September 14, 2005
Synthesizing the Ph.D Debate and Moneyball Hiring
Posted by Christine Hurt

I've been traveling almost nonstop for the past week or so, so I've been frenetically paying attention to the "Whether a Ph.D. or Ph.D. training is necessary/sufficient/optimal for interdisciplinary work" question.  The more interesting question to me was suggested in the comments:  Whether all modern corporate law scholarship must be law and econ scholarship?  I'll save that for another day.  As I was sifting through the comments on various posts (see everybody, including Brian Leiter, Dan Solove, Orin Kerr, Larry Ribstein and Vic), I thought about how law schools should react institutionally to this trend.  Obviously, top schools seek out Ph.D. candidates in the AALS, but there probably aren't enough of those candidates to go around.  So, Dave Hoffman's riff on Paul Caron's Moneyball hiring article reminded me that I wanted to throw out this possibility:  What if law schools subsidized Ph.D.s for its scholars?

Now, I'm not arguing for this policy behind a veil of ignorance, although that image by itself may be fitting in my case.  I don't have graduate training in economics, but I would love to have the time/$$ to get one.  I happen to live an hour's train ride from some notable economics programs.  Law schools in proximity to great graduate programs (or even better, law schools on the same campus as some) could market themselves as a place of opportunity.  Supporting the Ph.D. dreams of faculty could be achieved in various ways:  tuition subsidies, lighter teaching loads, joint efforts on campuses between departments for faculty exchanges or interdisciplinary T.A. opportunities.  (I would assume that most schools grant tuition waivers for courses at their own institution, but the home institution may not always be the best choice.)  In industry, many companies pay for their employees to get additional degrees that inure to the benefit of the company.  Why not law schools?

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Comments (24)

1. Posted by Kate Litvak on September 14, 2005 @ 11:33 | Permalink

Sure! Why not reduce out teaching loads, increase our salaries, give us more money for self-improvement projects, and provide free child care and housing to boot? Why not? Why? Why?

2. Posted by Christine Hurt on September 14, 2005 @ 12:03 | Permalink

Some costs incurred by employers have benefits. Assuming that the ones that you have listed do not, I can still make an argument that my suggestion does. Law schools do reduce teaching loads and give stipends and send professors to conferences in an effort to encourage scholarship. The assumption is that law schools benefit from better scholarship. You may think that these financial incentives to give professors the tools and resources to produce scholarship are a waste. In that case, my suggestion would be possible a more expensive waste. I don't think that all law professors believe that stipends, research assistant budgets, travel budgets, sabbaticals, and light loads are wastes. I think that benefits exist to monetarily incentivize faculty to produce better scholarship.
I suppose the opposite approach would be to just hire those with not only the potential but the fully-formed ability to produce cutting-edge work, give them zero support and resources, and fire anyone who does not fulfill their obligations. That law school will have a tough time in the market, I would think.

3. Posted by Gordon Smith on September 14, 2005 @ 12:20 | Permalink

Kate: "Why not reduce [our] teaching loads, increase our salaries, give us more money for self-improvement projects, and provide free child care and housing to boot?"

With the possible exception of free child care and housing, most top law schools (and wannabe top schools) have done everything on this list over the past decade. Some places have subsidized housing, and it wouldn't surprise me if NYU or another well-endowed school were offering child care as part of a lateral package. (You don't think all of those folks were moving to NYU just to be in New York, do you?) In a competitive hiring market, especially for top laterals, offering various forms of institutional support for PhD study does not seem far-fetched.

Also, Christine, I think you would find that many schools offer some forms of support for your desire for additional training. On the most basic level, I audit one graduate-level class, PhD seminar, or law school class every semester. Wisconsin has a grant program for faculty development (I believe it allows for one semester leave plus research funding, though I am not sure about the details).

Kate seems to be making a broader point about limited resources constraining the ability of a law school to offer such support for all of the faculty, but that seems like a red herring. My impression is that only a small number of faculty would be interested in pursuing a PhD after they have landed a tenure-track position, that most people who want a PhD badly enough to put in the effort have already got theirs. (Actually, I would count myself in the other group, but I have always thought that my interest in further formal education was peculiar. Perhaps I am wrong about that?)

If law schools routinely supported PhD programs, some people might attempt to enter law teaching before obtaining their PhDs, but I am not sure this effect would be large. As Heidi noted in her comments at Prawfsblawg, PhD/JD students often receive a great deal of support while in their programs, so the extra benefit of having a professor's salary may not be worth the extra hassle of holding down a full-time job while pursuing the degree. Also, many candidates for law teaching positions rely on the PhD to bolster otherwise mediocre credentials, so postponing the PhD would not make sense for them.

