The Volokh Conspiracy
Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent
Lynn LoPucki has posted an interesting forthcoming article, Dawn of the Discipline-Based Law Faculty, that documents the increasing number of new law professors at top schools who have Ph.D. degrees. Specifically, LoPucki looked at the background and practice experience of entry-level hires from 2011 to 2015 at the Top 26 schools judged by their academic rank in the U.S. News rankings (which, LoPucki explained in an e-mail to me, was based on the U.S. News peer assessment scores). LoPucki then compared these numbers to a similar study he did a few years ago, as well as to other earlier studies by others.
Some of the key findings:
1) From 2011 to 2015, 48% of the entry-level hires at the "Top 26" schools had Ph.D. degrees in addition to law degrees. The percentage was higher, 67%, in the last two years.
2) Entry-level hires with Ph.D.s in addition to J.D.s had significantly less legal practice on average than those with only J.D.s: 0.9 years as compared to 3.6 years. If you include clerkships, the years of experience was 1.7 years for those with Ph.D.s as compared to 4.8 years for non-Ph.Ds.
3) Reflecting those trends, the average number of years of legal practice experience of entry-level hires at the "Top 26" schools (not including clerkships) has dropped steadily from slightly over 3 years in the 2005-10 window to about 1.5 years this past year:
4) "Within the top twenty-six schools," the paper states, "Practice Duration was negatively correlated with the rank of the hiring school." That is, the higher the school's rank, the less practice experience the new hires tended to have.
5) Of the entry-level hires at the "Top 26" schools who lacked Ph.D.s, 29% had Supreme Court clerkships. Only one person (2%) had both a Ph.D. and a Supreme Court clerkship.
6) The average period of time between a professor graduating from college and starting a first tenure-track job was 12.4 years. That window of time was slightly longer for J.D.-only candidates than J.D./Ph.Ds: J.D.-only candidates had an average of 12.7 years, while those with Ph.Ds had an average of 12.1 years. Here's a breakdown of the pattern of the group as a whole, combining those with and without Ph.D.s, including numbers from LoPucki's earlier study from 2010 that included data from preceding years:
7) Looking beyond the "Top 26" law schools, the hiring of both Ph.D.s and Supreme Court clerks was largely concentrated in the top quartile of schools. Here are the numbers for entry-level hires at all four quartiles of schools from 2011-15:
8) Today, those with Ph.D.s constitute 29% of the faculty at the "Top 26" schools. That percentage has been rising steadily in response to new Ph.D. hires. If current hiring trends continue, LoPucki estimates, those with Ph.D.s will be a majority among professors at those schools starting in 2028.