Motivated by Justice Scalia’s remark (HT: Brian Leiter) that the University of Chicago Law School is not what it once was and “has lost the niche it once had as a rigorous and conservative law school,” Professor Bainbridge notes that:
It’s certainly true that, from the outside, Chicago now looks like your run of the mill left-liberal law faculty. But was Chicago ever really a conservative bastion or was it just that the political connotations ascribed to law and economics created a false impression back when Chicago actually had high profile law and economics folks? One thing that seems certain, however, is that the place has lost its law and economics distinctiveness.
My own sense, informed mostly by casual observation, is that Bainbridge is right that U of C has last its law and economics distinctiveness and that this change is real rather than imagined (e.g. Chicago really did have high profile law and economics folks!). 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. With their recent L&E hires over the past several years and the flurry of intellectual activity surrounding the Searle Center, my sense is that U of C has been surpassed by Northwestern in the battle for L&E primacy in Illinois.