The Return of Chicago Law and Economics?

Josh Wright —  12 October 2011

A few years ago, spurred on by Justice Scalia’s observation that the school had lost “the niche it once had as a rigorous and conservative law school,” there was some blog discussion about the apparent decline of Law and Economics at the University of Chicago.  Professor Bainbridge observed that it was certainly the case that “the place has lost its law and economics distinctiveness.”   I wrote then that:

Chicago is obviously still among the top law schools for L&E.  The citation rankings say so, and to be sure, some of the L&E legends are still there along with some superstar juniors.  But I don’t think many L&E folks still view U of C as dominating L&E the way it once did.  This strikes me largely as a case of the rise of the rest relative to U of C with top L&E talent spreading out in smaller clusters across the top law schools as the discipline matured and gained influence and acceptance within the broader legal academy.

See also Brian Leiter’s interesting comments to the post.

Whether the real story is the demise of U of C Law and Economics or the rise of the rest with top L&E talent spreading out in smaller clusters across the top law schools as the discipline matured and gained influence and acceptance within the broader legal academy, there is an interesting and hopeful development for Law and Economics.  University of Chicago has unveiled a large-scale plan to build out its Law and Economics capacity, including more joint appointments (including Gary Becker, James Heckman, Steven Levitt, John List and Kevin Murphy), new hires, an Institute for Law and Economics, and legal education for judges.  From the National Journal:

After about 18 months of discussion, administrators settled on a plan that includes the formation of a formal Institute for Law and Economics; a joint J.D./Ph.D. program intended to produce faculty well-versed in the law and economics; a number of joint faculty appointments in the university’s economics department and law school; and a series of internationally focused conferences and collaborations with legal educators and judges outside the United States.

The initiative is large in scope — it includes 34 faculty members from the law school, business school and economics departments with the law school planning to hire more professors  — and comes at a price, Schill said. It¹s being funded with money from the law school, the university, as well as private money from a fundraising campaign that is likely to launch next year. He said the investment would substantial, but declined to provide a dollar figure.

The investment will come at no cost to students, Schill said. The school simultaneously plans to add three clinics while expanding its research mission. “We can walk and chew gum at the same time,” he said.

Perhaps the highest-profile aspect of the push is the Law and Economics Institute, launched on Oct. 10. Until now, the school lacked a formal center to coordinate the law-and-economics work produced by its faculty.

Should be very interesting to watch.  But this is a wonderful development for those who care about law and economics and its influence.

3 responses to The Return of Chicago Law and Economics?

  1. 

    The University of Chicago was embarrassed by its reputation as bastion of conservative thought. It has spent the last 30 years trying to erase it. To that end Geoff Stone the long time dean of the law school has hired Cass Sunstein, Brian Leiter, and Barack Obama. Yes Posner and Epstein are still on the roster, but Posner is 72 and has a day job, while Epstein is 68 and has an appointment at NYU also.

    Over the last 30 years the U of C has worked actively to suppress the things that made it distinctive a generation ago. For future generations, the University will be thought of as the school that gave us Barack Obama. We hope and pray that he is back on the faculty by the winter of the year after next.

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