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Posts Tagged ‘Law Professor’

Lack of Intellectual Preparation?

In American History, Arts & Letters, Book Reviews, Historicism, History, Humanities, Law on May 25, 2012 at 9:03 am

Allen Mendenhall

Last week I was reading several old reviews of Lawrence Friedman’s landmark work, A History of American Law.  I came across a 1974 review by David J. Rothman in Reviews in American History.  Rothman made the following point, which, despite being made 34 years ago, is bound to offend some readers of this site, especially those who are lawyers or law professors:

I have attended conferences of law professors doggedly determined to be interdisciplinary, and I have been appalled at the lack of intellectual preparation that many of them had for such work. They would talk blithely about bringing the insights of, say, game theory to the law-with only the vaguest idea of what game theory was all about. (Indeed, how could they have had more than a vague idea? After a general undergraduate training, they went to the law schools, then to the courts as clerks, then back to the law schools.) So one must, perforce, have a lurking fear that some of the new interdisciplinary efforts will be so inadequate as to prompt law professors to decide to do well what they can do, rather than to do badly what they should do. And law schools may well continue to perpetuate half-knowledge. They remain torn between serving as trade schools to the profession and graduate schools to the scholars. This compromise may turn out to be less and less tenable over the next years.
Does Rothman’s claim remain true when the “new interdisciplinary efforts” aren’t so new anymore?  Today many law professors hold Ph.D.s in various disciplines, and these professors use their unique, specialized training to enhance legal scholarship in their respective sub-disciplines.  But does “extra” graduate work or a specialized degree necessarily signal a superior skill set, or is Rothman’s view elitist?   These questions will be the subject of a future post on this site, and potentially of a future article, so I would like to hear back from readers.  Please email your responses to me or, if you’d prefer, post them in the comment box below.    

A Defense of Law-and-Literature

In Arts & Letters, Jurisprudence, Law-and-Literature, Legal Education & Pedagogy, Literary Theory & Criticism on May 7, 2010 at 2:58 pm

“Why study literature in professional school?” people have asked when I said that I work in a discipline called law-and-literature. I usually reply, “For the same reason we study math from elementary school until college: to learn about ‘truth.’”

The concept of “truth” has become the subject of ridicule. The postmodern era of scholarship, with its roots in poststructuralism, deconstruction, and narratology, ushered in new conceptions of metaphysics and ontology: all texts, indeed all things emanating from texts, whether cultural norms or social values, are at variance with themselves. Nothing has essential meaning; everything is indeterminate and arbitrary. The self-evident “meaning” perceived by individuals is socially constructed, having been centered or passed down through networks of people and events. These, at any rate, are the simplistic accusations put forth by those fed up with postmodernist presuppositions.

I’m no enemy of postmodernism, but I tend to agree with French theorist Bruno Latour, who claims that we have never been modern, so we cannot have been postmodern, and besides, there is something to this concept of “truth.”  Why else would we have mathematics? Mathematics, like literature, has the capacity to bring about answers. True answers. Postmodernism has never quite debunked this truth-seeking field. Read the rest of this entry »

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