The Changing Face of the Law Professor

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Many prospective law professors earn their scholarly credentials in Ph.D. programs, Law School professor James Greiner said, noting that the three years of law school do not provide enough time to teach students how to complete serious research.

“If we're going to require that everyone have two or three published papers before they apply for an entry-level job at a national law school, we are essentially requiring them to do a Ph.D.,” Greiner said.

Those who earn Ph.D.s typically do so before completing their law degree or in a joint program, according to Greiner.

Greiner himself, however, followed a different approach, earning his law degree, practicing in the field for six years, and subsequently pursuing a Ph.D. in statistics, which he now incorporates into his classes.


As the Law School faculty expanded to include a wider variety of backgrounds, professors began to study the law in new ways, often using empirical evidence and other fields of study as a lens to examine the law.

“In the last 20 or so years, legal scholarship has increasingly turned to tools from other disciplines, including economics, history, literature, political science, psychology, and statistics,” Law School Dean Martha L. Minow wrote in an email. “This change has brought great range and depth to legal scholarship.”

As a result, the ways in which professors think about legal scholarship have also also changed, according to Greiner.

“What law school professors mostly did, what they thought of themselves as doing, was analyzing legal doctrine,” Greiner said. “Modern tenured and tenure track law professors...bring their methodology that they learned about in their Ph.D. and they analyze law with the Ph.D. principles,” Greiner said.

Yet this change comes with both benefits and drawbacks, he said.

“It leads to an extraordinarily diverse faculty that can deploy lots of different ideas when we come together, but we come together less frequently. It leads to less of an integrated experience for the students, but a broader experience for the students.” Greiner said. “It's harder for me to read my colleague's work now because they are deploying lessons in economics for instance and I've never taken an economics course in my life.”

Greiner said this trend is representative of a larger movement away from the “nuts and bolts of practice.”

“We focus less on stuffing our students heads completely full with what the doctrine in different areas of law looks like,” Greiner said, noting that the Law School teaches less legal writing than in the past.


When brought into the classroom, some professors find these new frameworks to be impractical and overly abstract. But others counter that interdisciplinary approaches enhance legal training by helping students view the law in a broader context.