Aspirational Career Path of the Day: Law School Dean

By Robyn Hagan Cain on January 16, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

We never contemplated a career in legal academia because, frankly, it never seemed to be the path to riches and fame. (Not compared to law blogging, at least.)

But New England Law School's dean, John O'Brien, may be the exception to the rule. The Boston Globe reported this week that O'Brien makes $867,000 a year in salary and benefits.

Just so we're clear, that's more than your average law blogger earns.

So is it time for you to shift your sights from practicing law (or blogging about it) to convincing unsuspecting souls to enter the legal rat race? Probably not.

Back in her law dean days at Harvard, Justice Elena Kagan only made $437,299. (Adjusted for inflation, that amount would be $485,552.44 in 2013.) According to, the median expected salary for a typical law school dean is $267,282. That may be a significant jump from the $160,000 $60,000 latte art tips you're currently earning, but the market for law school leadership is even more limited than the lawyer market: There are only 202 ABA-approved law schools.

More importantly, O'Brien's salary is unusually high.

The dean justified the sum to the Globe, explaining that he has "the longest continuous service at a single institution of any law school dean in the country," and is responsible for all aspects of administering the school, unlike other law school deans who are part of a larger university and can rely on university staff.

The paper notes that O'Brien, described as a "legendary networker," is considered an asset whose reputation reflects well on New England Law School, even though the school languishes in the unranked listings of the US News and World Report's annual law school listing.

(To paraphrase Donna Summer, she works hard for the money so you better treat her him right.)

While dean-ing may offer more job security than lawyering these days, it's still a hard gig to snag. Unless you're already on the tenure track, an aspirational academia gig -- especially one that offers John O'Brien's salary -- may be out of reach.

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