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Brian Leiter
University of Chicago Law School

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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

A PhD in "Law and Economics?"

We reported last month on the move of Viscusi and Hersch to Vanderbilt, and now Vanderbilt's official announcement reports that the school is establishing a PhD program in "law and economics."  There already exist many schools, of course, where one can get a JD and a PhD in economics (Harvard, Stanford, and Chicago have probably produced the most academics with this background), but I take it the idea here is that the PhD studies will focus on "law and economics," and that this can be done in conjunction with a law degree.

I'm curious to hear what those more knowledgeable about economics, and economic analysis of law, think:  does the world need a PhD program in "law and economics"?  Does such a program make sense, as distinct from pursuing a JD and a PhD in economics?  Please remember that comments may take awhile to appear.

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Comments

A risk of interdisciplinary scholarship is that scholars working at the junction of two fields might lose their grounding in their home fields, causing their interdisciplinary work to lack a solid foundation in either discipline. The Vanderbilt program may aggravate that risk if it confers degrees on students whose study of economics focuses primarily on law and whose study of law focuses primarily on economics, to the point where students might not obtain a robust and diversified understanding of either field.

Posted by: AnonProf | Jan 25, 2006 7:33:02 AM

It's far from my area of expertise, but this doesn't seem radically different to me from other specialized economics PhDs offered outside of economics departments. Some schools of forestry or environmental sciences offer PhDs in forestry economics or environmental economics, for instance. (Less distinctive, I would think, would be PhDs offered by business schools as opposed to econ departments in arts and sciences schools.) I have no idea how such specialized econ degrees are viewed by the broader commmunity of economics scholars.

Posted by: Darryl Brown | Jan 25, 2006 8:57:00 AM

Over on the Volokh blog Viscuis had this to say about the program:

"Thanks for all these interesting comments and questions. Our new program is a PhD program in law and economics offered by the law school, not by a companion economics department. The majority of the core courses will be developed specifically by economists on the law school faculty for our program. We will be admitting students next year for the Fall 2007, and we hope you encourage your students to check us out. And yes, Joni Hersch and I are married. Kip"

So, it seems what's distinct about this program is that the PhD is granted by the law school, not the econ dept., and that the courses are mostly given by economists appointed (primarily?) to the law school, not the econ dept. Maybe that was clear to other people reading the news release, but it wasn't to me. I don't know whether this is a good idea or not. I'd guess the _real_ test will be to see whether people graduating with this degree are taken seriously by traditional economists.

Posted by: Matt | Jan 25, 2006 1:30:11 PM

I'm not sure about that. My guess is that this is an effort to train future law professors. Law and Economics is now well established in the academy, but its hiring is complicated by the fact that many economists lack law degrees and are thus hampered in teaching and that it takes some much time and money sacrifice to get both the law degree and the econ Ph.D I suspect that this is a way to combine the degrees in a shorter time period and staff law faculties with Vandy grads. I'm assuming the required curriculum contains considerable law school classwork. The question will be the rigor of the econ classwork and dissertation requirements. With Viscusi in charge, I suspect it will be sufficient, and Vandy could become a leading source of future law profs in this area. They will need to be taken seriously by economists but need not offer exactly the same product.

Posted by: frankcross | Jan 25, 2006 5:51:05 PM

UC Berkeley (Boalt Hall) offer's a PhD in Jurisprudence & Social Policy, a program in which a student can focus on law and economics (as well as law and sociology, law and political science, etc.) In this sense, Vanderbilt's program sounds like a limited version of Berkeley's JSP program.

Posted by: berkeley student | Jan 26, 2006 3:36:20 PM

Frank-
Don't most economists hired by law schools also have law degrees? Those w/o them seem to be the exception, and also seem to be pretty senior when hired. But, people with both law degrees from schools better than Vanderbilt (no slur on them, just a factual statement) and PhD's from top econ depts. seem fairly common. Given this, and that the econ degrees from an established econ dept. will likely count for more, does it seem likely that Vanderbilt graduates will have a special advantage in the teaching market?

Posted by: Matt | Jan 26, 2006 5:28:58 PM

The Berkeley student is right, of course, about JSP. But I can't think of any law and economics (or law and philosophy, for that matter) scholar of note who came out of that program. That might suggest that PhD training in economics (and philosophy) conjoined with law study is a more intellectually fruitful course of study than simply PhD study in the purported conjunction of the two fields. (JSP's success seems to have been entirely with training law & sociology and political science types [and notwithstanding some first-rate law and economics faculty]. This may reflect differences between those social science fields and economics or philosophy, I'm not really sure.)

Posted by: Brian Leiter | Jan 27, 2006 7:03:48 AM

When it was founded JSP was expected to produced faculty candidates in sociology, history, political science, and other social science and humanities disciplines, and it has indeed produced many. Over the last decade a growing share of JSP Phds have been landing well in the law teaching market including recent graduates like Neil Siegel at Duke, Kaaryn Gustafson at U.Conn, Kay Levine at Emory, as well as graduates from the 1990s like Eric Feldman at Penn, Catherine Albiston who went to Wisconsin before we hired her back, and Tom Ginsburg at University of Illinois.

I think our students do well precisely because they have to get a strong grounding in a particular discipline (like economics, philosophy, or sociology) while learning to play well with others in several other disciplines. It doesn't hurt that the disciplinary departments in those fields at Berkeley are among the strongest in the world, but the real advantage is being trained in an interdisicplinary environment (which is just what the top law schools have become) from the very beginning.

We are especially excited about the prospects of developing a stronger synthesis of law and economics and law and society than has been achieved elsewhere. The emergence of a vibrant new empirical law and economics field, with strong roots at Berkeley, is particularly promising and we think we have the best resources to "gene splice" it with law and society empiricism that has flourished here since 1966.

The empirical law and economists that come out of Berkeley (or a new program like Vanderbilt's) may not compete in pure cranial capacity with the graduates of PHD programs in economics at MIT, Berkeley, or RAND, but they will have a capacity to think more reflexively and critically about the institutional contexts of policies they are evaluating and discuss their findings in richer ways with the colleagues from other disciplines they will find in law schools.

Posted by: Jonathan Simon | Jan 31, 2006 10:45:56 AM

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