As recently as a decade ago, law schools were happy to hire professors with no more than a J.D. degree. That arrangement is officially history, according to a new study.
“This is the beginning of an era in which the PhDs control law faculties,” said Lynn LoPucki, a UCLA School of Law professor who authored the study.
Titled Dawn of the Discipline-Based Law Faculty, the study reviews the entry-level hires of AALS-member law schools between 2011 and 2015, and finds a sharp uptick in the rate at which law schools are hiring faculty members with PhDs. LoPucki believes the trend in favor of PhD law professors has reached a point of no return, potentially cementing a future where law school faculty, are long on degrees and publications — but short on time outside university walls.
Brian Leiter comments:
The rise in expectations for scholarly writing from junior faculty candidates over the last twenty years has strongly favored those with PhDs, who, of course, have a lot of writing in hand. And some of this is simply attributable to the revolution in legal scholarship wrought by Richard Posner in the 1970s, which finally finished off the Langedellian paradigm of legal scholarship.
Although I'm quoted saying that the rise of JD/PhDs will continue, that's a descriptive not normative statement. I think different schools have different missions. And the relevance of the JD/PhD varies by field. We have ten current junior faculty, only four of whom are JD/PhDs. Our Dean is a JD/PhD, our two most recent tenures were one JD/PhD and one JD (who had even been a partner in a major law firm). We placed three Chicago candidates at "top" law schools this year, two were JD/PhDs, one a "mere" JD. I think my prediction is an accurate one--and at other top schools it's already come true--but it will be another twenty-five years before it is realized at the top law schools generally.
Personally, this is one issue where I stand with the Scamlaw folks. As far as I can tell, what is valued these days are:
- Ability to network with people you knew in graduate school that got hired last year
- Having a PhD
- Having multiple publications, even if they demonstrate the author's utter lack of doctrinal knowledge or inability to do basic legal research
- Knowing what Rawls (or Dworkin) would think of X
- Being able to run linear regressions
- Being able to run regressions about what Rawls would think about X
As a result, many of these Ph.D. whizzes we're hiring lack traditional indicia of excellence like top grades, Order of the Coif, law review membership, prestigious clerkships, or practice experience at top law firms. You know, credentials that actually have something to do with ... I don't know ... the practice of law!
Hence, I agree this rant from Brent E. Newton (Adjunct Professor, Georgetown; Deputy Staff Director, U.S. Sentencing Commission):
Could [a typical law school] professor whose primary scholarly interest is criminal law and procedure effectively prosecute or represent a criminal defendant at a felony trial? Could such a professor who writes law review articles about the First Amendment effectively represent a client in a civil rights litigation? Could such a professor whose expertise is securities regulation effectively represent a client or the government in an S.E.C. enforcement action? Imagine such professors being first-chair counsel in a complex civil or criminal litigation who must interview potential witnesses, take depositions and engage in electronic discovery, file and respond to summary judgment motions, conduct voir dire, present the testimony of an expert witness, cross-examine (and impeach) hostile witnesses, and make closing arguments to a jury. There are some full-time non-clinical law professors capable of competently representing clients in real cases, but they are the exception, not the rule, particularly among professors hired in recent years at highly-ranked law schools.
How can we expect law students to become competent practitioners if the core of full-time law faculties, notwithstanding their scholarly prowess, do not themselves possess even the basic skills required to practice the type of law about which they teach and write? How can we expect law students to become competent and ethical practitioners when the faculty members best suited to teach them the necessary practical skills and ethical lessons from real-world cases – clinicians, LRW professors, and adjuncts – are marginalized and even openly held in disdain by some members of the “main” faculty?
Indeed, law is applied science, not basic research. We're engineers, not theoretical physicists. Hence, I agree with Jason Mazzone's comment that:
Many new law professors hold a Ph.D. in some field other than law (philosophy, history, and economics are the most common). Such training is useful but it is no substitute for doctoral training in the actual field in which one labors.
Fortunately, I'll be safely retired by the time the Ph.D. types are fully in charge.