OXFORD, Miss. – What is the overall cost of crime in the United States? Should banks be allowed to benefit from credit checks? Does it hurt public safety if police officers are expected to spend a lot of time generating revenue by issuing tickets?
These are just some of the questions that lie at the intersection of the fields of law and economics.
“Economics can be applied to a wide range of complex issues that are vital to society,” said Mark Van Boening, professor of economics at the University of Mississippi. “In my class, we look at court cases from the perspective of economy and efficiency.”
Van Boening’s law and economics class is one of eight courses taught in the new department emphasis on law and economicsin which students apply economic analysis to a range of legal issues, including torts, contracts, property rights, litigation economics, antitrust law and regulation.
The emphasis requires 15 credit hours which includes two required 300-level courses: Economics in Law and Applied Pricing Theory. Students then choose from six offerings, which include experimental economics, government and business, industrial organization, financial economics, labor economics, and public finance.
In Van Boening’s class, students gain hands-on experience in using economics to analyze historical court cases and present them to him and their classmates.
“In law school, you’re supposed to know the cases and then answer the questions using a Socratic method, which is what we do in class,” Van Boening said.
In fact, evidence-based studies show that economics majors tend to score well above average on the notoriously difficult Law School Admissions Test, a standardized test taken by prospective law students.
“Students with a background in economics tend to have a head start when taking the LSAT because the exam is based on analytical thinking,” said Joshua Hendrickson, associate professor and president of the Department of Economics. “We’ve had law-related economics courses for a while, and we’ve grouped them together for emphasis, because so many of our majors apply to law school.”
Any advantage matters when it comes to jockeying for a place in law school; programs for the entering class last fall had some 361,475 applicants, according to the Law School Admissions Council.
“I have heard from professors at UM Law School that our economics majors are among their best students,” Hendrickson said.
In fact, the advantage of majoring in economics continues long after law school. A recent study in The Journal of Economic Education reported that “economics majors tend to do very well in both median and average earnings” after entering the field.
Madison Young, who plans to enter law school at the University of Tennessee this fall, was among the students taking Van Boening’s class this spring. The Spring Hill, Tennessee, resident completed a double major in economics and political science and a minor in business, while graduating magna cum laude and as a member of the Phi Kappa Phi honor society at Ole Miss.
“I like to look at law from an economic perspective,” Young said. “I want to be a corporate lawyer, so analyzing court decisions across economics is perfect for what I want to do.”