Law Professor Duties

How do law professors spend their time? Duties are traditionally divided into categories of teaching, scholarship and service (consulting is outside the traditional division). How investment is allocated among the three varies.

Teaching Hours Burden Post.jpgIt could be difficult to generate reliable information about varying allocation by individuals, but it may be possible to identify implicit allocations across schools. The American Bar Association reports annual teaching loads of all ABA approved law schools. A table (after the jump) reports for the most recent academic year available to me (2004-05). The average that year for all law schools with FTEs between 700 and 1000 is 10.2 credit hours.


Inferences about institutional allocation can be made from the data, at least for conventional classrooms teachers (i.e., other than clinical and legal writing teachers or teachers of low enrollment courses). Suppose, for example, that the average teaching load at a school is 12 credit hours per year. That averages 6 per semester. Credit hours per semester are the number of classroom hours. Each credit hour translates into some multiple of that in aggregate work time (class itself plus preparation and reflection, student meetings, exam preparation and grading, recommendation letters and so on). Experience suggests it is not unreasonable to suppose that is 5 hours, optimally.

For faculty bearing an average teaching burden of 12 credit hours, this essentially means 30 hours per week allocated to teaching-related activities. Setting aside service obligations—and assuming for simplicity a 40-hour work week—that leaves some 10 hours per week for scholarly research and writing (although serious scholars obviously work far more than 40 hours per week). So the implicit resource allocation is 3/4 to teaching and 1/4 to writing (plus service).

Compare that with a faculty bearing an average teaching load of 8 credits. That essentially means 20 hours per week allocated to teaching, enabling at least an equal amount for writing. So the implicit resource allocation is 1/2 to teaching and 1/2 to writing (plus service).

Do many surprises appear in the following illustrations of average annual teaching loads? Perhaps a few. But an admittedly casual skimming of the list suggests a non-trivial positive correlation between scholarly productivity and reasonable teaching burdens.

USC …………….. 6.7

Northwestern…… 6.8

Stanford………… 6.9

Berkeley………… 7.2

Ohio State ……… 7.3

Virginia…………..7.4

GW……………….7.4

NYU………………7.6

UCLA……………..7.8

San Diego…………7.8

Minnesota………..7.9

Penn……………..7.9

Vanderbilt……….7.9

Yale………………8.0

Cornell……………8.0

Harvard…………..8.1

Chicago…………. 8.3

Wm. & Mary………8.5

Duke…………….. 8.7

Case ……………. 8.8

Fordham………… 8.9

Wash. U………….8.9

Notre Dame………9.0

Cardozo………….9.1

Georgetown……..9.6

Wake…………… 9.7

Suffolk………….10.1

AVERAGE……… 10.2

Connecticut……10.3

Tennessee……..10.4

St. John’s………10.6

BU………………10.9

Washburn……..11.1

New England…..11.2

BC……………..11.2

St. Thomas……..11.3

Quinnipiac……..11.3

Catholic………..11.4

SMU……………11.4

Vermont……….11.4

Kentucky………11.5

Maryland………11.7

N. Illinois……..12.0

Nebraska………12.2

Louisville………12.4

N. Kentucky……12.5

John Marshall….12.8

Akron…………12.8

Kansas………..12.9

Florida State…..13.0

Gonzaga……….13.1

Mercer………..13.3

Northeastern….13.5

Baltimore……..15.2

Within an institution, an important factor not revealed by average annual institutional teaching allocations concerns contact hours. This is the product of credits and student enrollment. It is a useful proxy for individual teaching burden (again, for conventional classroom teachers).

While imperfect, contact hour data can be an important aid in thinking about both equities and inefficiencies in the operation of a school. The data can help Deans evaluate how fairly teaching duties are distributed. Fairness can be assessed according to the distribution, say by quartiles. Surprises may appear and adjustments warranted. It may not be uncommon, for example, for a school to have 1/4 of its faculty members bearing, respectively, 100, 250, 500 and 700 contact hours.

It is rare but also possible to have even more acute tails, especially at large schools for teachers of high-enrollment courses. For some such teachers, annual contact hours can exceed 1200. That makes it more difficult for them to discharge their other duties in scholarship and service.

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9 Responses

  1. Deven says:

    Great post. I want to think more on it but the contact hours idea seems overstated (or it is possible that I misunderstood what you were describing).

    Large classes are arguably less impact on a professor except at that final grading time. If professors are holding office hours such that all can come or are giving midterms, then contact hours may be actual contact. Contrast schools that have tenure track or tenured legal writing where a professor has say 25 students, 4 hours a week, and continual grading and feedback or an upper division class where several stages of paper development are evaluated during a semester to a large lecture and they may be more of a wash or lean towards the large lecture. The large lecture will have a ton of contact at a specific time, but during the semester the professor may be able to sequester teaching to a few days a week and then focus on research the other days.

    Again I may not be seeing what you mean by “conventional classroom teachers.” If so, sorry but could you clarify that please.

    In general, thanks again for the post and the data.

    Best

    Deven

  2. Lawrence Cunningham says:

    Deven,

    Thanks. Contact hours are definitely an abstraction requiring a context to be useful. Spot on are your examples of intensive interactive pedagogy demanded in extensive writing courses (similarly with clinical training).

    Equally valid is how many law professors fairly and effectively contribute different value to the three aspects of professorial duty.

    Even so subject to how skewed contact hour distributions must be examined in context, decanal review can reveal information useful to promote collegial and institutional fairness and efficiency.

    More broadly, general appreciation of how individuals and schools struggle to allocate scarce resources among these three demanding duties seems illuminating.

  3. dave hoffman says:

    Great post. I think something else to think about is that the degree to which students actually approach professors will significantly affect contact hours. Thus, in a school like HLS, my sense is that no one comes into office hours. While, at Temple, office hours are often packed – possibly, as I’ve written before, because of a culture of intensive exam review.

  4. Lawrence Cunningham says:

    Dave,

    Thanks. Adding to your good point, among schools where students do take advantage of office hours, there is invariably much greater visitation and consultation with teachers of first-year courses compared to upper-level courses. This is probably related to relative uncertainties and stakes.

  5. Jason Mazzone says:

    I discovered that it makes a difference how my teaching hours are allocated between the fall and the spring semesters. If I teach a large course in the fall, I spend an enormous amount of time meeting with students in the spring about the exam. If I teach the same large course in the spring, very few students come to see me the following fall about their exams.

  6. Fair Compensation Fred says:

    Law schools might want to consider dividing salaries into thirds–one third for scholarship, one third for teaching, one third for service, with opportunities for bonuses for outstanding work in any field. To keep the thing budget-neutral: certainly some people who are rich or leisure-loving will forego, say, the service third or scholarship third, and that money can go to pay more to incentivize better scholarship, teaching, or service among those with more time to devote to these areas.

  7. Deven says:

    All,

    Thanks for a most useful post and discussion. As Lawrence notes the information starts to focus the various ways professors spend their time. And in summer, it allows me to remind folks that “summer off” is inaccurate.

  8. Felix says:

    The teaching load statistics are very interesting, but alas as posted above include only some law schools. I tried and failed to find a source for these statistics on the ABA website. Lawrence: Is the complete list publicly available somewhere? Thanks.

  9. Felix says:

    These teaching load statistics are very interesting. However, as posted above they include only some law schools. I tried but failed to find on the ABA website a source for these statistics. Lawrence: Are the complete statistics publicly available somewhere? Thanks.