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To JD/PhD or Not to JD/PhD, That Is the Question

Dave Hoffman

Dave Hoffman is a James E. Beasley Professor of Law at Temple Law School. He specializes in law and psychology, contracts, and quantitative analysis of civil procedure. He currently teaches contracts, civil procedure, corporations, and law and economics.

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8 Responses

  1. Marc DeGirolami says:

    Dave — interesting post, thanks. Was your link to Orin’s discussion of McDonald intended to support the idea that “big theory” still wins the day for constitutional law?

    I’m also curious why you think that criminal law is exempt from the Ph.D. trend — that is, why, say, philosophical sophistication in constructing “big theory” in criminal law would not be more and more desirable as time goes on, just as it has proved desirable in more traditionally philosophical legal disciplines (jurisprudence).

  2. Matt says:

    Like Marc I’d like to hear a bit more about why you think the areas you think are less likely to fit the “PhD rule” have that characteristic. In particular, I’d be interested to know if you mean this as a sociological observation (that is, you see a fair number of people being hired even by top schools working in these areas w/o PhDs and think much of the best work being published in these areas is done by people w/o PhDs) or if it’s more of a normative claim- for some reason or other these areas are less likely, to your mind, to benefit from or require the sort of training one gets in a PhD program. If it’s the later, I’d be very interested to hear why you think this. I’m not sure that I disagree- I don’t have a well-formed opinion on the specific subject- so I’d be very interested to hear your thoughts. (I should say that a fair amount of the work I find most interesting in several of these areas recently has been done by people w/ PhDs as well as law degrees, or by people w/ PhDs working closely with law professors. I’d gladly provide examples but won’t bother right now.)

  3. dave hoffman says:

    Marc, yes the citation was in the wrong place.

    All of this is anecdotal…but, my thought on crim is that there remains a very strong practice constituency for the class. It’s taught at most schools by people who’ve been prosecutors or defenders. Those people naturally seek replication (for mostly good reasons). That’s not true for tort or contracts teachers, since such practice groups don’t exist in equally defined ways. I have seen amazing cross-disciplinary work in criminal law recently, but as compared to other subjects, I think that the PhD norm for crim isn’t going to spread from the super-elite schools to the rest of the market.

    Evidence fits the same rule as crim — there’s a clear practice-centered route to the job. Tax, for obvious reasons, is a specialized field with its own set of credentials (practice + LLM from NYU). Employment I think is an odd duck — but I tied it for no good reason to my intuitions about con law. Honestly, I think that even in these subjects getting a phd versus a fellowship is a smart bet — but you might have to do something more, like practice in the relevant subfield for more than 12-18 months!

    As I hope my post was clear, I am not endorsing this trend. I’m just predicting where the hiring market is going and offering advice to people starting from scratch today.

  4. Joseph Slater says:

    As someone with a JD and PhD (history), I found this post interesting and mostly persuasive. I think the statement that folks like me have “all of the motivation in the world to demand the training as a credential for entry level hires,” is, however, an overstatement. In the ten years I’ve been at my school, including the two when I was chair of our appointments committee, I don’t recall me (or the other PhDs on the faculty) demanding or even significantly preferencing candidates with PhDs.

    But maybe my difference with Dave is one of degree, specifically the number of fields he thinks will be increasingly dominated by PhD types. I infer he thinks that most legal academic fields will be dominated by PhDs, with some fields as exceptions. I’m guessing it will be the other way around: some specifically interdisciplinary fields will increasing demand PhDs (legal history, law and econ, and some other specialized areas). But faculties won’t think people need PhDs to teach in the great bulk of law school courses or to research and write in most areas of law.

    I could be wrong, of course, and if I am it will be because law faculties see PhDs as safer bets as publishers. After all, the PhD will have already done a dissertation, a more substantial piece of writing and research than a law school grad will have done. And while the PhD may not have a lot of experience actually doing legal work, it’s not as if law schools have traditionally valued lots of work experience. But they should.

    Finally, I think you’re right to separate “elite” law schools from others, at least to the extent that I would guess that “others” would be less willing to stack their faculties with a bunch of PhDs. But we’ll see.

  5. Anon says:

    I wrote that post on prawfsblawg that started this. I am considering getting a PhD or a fellowship. I think you’re missing one thing in your analysis. That is, schools view the PhD as a value in and of itself. I posted this on in that thread:

    “Also, I think you are categorically wrong if you believe that the PhD itself doesn’t give you instant cache. Of course, a random PhD in history won’t mean anything. But if you keep publications constant, but you give candidate A a PhD and while candidate B does not have one, candidate A will be considered the better candidate. Even if candidate B has the equivalent to a dissertation finished he will be considered a lesser candidate. Many of the top schools, including Penn, Berkeley, Northwestern hire almost exclusively candidates with PhDs. And it’s not because that PhD doesn’t mean anything.”

    You state that a fellowship candidate cannot compete with a grad school candidate because they won’t have a dissertation. I think you’re wrong to think that the dissertation is the key. It’s the PhD and what that signals to schools.

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