Panel Paper: The Relative Efficacy of Adjunct Faculty in Law School Classrooms

Thursday, November 2, 2017
Columbian (Hyatt Regency Chicago)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Raymond Zuniga, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Seth Gershenson, Vanderbilt University and Erdal Tekin, American University

This paper addresses the question of whether exposure to adjunct and fulltime, non-tenure line law school instructors affects students’ success. Success will be measured by course grades, future course-taking, persistence and graduation, engagement with the university’s law journals, performance on the bar exam(s), sector of employment, and law firm size and status (for those entering the private sector). Determining whether having adjunct and other categories of non-tenure line instructors in first-year required courses affects students’ academic performance and subsequent labor market performance, particularly among students from demographic backgrounds that are underrepresented in the legal profession, will improve our understanding of the barriers to obtaining law degrees and employment in the legal profession faced by such students even after they have been admitted to law school. Identifying the educational inputs under law schools’ control that influence the performance and decisions of female and racial and ethnic minority law students is important, as even among similarly credentialed students at top law schools, women and minorities often feel alienated in law school classrooms and are less likely to graduate than white men (e.g., Banks 1988; Guinier et al. 1994). These disparities in law school experiences contribute to the underrepresentation of females and racial and ethnic minorities in the legal profession, particularly in the highest paying, most visible positions (Holder, 2001).

The efficacy of adjunct and fulltime non-tenureline instructors relative to tenured and tenure-track faculty is a timely issue relevant to national policy debates as there are at least two reasons that law schools might wish to increase the usage of adjunct and other non-tenure track instructors (Ehrenberg, 2013). First, as job prospects and salaries for newly minted lawyers have levelled off in recent years, the lower costs of hiring adjuncts offer law schools an attractive way to reduce expenditures, and in turn, tuition. Second, proposed rule changes by the American Bar Association (ABA) for law school accreditation may make it easier for law schools to hire and staff more classes with adjunct and other types of non-tenure track instructors.

To date, however, rigorous evidence on the relative efficacy of adjunct and other types of non-tenure track law school faculty is lacking (Ehrenberg, 2013). This paper fills this gap in the literature by providing credible evidence on the causal impacts of adjunct and term (non-tenure track) faculty on law students’ academic and labor-market outcomes relative to those of their tenured (and tenure-track) counterparts. Specifically, we address three research questions:

i) Relative to tenured and tenure-track faculty, are adjunct and non-tenure track faculty more, less, or equally effective in promoting law students’ academic and labor-market success?

ii) Does the relative efficacy of adjunct and non-tenure track faculty vary by law students’ sociodemographic backgrounds?

iii) Does exposure to adjunct and non-tenure track faculty in first-year law classes vary by students’ sociodemographic backgrounds?