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28 March 2006


William Henderson

A couple of quick comments. First, let's not kid ourselves: the trend toward hiring PhD's in law schools has nothing to do with teaching everything to do with scholarship.

Second, notwithstanding the basis for the hiring decision, I do think PhD's have the potential to improve legal education in just the way that Geoff McGovern describes. Lawyers with quantitative skills can be more effective as both litigators and transactional lawyers. A social science perspective can also help lawyers understand how institutions (including courts and agencies) operate.

Unfortunately, because of the incentive structure of most law schools, the overall effect on curriculum is likely to be uneven and gradual. In the meantime, the PhD's are expediting the ELS movement, which is important and valuable.

Re Jeff Yates' query on changing tenure standards, rumor has it that they have shifted at a handful of elite law schools. New hires are expected to publish in peer-reviewed journals.

Geoff McGovern

Just having more PhDs on the faculty obviously does not guarantee any boost in scholastic or instructional quality at law schools. Yet the curricular inclusion of empirical methods (in various forms) can be beneficial on both grounds. Concerning scholarship, any effort towards greater integration of law and empirical methods will provide yet another useful tool with which legal subjects can be analyzed. But what might have been overlooked is the great contribution to practical legal education. Without having given too much thought to the matter, I see ample room for empirical skills in Evidence. Statistical evidence is admissible in court--and from my experience in law school, most students are weaker in quantitative ability than in verbal skills. Might this be an area to which empirical scholars can contribute? I’m also fairly sure that judges and firms would be receptive to JDs comfortable with basic statistics (if not econometrics). That said, the benefits are not limited to the production of number-crunching attorneys. Quantitative studies of decision-making appear to be fruitful from a strategic appellate litigation perspective.

The skeptical contributor to the Conglomerate blog suggests that PhDs would be poor educators of practical attorneys. Based on the direct practical application of much empirical scholarship on courts, I couldn’t disagree more.

Jeff Yates

A related question would be whether the influx of Ph.D./JDs in law schools has in any way changed the norms of legal academia. Has it influenced tenure standards? Considerations as to appropriate research outlets? Teaching expectations?

Jeff Yates - J.D., Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Department of Political Science
University of Georgia
SSRN page: http://ssrn.com/author=454290

frank cross

I'm pushing for it. The only problem is finding courses to teach for those without law degrees or area specializations. It may be that law schools should focus on JD/PhDs, which is a lot of training. But then, law schools pay well enough to justify it.

I know that at least Northwestern has arranged for its professors to get PhDs


If nothing else, as I think has been alluded to either here or elsewhere on the legal-academic blogosphere, PhDs (often? usually? nearly always?) have experience in the classroom that can be a big help in the first couple of years. This is, of course, helpful whether the school is more focused on lawyer-training or on scholarly pursuits.

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