4. Posted by Kate Litvak on September 14, 2005 @ 12:25 | Permalink

Why not just hire smart undergraduates as law professors and then give them lots of free time and money to get necessary training (JDs, Ph.D.s, or whatever their heart may desire) so that they can develop into public intellectuals? Or maybe start with brilliant high school students?

5. Posted by Dave Hoffman on September 14, 2005 @ 12:40 | Permalink

Gordon: What is it like to be in class and teach at the same time? There must be some odd role-reversal issues.

6. Posted by Scott Moss on September 14, 2005 @ 12:42 | Permalink

Because, Kate, smart high school students, aren't quite as likely to become leading law-and-economics scholars as a JD law professor who already has mastered a field of law, already is conversant in law-and-economics scholarship, and already has an impressive publication record.

Maybe you're right and there's an impossible-to-avoid slippery slope from investing in star long-term employees' human capital to utterly wasteful expenditures. But I think any worthwhile expenditure could be unfruitfully criticized as the first step to "free beer for all."

7. Posted by Scott Moss on September 14, 2005 @ 12:44 | Permalink

Come to think of it, I could use some free beer from Marquette right about now....

8. Posted by Kate Litvak on September 14, 2005 @ 13:02 | Permalink

There is a large body of IO literature that studied the questions of who should pay for which kind of training. The general conclusion is that general-purpose training like JD, Ph.D, or high school diploma, which is easily transportable to many employment outlets, is most efficiently acquired at the employee’s expense/time. That’s why a law firm won’t hire you unless you have a JD.

Very narrow company-specific training is most efficiently acquired at employer’s expense/time. That’s why a tech firm will teach you their proprietary software on premises.

The intermediate cases of industry-specific training depends on how difficult/expensive it is to find an employee with exactly the skills you are looking for versus how difficult/expensive it is to train such employee on premises and risk that he will leave as soon as you train him.

The proofs of these propositions are long and involve lots of moving pieces, and I don’t want to do them here.

The Ph.D. issue strikes me as a classic “general-purpose” training. So, law profs should acquire it on their own time. Otherwise, the law school that spends the most on faculty training will end up seeing its freshly-trained faculty Ph.D.’s flee to other schools, which can offer better conditions by having saved on faculty training…

That's why I asked why we should require that law profs have JDs. We don't want to pay for someone's acquisition of a JD for the same reason we should not pay for someone's acquisition of a Ph.D.

9. Posted by Christine Hurt on September 14, 2005 @ 13:13 | Permalink

Kate, thanks for clarifying your point on the costs/benefits of employers paying for "general-purpose" training. I suppose the most obvious downside would be that the employee would leave with new training. Our part-time program has many students who work at Fortune 500 programs who pay for training but require employees to either stay for a certain number of years or pay back the tuition amount. Law schools could do the same thing.
Also, one fear of a company like Harley-Davidson in paying for an engineer's law degree is that then the engineer will want to leave the company to be a lawyer at a law firm. I'm not sure if that scenario would play out in a law school -- most law professors would not get a Ph.D. in Econ or Philosophy to then go be professor in a different department or even a full-time economist. I may be wrong. Of course, as you pointed out, the temptation would be for a law prof to get the extra degree and trade up law schools. However, a good written agreement could engineer a solution beneficial to all.

10. Posted by Joshua Wright on September 14, 2005 @ 13:13 | Permalink

It has been my impression that a faculty member could audit or enroll tuition-free in an undergraduate or graduate economics or finance class at many universities. Perhaps an econometrics sequence, or maybe some price theory? It seems these opportunities exist and are not frequently taken advantage of. This observation is just casual empiricism (no training required!), but if it is right, why?

One possible answer is that the benefits do not justify the costs of learning the skill for all but the most dedicated (who, as Gordon notes, probably already have the degree). Co-authorship is one important way of reducing the costs of not having the PhD. A more cynical view is that many peers will not be able to differentiate a good regression from a bad one --- so why bother?(in poker, you are taught not to bluff at the player who isn't good enough to figure out what hand you are representing). One can also self teach some of these skills over time (one exemplary case in point is my colleage Gordon Tullock). If the benefit is simply to be able to read empirical models --- or run a basic regression, I am not so sure the benefits are likely to outweigh the costs of the subsidy to the school.

I'm not saying that there do not exist scholars that would be induced to phd studies by such a subsidy. It sounds like Christine might be one and Gordon already is (through auditing). I am saying that scarcity of resources faced by law schools demands that these resources are allocated to their highest valued use. My intuition is that phd subsidies do not rank very high in this regard --- so this may have simply been a long-winded way of saying that I agree with Kate's initial point.

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