Saturday, July 21, 2012

New Yale Ph.D. in Law

Leave it to Yale Law (my alma mater) to go and do something that walks the line between crazy and inspired. The law school has announced a new Ph.D. in law for those who already hold a J.D. and are interested in going into legal academia. The three-year program will include one year of coursework follow by two years of dissertation writing aimed at producing either a book-length manuscript or three law review articles. In an email to alumni, Robert Post, the current Dean of the law school, made the following case for a law Ph.D. over advanced study in a cognate field:
'If you are trying to decide between the Ph.D. in Law and a Ph.D. in another discipline, keep in mind that Ph.D. programs in economics, political science, history and other fields train scholars to produce research responsive to the questions of those disciplines. The scholarship produced by law faculties, and expected of candidates for teaching positions at law schools, is largely motivated by questions that are distinctive to legal scholarship.'
The program will offer the first Ph.D. in law in the United States, although such degrees are common in the rest of the world. In most countries where law Ph.D.s are offered, the traditional law degree is, unlike the J.D, an undergraduate course of study. However, the Ph.D. in law has gained ground recently in Canada, where the J.D. is the standard law degree. Yale’s announcement has gotten mixed reviews. Brian Leiter of the University of Chicago calls it “The worst idea in the history of legal education,” designed for “those who want to go into law teaching but don't want to earn a real PhD.” Eugene Volokh of UCLA reacts more reservedly, saying the innovation could be “a great opportunity to read up on the canon and produce a string of works which will greatly help candidates when they go on the teaching market,” but “time will tell.”
What do you think, Grrls?

1 comment:

Naomi Norberg said...

I have a doctorate in comparative law from the University of Paris. I have been told by friends who are medical doctors that I am the one who has the "real" PhD because their dissertations are more akin to case studies, only about 100 pages long. Certainly, obtaining a doctorate, no matter the field, does not prepare one to teach--teaching, and more importantly, being mentored by good teachers, does. While some doctoral candidates work as teaching assitants, not all do and even those who do don't necessarily receive guidance or feedback.
If the goal of Yale's (or any other school's) change is to suit those who want to go into academia (and improve the teaching dispensed in their schools), maybe they should develop post-graduate teacher training programs rather than doctoral programs. While producing scholarship is a big part of holding an academic position (or even a major part, depending on the school), teaching should obviously be a major concern. The first-year legal writing course in U.S. schools is enough to teach anyone the basics of doing research and writing. Teaching is an art, and while some have a natural knack for it, others (and their students) would benefit from training.