John N. Drobak, George Alexander Madill Professor of Law in the School of Law and Professor of Economics and Political Economy in Arts & Sciences, has been a pioneer of interdisciplinary study who embraced the value of looking to other fields to study long before it became popular to transcend academic boundaries. His wide-ranging activities have shaped and strengthened many University departments and have made Washington University a more interdisciplinary and more global institution.
A native of upstate New York, Professor Drobak earned Bachelor of Science degrees in electrical engineering and management science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1970. He entered law school at Stanford University, where his studies included courses that applied economic analysis to legal problems. After earning his law degree from Stanford University in 1973, he clerked for the California Court of Appeal and then practiced law for five years in New Haven, Connecticut. He joined the law faculty at Washington University in 1979 and now holds appointments in Law, Economics, and Political Economy. Additionally, between 1991 and 2006 Professor Drobak was a professor at the United States Business School in Prague, where he taught in the first MBA program for Central and Eastern European students.
In his pro bono work, he has consulted with Czechoslovakia in connection with its voucher privatization of large government enterprises and with the Republic Of Georgia in connection with the drafting of a new constitution. He has edited two books: Norms and the Law (Cambridge University Press 2006) and The Frontiers of New Institutional Economics, (with John Nye, Academic Press 1997). The latter book has achieved a broad readership worldwide, including through a translation into Chinese. His research has also resulted in numerous articles and book chapters on such diverse topics as the constitutional limits on utility rate-making, rent control, and other types of price regulation; the tension between federal state courts in the freeing of slaves in antebellum America; the Supreme Court’s role in the creation of a national commercial law in the 19th century; and the reexamination of legal incentives and judicial decision making with cognitive science principles. Professor Drobak is currently writing a book about the public’s perception of the legitimacy of a judicial system.
Professor Drobak is well-known for fostering academic and administrative links among numerous campus departments. His collaborative efforts have pervaded a number of disciplines, including anthropology, business, electrical engineering, philosophy, political science, and of course, law. For a decade, he was the director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies in the School of Law, which fostered joint projects among and across disciplines at the university. In 1997, he joined a group of economists and political scientists to found the International Society for New Institutional Economics, of which he served as Secretary and Treasurer. Professor Drobak regularly lectures and teaches throughout Europe.
Professor Drobak has brought his enthusiasm for interdisciplinary learning to the classroom as he has taught courses in the fields of economic regulation and of law and economics, including Antitrust and Theory of Property Rights. Professor Drobak co-taught the latter course for 25 years with Nobel Prize-winning economist Professor Douglass C. North. The course was not only interdisciplinary in its subject matter, which combined law and economics, but it was interdisciplinary in its enrollment, which was a mixture of both law students and seniors in Economics. Professor Drobak also teaches Civil Procedure to first-year law students and Federal Jurisdiction in the upper-class curriculum. Despite his demandingly high standards for class participation students find him fascinating, entertaining, polite, and gentle, and have named him Law School Teacher of the Year on four separate occasions, most recently in 2007. In 2000, Professor Drobak was honored by Washington University with its Distinguished Faculty Award at Founders Day.
- B.S., Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1970
- J.D., Stanford University, 1973
- Civil Procedure
- Federal Jurisdiction
- “An Application of Douglass North’s Notion of Belief Systems” (forthcoming) (2018)
- “Introduction to Law and the New Institutional Economics” 26 Washington University Journal of Law & Policy 1 (2008)
- “Understanding Judicial Decision-Making: The Importance of Constraints on Non-Rational Deliberations” (with D.C. North), 26 Washington University Journal of Law & Policy 131 (2008)
- Norms and the Law (ed. J. Drobak), Cambridge University Press (2006)
- Frontiers of the New Institutional Economics (eds. J. Drobak & J. Nye), Academic Press (1997)
- “A Comment on Privatization and Democratization,” 50 Saint Louis University Law Journal 783 (2006)
- “From Turnpike to Nuclear Power: The Constitutional Limits of Rate Regulation,” 65 Boston University Law Review 65 (1985)
- “Beyond Stamp Collecting: Ronald Coase and ‘Scientific’ Legal Scholarship,” 54 Washington University of Journal of Law & Policy 21 (2017).
- “Coase on Property Rights,” in The Elgar Companion to Ronald C. Coase 83 (Claude Menard & Elodie Bertrand eds, Edgar Elgar, 2016)
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