Wednesday, January 18, 2006

limited resources?

At some law schools, legal writing professors are told that there is no money for raises, travel to conferences, summer research grants, computer printers, etc., etc.  Usually, though, it is not a question of the existence of money; more often it is actually a question of choices made in the allocation of money and other resources.  If resources seem to be lacking, it can be helpful to be well-informed about how much money the law school really has and how it is allocated.

In other words, it can be a very enlightening experience to read your law school’s budget.  How do you get ahold of a copy of your school’s budget?  If you work for a public school, the budget is a matter of public record, and you have the same right as any other member of the public to see it.  If you work for a private school, you may be surprised how easy it is to see the budget if you simply ask.

At every law school a copy of the budget will be filed somewhere in the dean’s suite.  If you’d rather not ask the dean’s staff, a copy also likely is available in your law school’s library, and at most schools the librarians will be glad to assist you in locating it.  If your law school is part of a public university, there will also be a copy of the full university’s budget, including the law school, in the university’s main library.  If your law school is part of a private university, it’s at least worth the try to inquire at the university’s main library.

Once you find a copy of your school’s budget, it should not take long to figure out how it is organized and how items are listed within it.  The salaries of every employee will be there.  Some employees, such as faculty or administrators who wear more than one hat, may be listed in more than one department or category, so it’s helpful to peruse more than just the law school’s pages.  If you’re at a large university, expect the budget to fill more than one very fat volume, and do not expect to be allowed to lug it back to your office.  Be prepared to take notes or make photocopies.  Because of the sensitive nature of salary information, even at a public school there may not be a detailed, line-item budget available electronically.

In addition, don’t overlook people at the law school who may be glad to take a few minutes to explain budget matters or answer questions for you.  At many schools, the accountant or the director of development would welcome faculty interest in how the money works.  And law school library directors, in particular, can be a very useful source of information on how to find the money you might need within your school’s budget.  (spl)

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