LSU Law Center offers buyouts to 7 professors as interest in law schools dwindles nationally _lowres

Advocate staff file photo by Richard Alan Hannon -- The LSU Law Center

LSU’s Law Center is offering an incentive to seven professors if they retire next summer as it looks to cut costs amid a dwindling interest in law schools nationally.

The professors, all older than 65 and tenured faculty members, have until Monday to decide whether they will retire June 30 and get paid a bonus of roughly a year’s salary in return. The total that would be saved if all decide to take the buyout: $1.12 million a year.

“This is really part of a necessary effort to provide additional financial flexibility for the Law Center,” LSU Law Center Chancellor Jack Weiss said during a recent LSU Board of Supervisors meeting, at which the plan was unanimously approved.

The American Bar Association made headlines last week with news that law school enrollment across the country sank this year to its lowest point since 1987.

Nearly two-thirds of the 204 ABA-approved law schools saw declines in first-year enrollment compared to last year.

The LSU Law Center’s fall 2014 enrollment is about 570 students — 200 of them in their first year. That’s a slight uptick from the year before, but LSU has seen a significant drop in interest in recent years, reflective of the national trend. It’s down nearly 16 percent from LSU law’s 238 first-year student enrollment in 2011.

“The pool of applicants has declined substantially,” Weiss said.

The employment rate among recent law school graduates nationally has been on a steady decline in recent years.

Meanwhile, the LSU Law Center’s tuition has gone up. Tuition today is about $20,997 a year.

The buyout would provide enough savings to allow the Law Center to not worry as much about a loss in tuition revenue, Weiss said.

Tuition makes up about 80 percent of the law school’s budget.

“It’s critical that we have the flexibility to right-size the faculty of the Law Center,” Weiss said. “The financial cash flow advantage of this plan gives us overall flexibility in terms of our program.”

LSU has the option to renege on the offer if fewer than four faculty members choose to participate.

The Law Center has about 45 faculty members, most of them tenure or tenure-track professors. Among the professors who qualify are several well-known names, including former Law Center Chancellor John Costonis and former LSU system general counsel Ray Lamonica.

Weiss said he’s not sure how many will go for the buyout.

“Certainly, some will,” he said.

He said he sees the incentive program as a way for faculty to “retire with dignity and positive feelings” about the LSU law school.

The Law Center worked with LSU leaders to come up with the plan.

“The plan has significant benefits for the Law Center,” said Daniel Layzell, LSU vice president for finance and administration.

LSU Law Center is in a re-organization effort that will put it under the umbrella of LSU’s flagship campus.

The initial cost of doling out one-time payments to those who choose to take the retirement incentive would be $1.36 million if all seven take the offer.

Half of that will be covered with a loan from the flagship’s budget.

The plan allows the university to hire some of the retirees back on flexible one-year contracts. Or it could fill jobs with new, cheaper hires.

“We will need to replace some of the retirees with other hires, but we’ll have a flexibility to decide to what extent do we want to do that or use the savings for other purposes,” Weiss said.

He said junior faculty members will get more opportunity at the LSU Law Center, and the university will have a chance to hire people newly on the job market in light of the national down trend.

Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp.