Bainbridge’s Broad Brush Criticisms on Empirical Legal Studies Slams All Interdisciplinary Legal Work

Michael Giberson

Criticisms of the growing field of empirical legal studies by UCLA law professor  Stephen Bainbridge were issued in such broad brush strokes that he ended up blasting just about every law academic engaged in any sort of interdisciplinary work, especially so if the academic seeks to examine data of some sort. The main claims showed up recently in a National Law Journal article, which quoted Bainbridge:

“A lot of the people I see who are empiricists, often with doctorates in the social sciences, aren’t very good lawyers,” he said. “I’ve read numerous papers that just got the law wrong. The problem is that we’re hiring people with Ph.D.s in other fields, but their law credentials are middling at best. Someone who is a brilliant economist wants to be in a economics department, so we get second-rate lawyers who are second-rate in their academic field.”

Perhaps phrasing the criticism in that way touched a nerve with Josh Wright, a law professor at George Mason University who holds both a PhD in economics and a law degree from UCLA. Wright responds at Truth on the Market, noting among other things that Bainbridge is asserting many facts about the state of the world without actually pointing to any evidence (much less adequately testing the evidence once it is identified).

4 thoughts on “Bainbridge’s Broad Brush Criticisms on Empirical Legal Studies Slams All Interdisciplinary Legal Work

  1. Bainbridge is right. Law schools are not the places for empirical researchers. The problem is that the whole model makes no sense anymore. Once upon a time, when my Father and Grandfather went to law school, it was an alternative to an arts degree. After law school ended, you got a job as a clerk in a law firm and worked your way up in the profession.

    Over the past 50 years, the law schools separated themselves from undergraduates and required all applicants to have a BA. In turn, they standardized a 3 year program and awarded their grads doctorates (not PhDs, but JD which means either Juris Doctor, or juvenile delinquent). My Father was given a BA and JD retroactively some 20 years after he graduated. He was amused.

    After graduation, the newly minted JD could get a job as an “associate” at a multi-city Big time law firm. By the turn of the century, those jobs were paying more than $100,000/yr which was fortunate because after seven years of school many of the grads were six figures in debt.

    The schools for their part, hired more faculty, and trying to keep up with the academic Jonses on the other side of the quad, started to hire JD/PhDs, many of whom were purely academic and who knew nothing about practicing law.

    When the great recession started, the law bubble burst, and the big law firms fired young associates by the carload lot. This has started to scare the law students, and it should. No recent grad is worth $100,000 in any rational accounting. Clients won’t pay for them. The firms can’t pay for them.

    What we have here is a fine mess. What the climb down will be I cannot say. I think they ought to go back to the undergraduate system. The current system is a waste of time and money for all concerned and it needs to be fixed.

    Oh yes, research? Who cares, law profs ought to teach law and leave the research to others.

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