I'm late to the party, but the Prawfs debate on whether a PhD is necessary to do serious law-and-econ (and other law-and ) scholarship is really interesting. See also Larry R. Brett McDonnell pretty much nails it in his comment about halfway down the Prawfs thread.
More thoughts below the fold.
[*(By way of background: I think of myself as a consumer, not a
producer, of law and economics. Economics informs my scholarship, as
does philosophy, psychology and sociology. If forced to choose a
discipline or methodology, it would be intra-disciplinary (tax and
business law), not inter-disciplinary.)]
I think it's worth adding one more element to the debate, at least as it pertains to business law: practice experience.
This debate is not, or should not be, a debate about serious
law-and-econ vs. armchair law-and-econ. Most of us recognize that most
schools still need more economists and fewer dabblers. But at the same
time, dabbling has its place. Especially if the dabblers bring
something else to the party. What is that something? Let's call it legal professionalism, both in the sense of practical experience and an understanding of the norms of how lawyers and clients make decisions.
Litvak points out, quite accurately I think, that ALEA has become
dominated by serious econ types. The conference is no longer very
hospitable to the likes of Conglomerate. In part, the drive to muscle
up corporate law is a needed correction. I certainly think the
empirical work is immensely valuable in testing an overtheorized
field. But I think the trend may have gone too far. Shutting the
lawyers out of ALEA will not ultimately advance our collective understanding of how things work on Wall Street or in Silicon Valley.
The Leiter/ALEA way-of-thinking suggests that it may be appropriate to
require a PhD in economics (or similar skills) to get a law teaching
job at a top school or to join in the debate. I'm not so sure this is
a good idea. A PhD is often a substitute for practice experience. And
yet most economists recognize that institutions and norms affect the
way things work in practice, and it can be helpful to have practiced
yourself. (N.B. This deficit can be overcome by interviewing lawyers, as we all have to do when our first-hand experience is inadequate.)
Moreover, doing "cutting-edge work" in economics is not the only game in town. One important role for us non-PhDs is to translate the teachings of L&E into language that non-economists (esp. lawyers and policy-makers) can understand and appreciate. Litvak herself provides a nice example in this piece.
Lastly, many finance puzzles cannot be understood without a fairly
sophisticated understanding of the regulatory backdrop. I find many of
the finance papers I read on SSRN lacking in this respect (although,
increasingly, many are good). I tend to focus on the interaction
between tax and corporate governance, but of course other regulatory
fields like securities, banking, and financial intermediation rules are
important too. (Litvak and I have had an exchange in print that
illustrates my point. Her piece is here; my short response is here.)
Now, having said all that, I don't want to lose sight of the
original question on Leiter's blog, which was the value of a PhD. It's
my opinion that most schools need more PhDs, not fewer. I just hope
that hiring more PhDs adds richness to legal scholarship without
dividing us into too many separate pods.
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