Yale Creates the First American PhD in Law
As the rare American legal academic who has both a JD and a PhD in law (the latter, of course, from a law school outside the U.S.), I think this is an exciting development, for all the reasons that Jason Mazzone laid out nicely last year at Balkinization. I imagine Yale’s PhD will be very popular, particularly given that the law school intends to fully fund its students, covering tuition and providing a stipend of $27,300 per year for three years (assuming satisfactory progress).
That said, I have some serious reservations about the structure of Yale’s PhD program. The law school claims that “students will be generally expected to complete the program after three years,” although it says that “requests to extend the course of study beyond three years will be considered on a case-by-case basis.” My prediction is that very, very few students will complete the program in three years. PhD programs in law outside the U.S. are usually three or four years long — and they normally involve no coursework at all, other than a one-semester seminar on research methods. By contrast, the entire first year of Yale’s PhD program will be dedicated to coursework and examinations:
Most students will dedicate much of their first year in the program to coursework. Students will work with their advisory committees to select six courses that will best prepare them to carry out their research projects. In cases where students have already completed the relevant graduate training, a student’s advisory committee may waive up to four of the required courses.
All first-year Ph.D. students will be required to take a two-semester pro-seminar on canonical legal scholarship and methodologies. The first semester of the pro-seminar will be dedicated to reading and discussing canonical works of legal scholarship. The second semester will be devoted to the presentation and discussion of student papers in a workshop format. The pro-seminar, required of all Ph.D. candidates, will be the cornerstone of a genuine intellectual and professional community, serving as well as an opportunity for students working in different areas of law to interact with, and to learn from each other as well as the faculty leading these and other seminars and workshops. At the end of the second semester, all Ph.D. candidates will complete the first of two qualifying examinations. The pro-seminar will constitute the primary preparation for this first, written, examination. During their second semester and their first summer in the program, students will also work with their advisory committees to prepare for a second qualifying exam in their area of specialization. Unlike the first qualifying exam, which measures the breath of a student’s knowledge, the second is an opportunity to demonstrate mastery of the candidate’s area of specialization. The second qualifying exam will be an oral examination, conducted by the faculty who serve on each candidate’s advisory committee, and will ordinarily be administered at the beginning of the third semester in the program.
Even for PhD candidates who have some of their course requirements waived, that is an incredible amount of work. In practice, the courses and exams will mean that students will make no progress whatsoever on their dissertations in the first year of the program; indeed, Yale does not even expect students to finalize their prospectuses until early in their second year (when they will also be preparing for their oral examination).
Nor is that all. Yale intends to require PhD candidates to complete “two semester-long teaching experiences” in their second year, a requirement that can be fulfilled by anything from serving as a teaching assistant to (in rare cases) teaching a course of the student’s own devising. Serving as a TA may not be that time-consuming, but co-teaching or solo-teaching certainly is — particularly when teaching a course for the first time. At least a big chunk of the second year of the PhD program will thus be dedicated to non-dissertation-related work. Finally, just to make matters worse, students will then “generally” be expected to go on the job market in their third year. So just as they are getting into the swing of writing, they will need to navigate the meat market and prepare job talks. (Yale also mentions the possibility of students completing another teaching experience in their third year!)
In my experience, writing a good 80,000-120,000 word dissertation takes PhD students at least three years. That is what it takes our very best doctoral students — and they have none of Yale’s extra requirements to complete. That is probably why the law school intends to give its PhD candidates a choice between writing a “book-length manuscript” (of unspecified length) or “three, significant, publishable articles that might appear in a leading law review.” My guess is that nearly all students will select the second option — and will still struggle to complete the required three articles by the end of their third year, unless Yale will be willing to count toward the degree the 8,000-12,000 word articles that are the norm outside of the U.S. How many seasoned law professors churn out three 25,000 word law-review articles in 18 months?
Again, I am glad that Yale has created a PhD program in law. I just hope (and fully expect) that the law school will be willing to fund a fourth year for the students it accepts into the program. They’re going to need it.
PS. I would greatly appreciate opinions from our readers who, like me, have PhDs in law from outside the U.S.
PPS. Marko Milanovic points out in the comments that there will be a professional bias in the program toward the three-articles option: whereas students will be able to publish articles before going on the job market in the third year, that will not be the case for a book. I’d add that the bias will be even greater, because American legal academia does not value books anywhere near as highly as legal academia in the rest of the world — a reflection, I think, of the ridiculous length of American law-review articles. I think that’s a shame, because writing a book was by far the greatest academic and intellectual experience of my life.