgers, the more life in the legal academy seems a sweet deal. And it’s been getting sweeter. Course loads have shrunk in the last couple of decades; the pay scale is high and has been rising. Median salaries are in the $120,000-to-$150,000 range, but superstars can earn $300,000 or more and the best of the best get pretty special housing deals. Over the summer, the New York University School of Lawspent $5.6 million on two apartments in the West Village. A spokesman for the school said it had yet to determine whether the units would be combined and who would live there.

“It’s a wonderful life,” says Nancy Rapoport, a professor at the Boyd School of Law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and author of an article for the Indiana Law Journal, “Eating Our Cake and Having It Too: Why Real Change Is So Difficult in Law Schools.”

“You’ve got a lot of happy law professors, who don’t want to change anything,” Ms. Rapoport said. “They may not realize how precarious legal education is, and the legal market is, right now. That’s human nature. Everything is going well. Let’s keep it the way it is.”

The argument for high salaries has always been that law professors could earn even more money at a law firm. As for tenure, one oft-cited reason for requiring it is that the most sought-after talent demands it, putting a school that doesn’t offer tenure at a disadvantage.

The latest in the TImes‘ series on legal education.