Yale launches Ph.D. in Law to train aspiring professors

By Karen Sloan |The National Law Journal | July 10, 2012

Interested in becoming a law professor? Yale Law School has a program for you.

The school plans what administrators said will be the first Ph.D. in Law. The program is designed for students holding a J.D. from a U.S. law school who want to teach law. Students will spend three years learning how to produce scholarly research and writing; will take teaching classes; and will teach courses themselves.

Yale already produces a disproportionately high percentage of law professors in the United States, given its relatively small size — about 10 percent claim a J.D. from the New Haven, Conn., institution.

But legal academia has become a tougher nut to crack in recent years, said Yale Law Dean Robert Post, particularly because law schools want professors with a deeper portfolio of academic writing and research. A few years of practice experience is no longer enough to get a foot in the door at many schools, and job candidates with Ph.D.s are in demand, he said.

“You have to come in now with a portfolio of writing,” Post said. “People require you to show your abilities as a scholar by what you’ve written. Where do you get that training?”

A handful of law schools offer Ph.D.s that combine law and other studies, such as economics or social science, or Ph.D. programs for international students. Yale already offers a doctorate in the science of law for attorneys who trained overseas and who want to teach.

Law graduates with an interest in teaching often pursue Ph.D.s in areas such as philosophy, political science, history or economics, but “it’s a little hard to get them back into legal scholarship,” Post said. Some law schools offer postgraduation fellowships that provide time to research and write, but they don’t offer much instruction in producing academic research.

Yale’s program will offer training in research and writing without losing students to other academic disciplines, Post said.

The law school is still ironing out the details, but students will have to write a dissertation, sit for qualifying exams, take classes on teaching and teach two courses.

Yale received funding for the program from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and alumna Meridee Moore, who founded Watershed Asset Management LLC. Students won’t have to pay tuition and will receive a cost-of living stipend, Post said.

The program will start accepting applications this fall and will open during fall 2013. Post said he expects to accept about five students per year, eventually working up to a total enrollment of 15.

“I think this offers a very exciting combination of law school and graduate school,” Post said. “We very much hope it will fill a need.”

Contact Karen Sloan at ksloan@alm.com


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