When Laurence Tribe decided to take an ongoing consulting gig last month with Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, he saw it as a way to consolidate his work life, which he said was “pulled in a thousand different directions.”

Writing two books, teaching full time and juggling numerous pro bono projects, the Harvard Law School professor wanted the resources that a big law firm could provide and the consistency of working with the same players on key projects.

“It’s a useful umbrella for some of the work I want to do,” he said.

Tribe is just one of many high-profile legal scholars who have outside jobs with law firms in addition to working as full-time faculty members. The positions not only provide professors with a little cash, but they also provide a little cachet to law firms that can tout the scholar’s expertise as a mark of distinction.

Law school administrators say they like the idea of professors obtaining some real-world experience, but they also want to make sure their schools are getting their money’s worth from faculty members.

“Our job is primarily to teach our students and do research on law and law-related subjects,” said Michael Schill, dean of University of California at Los Angeles School of Law. “If too many people are consulting too much of the time, it takes people’s attention away from what they should be doing at the law school.”

The ‘halo effect’

Just how many law professors provide consulting to law firms is uncertain, but most schools, particularly those in large cities, have a least a few faculty members who do such work. Although consulting is not new, Schill said, it appears to be growing as an acceptable side job for law professors.

Columbia Law School Dean David Schizer surmises that law firms are bringing in a wider variety of consultants, including a broader array of scholars. The move, he said, reflects today’s relationships between clients and their law firms.

“It used to be that a particular investment bank would work only with one law firm. That was mirrored in the relationship between the bar and the academic [community] to consult only with one group of lawyers,” Schizer said.

Some law professors consult with a variety of firms on an as-needed basis. Others, like Tribe, strike deals to work on an ongoing basis with a particular firm. He consults primarily with Akin Gump, although the arrangement gives him the flexibility to work with other firms as well, said Tribe, who has argued about 35 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.

At Los Angeles-based Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges, Stanford Law School Professor and former Dean Kathleen Sullivan is of counsel to its Redwood Shores, Calif., office. She has returned to the faculty full-time after a leave of absence last year to build the firm’s new appellate practice. She also is the director of the Stanford Constitutional Law Center.

The arrangement with Sullivan gives Quinn Emanuel “a halo effect,” said Bill Urquhart, a partner at the 314-attorney firm. Besides providing a wealth of knowledge, Sullivan’s affiliation creates a “wow factor” for the firm, he said.

“Honest to God, having Kathleen with you at a meeting is like walking in with Mick Jagger.”

Ohio State University Michael E. Moritz College of Law Professor Douglas Berman worked with O’Melveny & Myers on sentencing issues in the criminal case against former Enron Corp. Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Skilling, and he is eager to do more consulting with private law firms.

He said that because faculty pay lags woefully behind law firm partners’ pay, consulting with law firms is a way to get compensated for his brainpower. He charged O’Melveny about $350 an hour for his services, he said.

“A lot of it is a market reality,” Berman said, adding that consulting also provides professors with welcome variety. “As you get more senior and more accomplished, writing law review articles is even more unsatisfying.”

Rules & regulations

The standards set by the American Bar Association (ABA) for law school accreditation limit full-time faculty members’ outside activities to those that do not interfere with the responsibilities of teaching, scholarship and service to the community.

The interpretation of the rule states that regularly engaging in an ongoing relationship with a law firm creates the presumption that the faculty member is not full-time. However, the school can rebut the presumption if it demonstrates that faculty members have a full-time commitment to their responsibilities, are available to students and are able to participate in the governance of the school to the same extent as other full-time members.

Tribe, who has been a law professor for 37 years, said he discussed his arrangement at Akin Gump with the law school’s administration. The school’s policy restricts full-time professors from undertaking outside endeavors that demand more than 20% of their work time, he said. His work ethic and his experience allayed any concerns from the administration, he said. Tribe added that he expects the arrangement to save him time and allow him to devote more energy to pro bono projects.

Having law professors work with law firms brings a practical component into the classroom, said Columbia’s Schizer. As at other schools, Columbia’s policy limits professors’ outside activities to one day a week.

“I don’t have the sense that we really need it,” Schizer said. “People who are asked to do this tend to be extremely well regarded and productive. They are amazingly energetic.”

Raising red flags

That may be, but too much faculty consulting, especially of counsel arrangements, can raise red flags for the ABA, which sends site-inspection teams of academicians and practitioners to schools during the accreditation or reaccreditation process. Consulting can also expose the school to liability and create conflicts of interest if the professor’s work opposes a school’s position.

One law professor who has served on several site-inspection teams for the ABA said that an abundance of faculty members who consult “creates uncomfortable conversations between the site-inspection team and the law school.” The professor explained that too many off-campus endeavors may raise concerns about the veracity of a school’s student-faculty ratios, which have a significant impact on accreditation and ranking.

Northwestern University School of Law Dean David Van Zandt said he encourages faculty to engage in consulting and urges them to post such assignments on their faculty profile.

“It is good for our students and good for the law school,” he said.

But he added that it has the potential to become a distraction.

“[I]f that happens, I handle it through compensation mechanisms,” he said.