Bainbridge on Law & Economics at Chicago

Josh Wright —  17 September 2008

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.

4 responses to Bainbridge on Law & Economics at Chicago


    Hi Professor Wright. I thought I’d say hello and comment, since this is something we talked about before.
    Actually, I had a chance to talk to a member of the Berkeley faculty about this, and I have to agree: they have a very strong L&E faculty. They have a number of economists (Rubinfeld, Auerbach) and JD/PhDs, too (Shelanski and others). Looks pretty formidable!

    Incidentally, I just had breakfast with Epstein and he took exception to Scalia’s comment.


    Thanks, I’d forgotten some of those folks (e.g., juniors like Avraham and Ayotte), but was discounting some others (Tiller doesn’t do L&E work, Fischel is adjunct and teaches but one course a year while running Lexecon). Haddock has not been a presence in L&E for awhile. In any case, L&E is not my field, but there’s really no comparison. I do agree with your point that Chicago no longer dominatese the field as it once did because of the development of strong clusters of L&E folks elsewhere.

    As to the Friedman Institute, I’m pretty sure my colleagues didn’t think there was anything that needed defending, and I suspect they are right!


    Hi Brian: Well, at least I had you until the last line, which was mostly meant to be provocative but I don’t think is indefensible or evidence that I’ve lost my mind. Perhaps I should have said “may surpass”? I don’t have a horse in this race, but let me give a few points in my defense that may or may not persuade you that I’ve completely jumped the shark.

    First, while I have no doubt that U of C wins the cite count nor any qualms with the list above (I’m glad you did not count Posner or Easterbrook or Coase!), I think you’re under counting L&E at NU. In addition to those that you’ve counted, a scan of the NU faculty reveals that they claim 9 economics Phds. While I’m sure this includes a few folks whose primary appointment is at Kellogg or the economics department, its certainly more than McChesney + two juniors. A quick scan and I come up with the following folks who self-claim L&E as a research field of primary interest: Avraham, Ayotte, Fischel, Haddock, Kontorovich, McChesney, Schanzenbach, Tiller, and Wickelgren. One could argue the particulars here, or make predictions about who is staying and leaving, but facially it doesn’t seem like a crazy claim does it?

    Second, I think I’m fairly heavily weighting the activity of the Searle Center here. It doesn’t show up in the citation rankings, but its been an important part of the L&E landscape under Henry Butler and also played an important role in bringing together some of the B-School and economics departments folks into law school activities — so maybe I’m weighting some of those folks in the equation too.

    Third, maybe I’m letting some atmospherics cloud my view as well, e.g. the silence at U of C law surrounding the Milton Friedman Institute debacle, something I blogged about here a bit. Maybe I’m wrong, but I just don’t think the law school L&E community would have been silent about defending the MFI 20 years ago.


    Josh, I was with you to the last line, when you really jumped the shark! Chicago has Epstein, E. Posner, Weisbach, Malani, Miles, Ben-Shahar, Levmore, Landes, Baird, among others, and Northwestern has who exactly? McChesney and two good juniors, one of whom is out the door as I understand it. What were you thinking???