The academic world is wonderful. Like few other professionals, we can choose what we want to do and what questions we think are important, which in our line of work means choosing what topics we want to research. But what influences our choices? This paper examines what drives scholars to select Law and Economics (L&E) as a topic for research. It does so by implementing the methodology of many L&E papers – by assuming that regulation and incentives matter.
Legal scholars face very different academic incentives in different parts of the world. In some countries, the academic standards for appointment, promotion and tenure encourage legal scholars to concentrate on L&E. In others, they strongly discourage such research. Thus, we should expect wide variation in the rate of participation of legal scholars in the L&E discourse across countries. On the other hand, economists are evaluated with similar yardsticks everywhere. Thus, participation of economists in the L&E discourse is likely to vary much less from one place to another.
The hypothesis of this paper is that the academic incentives are a major factor in the level of participation in the L&E scholarship. This "incentives hypothesis" is presented and then examined empirically on data gathered from the list of authors in L&E journals and the list of participants in L&E conferences. The data generally supports the hypothesis. In the legal academia, the incentives to focus research on L&E topics are the strongest in Israel, they are weaker in North America and weakest in Europe. In fact, the data reveal that lawyers' authorship of L&E papers weighted by population is almost ten times higher in Israel than in North America; while in Europe it is almost ten times lower than in North America. By comparison, the weighted participation level of economists – who face relatively similar academic environments across countries – in L&E research is not significantly different across countries.