Do Any (Other) Law Schools Have A Dominant Paradigm?

Josh Wright —  7 June 2006

An exchange between Ethan Leib at Prawfsblawg and Kate Litvak in the comments to Ethan’s very interesting post on political science in the academy raises some interesting questions about the status of law and economics in the legal academy. Ethan kicks off the exchange by noting that:

[Y]ou’d have to be blind to ignore that plenty of qualitative work continues in political science departments (indeed, in almost every subfield too!) and that the dominant paradigm in the nation’s best law schools is ‘law and economics….‘”

Kate questions whether law and economics can truly exist as a dominant paradigm when the vast majority of law school faculty at top law schools are not versed in economics, and goes on to suggest that there is a actually a good bit of hostility towards L & E in most top law schools. While I tend to agree with Kate that L & E cannot be a truly dominant discipline at a top law school if only a small minority of faculty “speak the language,” I don’t want to revive that particular debate here.

However, the underlying issue interests me in part because L & E is most certainly the dominant paradigm here at George Mason, and a currency exchanged by the entire faculty. For instance, a quick perusal of our faculty reveals nine econ PhDs (this is not to say that a Ph.D. is a necessary condition to proficiency or even greatness in law and economics, i.e. Mason’s own L & E giant Gordon Tullock). But there is also an impressive degree of economic proficiency throughout the entire faculty. One of the great benefits of this dynamic for a junior L & E type is immediate access to useful feedback on scholarship from a number colleagues. There are also, of course, costs to this approach. But the takeaway lesson from the George Mason experience, owed in large part to Henry Manne’s belief that legal education should not be immune to the benefits of specialization (see, e.g. here), has been that the dominant paradigm approach can be quite successful.

Casual empiricism, however, leads me to believe that this approach had not been widely adopted elsewhere (though I admit I do not know much about what is going on at various law schools outside of L & E). All of this leads me to the question in the title of the post. Does your (or any) law school have what you would consider to be a dominant paradigm, L & E or otherwise? What about a “leading” paradigm, or primary viewpoint regarding the approach to legal scholarship?

4 responses to Do Any (Other) Law Schools Have A Dominant Paradigm?


    I think it makes complete sense. One possibility is that a school will develop a reputation as a “feeder” of junior scholars as to a particular field, as it sends them off to other schools as they develop. That will prevent too much concentration but will enable the school to focus scholarly resources (such as conference budgets, etc.) on the area.


    Great question Matt. While the dominant paradigm model may not be for everyone, I really do think there are some substantial advantages in terms of the production of scholarly output. At the end of the day, I’m skeptical that we will soon see a world of completely driven by diversity between, rather than within, law schools (to borrow Henry Manne’s terminology again) mostly because of ABA/ AALS restrictions.

    But increased field concentration is a “less restrictive” (and probably somwewhat less effective) alternative which we might see. At least some of the benefits could be achieved with a critical mass of scholars in a particular area. Perhaps the benefits are especially useful in L & E, which might explain why other “paradigm” schools dont exist? In any event, because I think increased field concentration is a good thing, I am going to answer yes. Can I turn the question back around on you?


    Do you think we will see more schools in the future with a dominant paradigm? Your description of useful feedback for junior folks doing law and economics is persuasive. I would think that junior folks especially would be drawn to a school that has experts in their area. Of course, those schools often perceive themselves as having less of a “need” for more junior folks in the area when they already have strong senior presence in those fields. Will the field-diversity trend continue, or will we see more field concentration?

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. TRUTH ON THE MARKET » A Few Thoughts on Law School Specialization - October 1, 2006

    […] I have some thoughts on law school specialization and the optimal level of faculty methodological diversity that I would like to add to the mix, informed primarily by my experience thus far at George Mason — surely the most frequently cited case of successful specialization (for a recent indication of success of this type, or at least productivity, here are Tracey George’s new ELS Rankings with GMU down a notch into the #2 spot). Because I have only worked at Mason, I suppose my views on these issues should be taken with a grain of salt. All of that said, a few notes on methodological specialization below the fold (some earlier thoughts are here). […]