University of Chicago Law School Launches Law & Economics 2.0 Initiative

The University of Chicago Law School today launched a major new initiative – Law and Economics 2.0 – to expand the scholarship and influence of law and economics in the United States and broaden its impact throughout the world. The Law School is drawing on its storied history as the pioneer in a field that transformed antitrust, tort, contract, corporate, and property law, and now will once again open broad new areas of study, ranging from climate change and immigration law to the constitutions of emerging markets and election law. 

The Law School, with support from donors and the University, will dedicate significant new resources to the Law and Economics 2.0 Initiative, including $1 million annually to support students, faculty and an array of programs.  The centerpiece of Law and Economics 2.0 is the new Institute for Law and Economics, which will bring together 34 faculty members and build strong partnerships with the Booth School of Business and the Department of Economics. The Institute will be the hub for five new programs: the Globalizing Law and Economics Initiative; a judicial training program; support for experimental law and economics; a program to promote joint empirical research and teaching among the law, business, and economics faculties; and, a new JD/PhD program in law and economics. The director of the new Institute is Omri Ben-Shahar, the Frank and Bernice J. Greenberg Professor of Law.

“Our goal, quite simply, is to transform legal systems around the world, and push the frontiers of knowledge forward,” says Michael Schill, Dean of the Law School.  The application of economics to the study and practice of law began in the early 1930s at the University of Chicago Law School, and became a central part of its curriculum in the 1950s and 1960s.   By the 1980s, it had begun to transform entire bodies of jurisprudence.  “Law and economics, the most important legal theory of the past 50 years, was born in Hyde Park,” notes Schill.  “With the Law and Economics 2.0 Initiative, we are ensuring our preeminent role for the next 50 years.”

With more scholars in the field than any school in the nation, the Law School has been the home to such legendary figures as Nobel Prize winners Gary Becker, Ronald Coase, and George Stigler, as well as Judge Richard Posner, William Landes, Douglas Baird and Saul Levmore. The Journal of Law and Economics and the Journal of Legal Studies, the premier publications in the field, are published at the Law School. 

Law and Economics 2.0 will spur a new generation of scholars at the Law School, and serve as a platform for a broad range of programs. Already, faculty including Thomas Miles, Eric Posner, David Weisbach, Anup Malani, and Tom Ginsburg are exploring areas as diverse as the economics of criminal law, economic analysis of the constitutions of emerging markets, climate change, and anonymity on the internet. “The work of our law and economics faculty has always been useful in real-world situations,” says Schill. “That is more true now than it has ever been. The Law School will make sure that the production of knowledge that takes place in Hyde Park has an impact far beyond the borders of our neighborhood and indeed our nation.”

The new initiative reflects the culture of the Law School, one of the first in the nation committed to interdisciplinary study across the social sciences, humanities, and natural sciences. In addition to economics, the Law School has a long tradition of training lawyers and scholars in rich areas of inquiry such as philosophy, history and political science.

Perhaps the most ambitious aspect of Law and Economics 2.0 is the Globalizing Law and Economics Initiative.  This program will seek to transform the legal systems of other nations, particularly emerging economies in Asia, with the insights of law and economics. “Europe, China, Latin America, India—all have big legal systems, big legal issues, and big initiatives for transformation, but as far as law and economics, they are largely barren land,” says Ben-Shahar. “We want to take the made-in-America disciplines, knowledge, and ideas, and try to export it to places where they are not being used.”

In the spring of 2012, the Institute will host an important conference bringing together University of Chicago Law School and European legal scholars to discuss the harmonization of European commercial laws. In 2012, the Institute will bring leading legal scholars, judges, and attorneys from China to Chicago for a two-week symposium on issues of property rights and private law.

Another major element of Law and Economics 2.0 is a new JD/PHD program in Law and Economics.  Each year, the Law School will admit and fully fund students who will receive degrees from the Law School and Chicago’s storied Economics Department.  “It is by teaching the teachers that we will have the most lasting impact on the law,” says Dean Schill.

The Law School also will launch a set of research briefs to expand the reach of the Institute’s work for legislators, administrative agencies, and judges. “We will build on the past, and take it all to the next level and launch new, more ambitious activities,” says Ben-Shahar.