The Ph.D. Rises in American Law Schools, 1960-2011: What Does It Mean for Legal Education?
65 Journal of Legal Education 543 (2016)
37 Pages Posted: 13 Feb 2016 Last revised: 26 Feb 2016
Date Written: February 11, 2016
At a time when some perceive law schools to be in crisis and the future of legal education is being debated, the structural shift toward law professors with Ph.Ds is an important, under-examined trend. In this article, we use an original dataset to analyze law school Ph.D hiring trends and consider their potential consequences. Over the last fifty years the proportion of law professors with Ph.Ds has risen dramatically. Over a third of new professors hired at elite law schools in recent years come with doctoral degrees in fields outside the law. We use our data to consider the scope, nature, and implications of the shift, including: the changing mix of disciplines over time; which schools have hired the largest proportions of Ph.Ds, and of what type; and whether Ph.Ds have increased because they have become a substitute for traditional law teaching credentials, or because demand for credentials of all types has risen. We also discuss the risk that the shift toward Ph.Ds will undermine the goal of increasing racial and gender diversity among law professors. Addressing the broader implications for legal education, we argue that the Ph.D trend can deepen students’ understanding of how law is shaped by and actually functions within the broader world. Faculty who are engaged with other disciplines may help students see the “law in context” and the “law in action.” However, law schools will have to proceed mindfully if they wish to maximize the benefits of hiring Ph.Ds while curbing the potential costs to diversity and a well-balanced legal education. Ideally, schools should engage in a deeper examination of their institutional missions, considering how their hiring of interdisciplinary scholars can best serve educational goals, scholarship, and the broader, multi-faceted public interest.
Keywords: law schools, law professor market, legal education
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation