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Brian Leiter
University of Chicago Law School

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Monday, October 15, 2007

Will Northwestern Still be a Top Law School Ten Years from Now? Yes

Back in the fall of 2003, when I was first playing around with blogging, I wrote an item about Northwestern's faculty exodus, wondering whether the Law School would survive as a top law school given the dramatic faculty losses (departures and retirements) in the preceding few years (Thomas Merrill, Michael Perry, Daniel Polsby, Keith Hylton, Richard Speidel, Ian MacNeil, et al.).  At the time, I wrote:

[T]here is now a real risk that Northwestern's law school--which does, indeed, have the best facilities of any urban law school in the country--may be about to slip out of the ranks of elite law school faculties....A crucial issue will be whether the remaining faculty stars--Ronald Allen, David Dana, Andrew Koppelman, Fred McChesney, Albert Yoon, etc. (all of whom are being or will be recruited elsewhere)--stay put. Time will tell.

Four years later, it seems clear that the pessimistic prognosis about Northwestern was wrong.  All the "faculty stars" at Northwestern I noted remain, the bleeding of faculty talent has stopped, and the school has re-emerged with a quite distinctive intellectual identity:   it may well be the legal academic center in the United States for social scientific study of law (though Berkeley, Cornell, and Michigan, among others, also have strong presences in these areas).  "Social scientific" here means psychology, sociology, and political science.  Northwestern's investment in these areas of research has, in recent years, exceeded that of any other law school, so much so that the school's future prospects are probably identical with the future prospects of these research programs.  Right now, interest in the legal academy in this kind of work is high, though it is striking that none of "the top five" law schools (Yale, Harvard, Chicago, Stanford, Columbia, NYU) have yet made extensive investments in these areas.  Law and economics remains, as it were, the coin of prestige in the realm (though a growing number of trained economist/lawyers are certainly doing empirical work as well).

UPDATE:  Tino Cuellar, a law professor at Stanford, writes:

I recently came across this item in your blog, which I occasionally peruse:
"'Social scientific' here means psychology, sociology, and political science.  Northwestern's investment in these areas of research has, in recent years, exceeded that of any other law school, so much so that the school's future prospects are probably identical with the future prospects of these research programs.  Right now, interest in the legal academy in this kind of work is high, though it is striking that none of "the top five" law schools (Yale, Harvard, Chicago, Stanford, Columbia, NYU) have yet made extensive investments in these areas.  Law and economics remains, as it were, the coin of prestige in the realm (though a growing number of trained economist/lawyers are certainly doing empirical work as well)."
Perhaps I could offer a few brief reflections.  First, I take it that the reference to "psychology, sociology, and political science" means that the category of what constitutes "social scientific" is not merely a reference  to work focused on analyzing large-n datasets.  After all, economists do a lot of large-n work (including a range of economically-oriented law professors on our faculty and elsewhere) yet are excluded from the reference above.  And in any event I think there are perfectly valid grounds for including sophisticated studies mixing qualitative and quantitative methods in the definition of social scientific (see, e.g., the work of Daniel Carpenter on bureaucratic autonomy in the Harvard Government Dep't).
Second, if the sine qua non of "social scientific" is a Ph.D. in psychology, sociology, and political science, then I'm puzzled by the argument that we at Stanford (at least) haven't made an investment in this area.  Five of our faculty members have Ph.Ds in Political Science (Hensler, Victor, Rabin, Ho, and Cuellar).  In fact, five out of seven of our entry-level academic hires since 2001 have Ph.Ds in fields other than economics.  Of the remaining two, one has a Ph.D in economics but does both historical as well as econometric work quite different from the quotidian applications of microeconomic theory that seem to be at the core of what some observers take to be "law and economics."  Maybe this is more of an investment in interdisciplinarity than "social science," but it's not at all obvious where one begins and the other ends.
Which raises a larger issue.  I suspect that if we coded what folks do at different schools under the rubric of "social scientific" and did some kind of principal components analysis, we'd find meaningfully different variations.  Northwestern's definition of "social scientific" seems to tend more (though not exclusively) towards large-n datasets treating judicial behavior as a dependent or independent variable -- the paradigmatic Epstein, Schanzenbach, or Yoon sort of work (note, by the way, that Schanzenbach's Ph.D. is in economics while Epstein ahd Yoon have Ph.Ds in poli. sci. -- illustrating some of the important within-category variations associated with the work of Ph.Ds in a particular field), or towards experimental studies of the social psychology of individual decisionmaking (e.g., Shari Diamond, Janice Nadler).  I don't doubt that this qualifies as "social scientific," and I suspect much of it merits a distinguished role in the larger universe of legal scholarship.  What I really wonder about is whether the scope of (what for lack of a better term I'll call) the "Northwestern" category is a good way of delimiting what counts as "social scientific."
I've opened comments in the event others want to comment on this issue.  No anonymous postings, and post only once, comments may take awhile to appear.  My main intent in referring to "social scientific" in terms of sociology, psychology, and political science was to exclude law & economics, where Northwestern is not as strong.

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Maybe. On Law School Reports Blog, Leiter revisits the fate of Northwestern School of Law who apparently had an exodus of excellent faculty about 5 years or so ago. He notes that any pessimistic predictions didnt come to fruition - the school ma... [Read More]

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Whew!

Posted by: Ron Coleman | Oct 17, 2007 12:59:52 PM

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