Three innovative new scholars will join the University of Chicago Law School faculty on July 1, bringing expertise in law and finance, tax policy, and criminal and constitutional law. Among them are two scholars who use empirical law and economics to examine difficult questions with real-world implications, and the third, an entry-level hire, is a Harry A. Bigelow Teaching Fellow whom Law School colleagues have hailed as a rising star.
Adriana Robertson, a law and finance scholar whose cutting-edge empirical work has contributed important insights into how humans interact with financial markets, will join the faculty as a professor of law. She currently is the Honourable Justice Frank Iacobucci Chair in Capital Markets Regulation at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law and the head of research and policy at the Capital Markets Institute at the university’s Rotman School of Management. She holds both a PhD in finance and a JD from Yale.
Jacob Goldin, an expert in tax policy whose scholarship brings the tools of law and economics to bear on pressing societal issues such as childhood poverty, also will join the faculty as a professor of law. He currently is a professor at Stanford Law School and holds a PhD in economics from Princeton and a JD from Yale. He has been a faculty research fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research since 2018.
Adam Davidson, ’17, who has been teaching legal research and writing at the Law School as a Bigelow Fellow since 2020, will join the faculty as an assistant professor of law. As a student, Davidson held a Rubenstein Scholarship. His research interests include using the tools of criminal law and constitutional law to examine questions related to police and prison reform.
“Adriana Robertson, Jacob Goldin, and Adam Davidson are brilliant scholars whose ideas, energy, and collegiality will enliven our intellectual life and whose superb teaching will make the learning environment even richer for our students,” said Dean Thomas J. Miles, the Clifton R. Musser Professor of Law and Economics. “The Law School is the birthplace of law and economics, and it is fitting that Professors Robertson and Goldin will be a part of the rigorous interdisciplinary culture that has given rise to some of the most important work in this field. Adam Davidson, a graduate of the Law School who has excelled as a Bigelow Fellow, has developed creative and original insights about our criminal justice system. We are excited to welcome all three as colleagues, and I am extraordinarily grateful to our faculty Appointments Committee, led by Professors Jennifer Nou and Adam Chilton, for their dedication and tireless efforts.”
Professor John Rappaport, who writes and teaches about the criminal justice system and who taught Davidson as a student, called Davidson a “creative and independent thinker.”
“This was evident during his time as a student here and manifests now in his academic scholarship,” Rappaport said. “I’m always eager to see what he comes up with next. We’re lucky to have him as a continuing part of our intellectual community.”
Chilton said that Robertson and Goldin will help the Law School build on its already strong reputation in law and economics.
“We were arguably already the strongest faculty for empirical law and economics—that is, the branch of law and economics interested in using quantitative data—but with the addition of Goldin and Robertson, our lead in this area is no longer debatable,” Chilton said.
Robertson, who visited the Law School in the autumn quarter of 2019 as the Daniel R. Fischel and Sylvia M. Neil Distinguished Visiting Assistant Professor of Law, majored in economics as an undergraduate at the University of Toronto before heading to Yale Law School. There, she discovered a passion for business law and decided to pursue a PhD in finance from the Yale School of Management alongside her JD.
Through her scholarship, she often seeks to move past preconceived understandings to better understand the way the world actually works, for instance by challenging assumptions about investor behavior.
“It's really important for us as legal scholars to understand the world,” Robertson said. “There are pieces in corporate and securities law where we don't always understand what's going on. We have assumptions or heuristics that we rely on, and we all think, ‘Well this is true,’ and then we build these normative arguments around them. But sometimes we're wrong. And sometimes we haven't necessarily interrogated our priors well enough.”
In one paper, “What Matters to Individual Investors? Evidence from the Horse's Mouth,” (The Journal of Finance, February 2020), Robertson and a co-author surveyed a representative sample of 1,013 US individuals about how well leading academic theories describe their financial beliefs and decisions.
“There are all these different models in finance [that seek to explain] why stocks earn more than Treasuries—there has to be some kind of risk there that people are getting compensation for,” Robertson said. “What exactly is that risk? And it turns out that … in 50 years of theoretical finance, we don't actually have a very good answer to that. We have lots and lots and lots of different models, but it's hard to directly compare how successful one model is against another for a variety of reasons. So what we thought was, ‘Let’s ask people and see what they say.’”
Robertson and her coauthor spent years developing the survey, a process that included running drafts of their questions by scholars who had explored each of the different models and then piloting the survey so they could test the effectiveness of their questions.
"[Adriana Robertson] is easily one of the most innovative scholars in business law and finance, with important insights on measures that other scholars often take for granted."Professor Jennifer Nou
The results offered insight into what factors individuals consider when deciding what fraction of their portfolio to invest in stocks as well as how individuals consciously perceive themselves to be making financial decisions. One factor that emerged—a desire to have cash on hand for routine expenses—had not even been included in the pilot survey.
“One of the things that I learned from this is it's important to keep an open mind about how people in the real world think about these problems,” Robertson said. “Often there is a difference between how the real world thinks about something and how scholars think about something.”
