A recent article posted on SSRN, Reproduction of Hierarchy? A Social Network Analysis of the American Law Professoriate, asks the intriguing question of to what extent do law professors influence the development of the law. To begin to answer the question, the authors apply social network theory to the social structure of legal academia, drawing on information on each tenure-track professor employed at an ABA-accredited law school. The authors tracked where each professor received his or her American law degree (they excluded faculty without such degrees) and where the professor now teaches and then used this data to generate a network analysis. This analysis produces visual representations of the resulting networks, like the one diagram below, which illustrates the centrality of a small number of schools – and especially Harvard and Yale – in this academic network.
The authors caution, however, that such visualizations are not sufficient to understand underlying structural relationships. They therefore apply several statistical measures: outdegree (the number of arcs emanating from each node, or more concretely here, the number of faculty members produced by each law school), hubs (measuring the relative prestige of the origin and endpoint of each arc, that is, the relative prestige of each institution – “Hubs are the schools with a high degree of influence on other influential schools...”), and closeness (measuring the tightness of connections between different institutions). Like the visualization, these measures demonstrate an extreme skew towards the influence of a small number of schools.
Finally, the authors use the network analysis to model the rate at which ideas spread from one institution to another – the institutions’ intellectual infectiousness. Although they acknowledge that this model involves a number of simplifying assumptions that themselves need to be examined, they argue that they provide a first cut at demonstrating how quickly and effectively new legal or intellectual paradigms can spread from one school to another where they are then incorporated into the education and socialization of future lawyers. This is one possible mechanism by which changes in the law become widely accepted.
The piece has five authors all from the University of Michigan: Daniel Katz, Josh Gubler, and Jon Zelner, Eric Provins, and Eitan Ingall.