Law schools resist collaboration and efficiencies in scale economies where centers, institutes, and programes are concerned. This resistance may be unwarranted in many circumstances.
The incentives to proliferate academic research centers are understandable, yet fundamentally self-serving. A center on, say, health policy aims toward developing, nurturing, and disseminating theoretical and (especially) applied research to advantage knowledge and improve public policy. It may help, say, Stanford, Chicago, or Northwestern, to have it located only at their law school. But wouldn't the larger cause be better served by serious, sustained collaboration across institutions? Even the most ambitious and resourced law schools will have a small fraction of, say, intellectual property or environmental law/policy experts. But five law schools working together will have many more. The advantages of sustained collaboration among well-configured institutions seem rather apparent. And there seem to be rather palpable efficiencies -- and, critically, lower intra-institutional costs -- generated by such tactical collaboration.
Alas, centers, institutes, and programs are frequently (nearly always?) treated as local sinecures. Faculty recruitment and retention drive many design and implementation choices. And deans exhort their donors to, as Brian Wilson proclaims, be true to your school.
Where cost savings are a growing imperative, why not think imaginatively about cross-institutional synergies and cooperative endeavors? Some of these enterprises may involve similarly ambitious schools; others may trade on the advantages of local knowledge and structure -- so, a consortium of, say, Chicago area or SF bay area schools working cooperatively on programs with tangible benefit to the area.
Students, faculty, and the community benefit greatly from the work growing out of excellent research centers. But how much of this benefit requires all the effort, energy, and money deployed within one law school's four walls?
(Cross-institutional curricula raises similar issues and is a variation on this theme, albeit a variation that deserves separate discussion).