In a later paper, “Millionaires speak: What drives their personal investment decisions?” (Journal of Financial Economics, September 2021), Robertson and three coauthors examined how well leading academic theories describe the motivations and beliefs of high net worth individuals. The responses of the wealthy, they found, were surprisingly similar to those of average households—though the wealthy were less driven by discomfort with the market, financial constraints, and labor income considerations. They also found that the wealthy tend to rely a lot on financial advice.
“It tells us something about the way we should be thinking about regulation of investment advisors, and that's an important area that doesn't get a ton of scholarly attention,” Robertson said.
Nou praised Robertson’s work and said she was “incredibly excited and fortunate” to welcome Robertson as a colleague.
“She is easily one of the most innovative scholars in business law and finance, with important insights on measures that other scholars often take for granted and empirical work informing cutting-edge legal topics,” Nou said. “Her wide-ranging intellect and ideas will strengthen our faculty, while her gifts as a teacher will dazzle our students.”
Added Chilton: “Adriana Robertson has quickly emerged as a leading scholar of corporate law and finance. What sets Robertson’s research apart is that it critically re-examines aspects of corporate finance that many other scholars have simply taken for granted. This approach to identifying research projects, and her technical sophistication, had many of the country’s leading law schools trying to recruit her. We’re lucky [that she joined] our faculty instead.”
Robertson said she was drawn to UChicago’s culture, which she said is “such a rich scholarly environment.”
“The intellectual environment at the University of Chicago is really remarkable,” she said. “It's a combination of really warm and friendly but also very serious and intense. Being able to balance that is really remarkable.”
Goldin, who visited the Law School as an assistant professor during the winter quarter of 2021, said tax policy is a natural fit for his academic interests. He appreciates the rigor of engaging in a complex area and then connecting that work to critical policy issues, such as whether to expand the Child Tax Credit or mandate health insurance.
“Tax is one of these areas that's so important in people’s day-to-day lives, especially in the United States where we operate so many social programs through the tax code,” said Goldin, who after law school clerked for Judge Richard Posner on the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit and then worked for a year as a legal advisor in the Office of Tax Policy at the US Treasury Department.
“And [tax is] fun for me because it's a technical area where you spend a lot of effort trying to understand what's going on—and then once you understand it, there's this really nice payoff where you can connect it to the policy issues you care about,” said Goldin, who majored in majored in economics and government as an undergraduate at Wesleyan University before heading to Princeton and then Yale.
Goldin’s work often focuses on the taxation of low-income households, an area that has interested him for years. As a student, he was struck by research that revealed just how transformative support for low-income children could be. Those programs “often have bigger effects on children’s lives than I had realized,” he said.
In recent scholarship, Goldin focused on the Child Tax Credit, which was created in 1997 to combat child poverty and was temporarily expanded in 2021 as part of the federal COVID-19 stimulus package. (That expansion, which has been a topic of continued debate, would continue under the stalled Build Back Better Act). Through his work, Goldin examined the net fiscal cost of the expansion and, in “Who Benefits from the Child Tax Credit” (National Bureau of Economic Research, October 2021), he and a coauthor examined data under pre-2021 rules to highlight stark racial disparities in CTC eligibility and benefits. Their analysis showed that most of the nation’s poorest children—those living in households in the bottom decile of the national income distribution—were completely ineligible for the CTC and that the majority of filers in the bottom 30 percent were eligible only for a partial credit.
“Jacob Goldin not only has the most impressive publication record of any young law and economics scholar, but his research is also noteworthy for being directly linked to some of the country’s most important current policy debates."Professor Adam Chilton
Goldin has also used empirical analysis to demonstrate a link between increased health insurance enrollment and a decrease in mortality. In “Health Insurance and Mortality: Experimental Evidence from Taxpayer Outreach” (The Quarterly Journal of Economics, February 2021), Goldin and his coauthors studied the impact of an informational letter that the IRS sent to households that had paid a tax penalty for not enrolling in the Affordable Care Act. That intervention, they discovered, led both to increased insurance coverage in the following two years as well as reduced mortality among middle-aged adults.
In another paper, “The Effects of Pretrial Detention on Conviction, Future Crime, and Employment: Evidence from Randomly Assigned Judges,” (The American Economic Review, February 2018), Goldin and coauthors used data from administrative court and tax records to show that pretrial detention significantly increases the probability of conviction, largely because defendants were more likely to plead guilty. Pretrial detention did not have a net effect on future crime, they showed, but it did lead to a reduction in both formal employment and the receipt of public assistance. It was some of the first evidence that showed why pretrial detention impacts defendants.
“Jacob Goldin not only has the most impressive publication record of any young law and economics scholar, but his research is also noteworthy for being directly linked to some of the country’s most important current policy debates,” Chilton said. “For instance, Goldin’s research has made important contributions to debates on criminal justice reform, the importance of health insurance, and reducing poverty. Goldin’s work thus exemplifies how law and economics can be used to both identify and solve some of society’s most important problems.”
