Legal Writing Professors Say Pay System Is Unfair to Women

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In conjunction with International Women’s Day, two groups representing legal writing professors on Wednesday called for pay and job protections equal to those of traditional law faculty.

Organizers of the effort argue that clinical faculty, legal writing professors, and academic support faculty—areas of the law faculties that generally skew female—should have the same opportunity to earn tenure, if they so choose, as their doctrinal colleagues.

The debate over the second-class status of non-doctrinal faculty on law campuses is not new. But organizers of the so-called Full Citizenship Project for Law Faculty said they launched their latest effort on International Women’s Day to draw attention to the fact that the lower pay and weaker job security that comes with clinical, legal writing, and academic support positions disproportionately affects women.

They estimate that 70 percent of legal writing professors and 63 percent of clinical faculty are women, while women fill only 36 percent of tenure and tenure-track positions.

“The goal of this project is to gain support among all law school administrators and faculty for our view that no justification exists for subordinating one group of law faculty to another based on the nature of the course, the subject matter, or the teaching method,” said Kim Chanbonpin, a lawyering skills professor at The John Marshall Law School and president of the Legal Writing Institute.

The institute, which claims nearly 3,000 legal writing faculty as members, is spearheading the Full Citizenship Project in partnership with the Association of Legal Writing Directors. The Society of American Law Teachers (SALT) has also endorsed the effort.

“Full-time faculty who teach critical lawyering skills, including legal writing faculty, clinicians and academic support faculty, have dedicated their professional lives to educating students and expanding legal knowledge,” said SALT co-president Denise Roy. “SALT has long supported efforts to strengthen the role of the very faculty most able to lead law school efforts to further experiential education.”

The American Bar Association’s standards require law schools to maintain a tenure system for traditional, doctrinal faculty. Full-time clinical professors must have “a form of security of position similar to tenure,” which could be renewable, long-term contracts. Legal writing professors enjoy even fewer protections under the ABA standards, which require only that schools can attract well-qualified professors and that their academic freedom is protected. The ABA allows legal writing faculty to be hired on short-term contracts.

Individual schools have the leeway to offer clinicians and legal writing professors more job protections and a higher status than the ABA’s minimum requirements.

A number of law schools began voluntarily boosting the status and job protections of legal writing faculty before the recession, said Mary Bowman, director of the legal writing program at Seattle University School of Law and the co-chair of the Legal Writing Institute’s professional status committee. But many schools rolled back those advances in the recession’s wake due to budgetary concerns, she added. Legal writing professors also reported being required to teach more students with no additional pay.

“We became aware of schools not renewing contracts, or firing people in the middle of five-year contracts not because of their job performance but because of budgetary reasons,” she said. “We want to try and put some pressure on the ABA standards, and try to persuade schools to provide more robust protections.”

The groups behind the Full Citizenship Project are collecting signatures to a statement calling for equal status for all law faculty.

“All full-time law faculty should have the opportunity to achieve full citizenship at their institutions, including academic freedom, security of position, and governance rights,” the statement reads. “Those rights are necessary to ensure that law students and the legal profession benefit from the myriad perspectives and expertise that all faculty bring to the mission of legal education.”

Organizers plan to collect signatures until April 4, which is Equal Pay Day, and share the statement with the ABA, the Association of American Law Schools, and other legal education groups.