Yale Law School’s first-ever Ph.D. in Law for aspiring law professors was met with both applause and skepticism when announced in July; many legal educators wonder whether the program is really necessary.

Now it is clear that there is an appetite for a course of study intended to prepare lawyers to be legal scholars and teachers: Yale has received 82 applications for the first five spots in the program. The Yale Daily News was the first to report the total this week.

The deadline to apply was December 15; administrators expect to make admissions decisions this spring and welcome the Ph.D. candidates to campus next fall.

If Yale indeed admits only five applicants, it would render the program even more selective than the law school’s J.D. program, which accepted just 8 percent of applicants in 2012, according to U.S. News and World Report. (Yale has the lowest acceptance rate of any J.D. program in the country.)

“It was extremely difficult to gauge how much interest we would have because there was nothing to model this on,” assistant dean for graduate programs Gordon Silverstein said. “We were very pleased with the response. It can take a long time to get the word out with something like this and get people interested.”

That tuition and a cost-of-living stipend were being paid for through a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and alumna Meridee Moore, who founded Watershed Asset Management LLC, might be a contributing factor in the flood of applications, Silverstein said.

The number of law professors with Ph.D.s has been on the rise, with many coming into the academy with doctorates in economics, political science, history or other social sciences. A handful of law schools offer Ph.D.s that combine law and another academic area. Yale’s will be the first to focus exclusively on the law.

Dean Robert Post said in July that getting a foot into the door of law faculties has become tougher as hiring committees demand more robust portfolios of research and writing. “People require you to show your abilities as a scholar by what you’ve written,” Post said. “Where do you get that training?”

The three-year program will be shorter than a typical doctorate, which tends to take at least six years. Students will write a dissertation, sit for qualifying exams, take classes on teaching and teach two courses.

“There’s a great deal of variety in the applicants,” Silverstein said. “We’ve got people who are one year out of law school and someone who has been out for 30 years. The typical profile is someone who has been out of school from two to five years. Many of them have clerked. Many have practiced at large firms. We’re looking for people from a range of backgrounds.”

Following the program’s announcement, University of Chicago law professor Brian Leiter called it “the worst idea in the history of legal education” on his popular blog. Leiter said the program appeared far less rigorous than a typical Ph.D.—not all that different, he added, from the two-year fellowships many law schools offer to aspiring professors.

Other law professors considered it the next logical step in preparing future legal educators. University of Illinois College of Law professor Jason Mazzone wrote on the Balkinization blog that doctoral training would boost the quality of legal scholarship. He noted that a Ph.D. is a required credential for law professors in some countries.

“Graduates of law schools who go to clerk or work for a firm for a couple of years before becoming professors do not typically pick up the skills needed to conduct research and produce academic scholarship,” Mazzone wrote. “A Ph.D. in law would usefully reprogram the prospective academic law professor.”

Contact Karen Sloan at ksloan@alm.com.