"Because the level of the scholarship expected of entry-level law professors has risen quite dramatically, increasing numbers of law professors now pursue Ph.D.’s in allied disciplines like economics, history, philosophy, or political science. Because such disciplines train students in standards and questions that are different from those of the law, the natural next step for the legal academy is to create our own Ph.D. program that can focus on the questions and practices of the law itself. Students obtaining a Ph.D. in law may, of course, engage in interdisciplinary studies, but their work will be anchored in the framework of legal scholarship." (Dean Robert Post)
The program is clearly designed to prepare individuals for careers on law faculty; and, interestingly, the program is only open to individuals who have already received a J.D. This makes it an interesting move by Yale, both from a "possible pool of candidates" perspective and (more broadly) given some of the other changes in law schools recently (and their likely knock-on effects for faculty hiring). I'll have to mull this last bit over a bit more before commenting further, but my knee-jerk reaction is that this will further polarize the ranks of law school faculties with respect to credentals, focus, etc.
In related news, Gordon Silverstein, a political scientist formerly at (inter alia) Berkeley, will assume the position of Assistant Dean of Graduate Programs at YLS, effective Monday. He'll be in charge of the new Ph.D., as well as existing the LL.M. and J.S.D. programs. Congratulations, Gordon!