The race to improve research ratings in 2008 and a return to practice are driving up academic salaries in law and driving down the age for a chair in the subject. Lee Elliot Major reports on the evidence
Star law professors can now command five-figure salaries as the job market among university schools gears up for the next research assessment exercise in 2008. Departments are also offering chairs to increasingly young academics as they poach talent to raise their research standing.
Most research-based schools have only one target in mind - positioning themselves for the next RAE, says John Hodgson, learning and teaching coordinator at Nottingham Law School at Nottingham Trent University and head of the policy committee at the Association of Law Teachers.
One factor driving up salaries is that many top law scholars are turning their backs on university life, a move that could prompt the heads of law schools to launch a full investigation into recruitment trends in the subject.
"Increasingly good people are going off to practise law," says Tony Smith, chairman of the Committee of Heads of University Law Schools and professor of criminal and public laws at Cambridge University.
But the flip side is that universities were also able to recruit from law firms for those attracted to the "slightly less pressurised and frenetic environment of the law school", Hodgson says.
Law schools are also promoting academics at ever younger ages. Liverpool University, for example, recently appointed a 32-year-old as a professor.
And Smith says he knows of at least one example of a young professor offered a £100,000-plus salary.
This week, two major departments announce vacancies in The Times Higher .
Nottingham University is advertising for a chair in law, a lecturer in law and a lecturer in legal research reasoning and writing. Cardiff University, meanwhile, is advertising up to three posts at lecturer/senior lecturer level.
During the past month, Edinburgh, Ulster, Northumbria and City universities have also announced new positions.
John Birds, head of department and professor of commercial law at Sheffield University and president of the Society of Legal Scholars, says that rising numbers of student enrolments, as well as retirements among the first generation of law scholars, are fuelling the jobs market.
"Departments are rewarded for taking on more students after the event," Birds says. Enrolments are up, particularly on masters courses, which are attracting rising numbers of overseas students. Schools are then able to argue for more university funds to recruit staff.
Birds also says that many of the scholars who established university law schools in the late 1960s and 1970s are now retiring, making way for the next generation.