Goldin said he was drawn to the Law School’s intellectual culture and to the high level of engagement among faculty.
“The faculty here are genuinely excited about research and about helping to improve each other’s work,” he said. “It's a place where every day you can come in and learn a ton from talking with your colleagues. I'm very excited about that.”
Goldin, who will teach classes on tax law, said he is looking forward to working with UChicago students, whom he found to be “smart and enthusiastic about learning.” Tax, he said, is particularly satisfying to teach.
“Students come into tax thinking it's a class that they should take, but they aren’t always so excited about it,” he said. “But they quickly realize that all these other social policy questions they're interested in are tied integrally to tax. So it's a fun class to teach.”
Davidson, who attended the Law School on a prestigious, full-tuition Rubenstein Scholarship, still remembers a conversation he had while eating lunch with Professor Lior Strahilevitz the summer before his 1L year. Davidson, who graduated from Ohio State University with a bachelor’s degree in theater, told Strahilevitz a story about finding his path after college. He had been taking a class to prepare for a job as a pharmacy technician—a job he hoped might pay the bills as he pursued theater in New York or Los Angeles—when he began researching election law in his free time, just for fun.
“I stumbled across a Harvard Law Review article, and thought, ‘Well, this is kind of interesting—this could be for me,’ and then spent the next one-and-a-half or two years preparing to go to law school,” Davidson said. “When I told Professor Strahilevitz that story, he said, ‘The only people I know who do that are academics.’ And that really planted the seed in mind.”
At the Law School, Davidson was a student in the Federal Criminal Justice Clinic, where he contributed to the influential “fake stash house” litigation, a years-long project that resulted in plea deals for 43 individuals who had been accused of robbing non-existent drug stash houses, saving them hundreds of years in prison. He served as articles editor on the University of Chicago Law Review, academic chair of the Black Law Students Association, and vice president of external affairs for the American Constitution Society. When he graduated, he was given the Ann Watson Barber Outstanding Service Award, which honors exceptional contributions to the life of the Law School.
In the three years that followed, Davidson clerked for Judge James S. Gwin of the US District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, Judge Diane P. Wood of the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, and Judge Guido Calabresi of the US Court of Appeals for Second Circuit before returning to the Law School to teach legal research and writing as a Bigelow Fellow.
His time at the Law School, both as a student and as a Bigelow Fellow, instilled in him a willingness to “read broadly and engage broadly,” he said.
In other places, “it can be easy to set your sights on a narrow research path and just stay in that lane,” Davidson said. “But at the Law School people are willing to talk to you and bring their expertise to the table—and because they're willing to do that, it forces you to grapple with difficulties and criticisms and complications that otherwise you might not have been privy to.”
Through his scholarship, Davidson examines complex issues related to the criminal legal system, including issues related to police and prison abolition.
“I'm very much motivated by what some people call the positive vision of abolition, which [is not about] just needing to tear down prisons or get rid of police, but to create a world where police and prisons wouldn't be the answer to the problems that we're trying to solve,” Davidson said. “And part of that
is trying to figure out what that looks like, particularly from the vantage point of governmental institutions and constitution law. That is something that very much intrigues me.”
“[Adam Davidson] is quickly emerging as one of the most creative and critical thinkers about the new criminal justice abolition movement."Professor Adam Chilton
One forthcoming paper, “Managing the Police Emergency,” explores the possible use of emergency managers as a tool of police reform.
“The real power behind [the idea] is that you are removing all of these vetogates and choke points in the decision-making of local and state government and instead putting that power into one person who can hopefully take steps to fix what, in some cases, is a terribly broken department,” Davidson said.
Much of the paper is descriptive, examining the benefits and challenges of such a move, such as whether it would have enough support in state legislatures and how effective emergency managers could be in addressing internal police culture. But it is also normative, he added, because “much of it is about our need to do something.”
“It may not be the best tool, but it's certainly one of the most powerful tools that we have,” he said. “We should at least consider what it would look like.”
Another work in progress, “The Pyrrhic Victory of Abolishing Qualified Immunity,” challenges the idea that police accountability efforts would be considerably strengthened by abolishing qualified immunity, a court-created doctrine that protects government agents from all but the most extraordinary claims of misconduct.
“All that you're doing when you get rid of qualified immunity is forcing the judiciary to make substantive constitutional law decisions, and there's of course no guarantee that those decisions are going to be pro-civil rights,” he said.
Chilton called Davidson “one of our law school’s most impressive recent graduates.”
“He is quickly emerging as one of the most creative and critical thinkers about the new criminal justice abolition movement,” Chilton said. “We’re lucky that Adam is launching his academic career at the University of Chicago.”
Davidson said he is looking forward to joining the faculty as an assistant professor.
“There's just such an active intellectual culture here,” he said. “It's been a pretty regular occurrence that I'll have what I think is going to be a 10- or 15-minute meeting with someone that turns into an hour-plus, because we end up talking about an idea or what one of us is researching and then seeing a connection. And so I very much look forward to that continuing.”