American Legal Thought in a Nutshell

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At first blush, Northwestern University law professor Stephen B. Presser’s just-released survey of legal education, Law Professors: Three Centuries of Shaping American Law, seems to lack a clearly defined mission. Presser, a self-described paleoconservative who says he was influenced by the journal Chronicles, where he has long served as legal affairs editor, has produced a treatise-length book (with 473 pages of text and nearly 1,400 footnotes) on a subject—legal academia—that many people regard as a bastion of left-wing ideology. Published by a scholarly press (West Academic) at a relatively hefty ($48) cover price, the book is aimed, at least in part, at a lay audience: “the general American public.”

Equal parts legal history, biography, and primer on jurisprudence, Law Professors defies categorization. Is it a text book, a reference work, a tutorial for pre-law students, a compilation of biographical profiles, a cautionary tale about the modern legal culture, or a synthesis of all the foregoing? The author calls it “a love letter to the teaching of law,” his vocation for over 40 years.

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The Larger Lessons of Increased Collaboration Among Law Professors

One of the most striking changes since I have been a law professor is the rise in the number of legal articles written jointly. This increase in collaboration is of more than academic interest because the reasons for it are leading to greater collaboration in other areas, too. The result will be greater prosperity and human flourishing.

First, joint authorship has grown with interdisciplinary scholarship. Increasingly, law is the subject of inquiry in other disciplines – economics, political science and psychology prominent among them.   But those with expertise in these areas frequently lack institutional knowledge of and practical experience in law. They can strengthen their arguments by partnering with law professors more sophistication about these matters, who, in turn get the advantage of more disciplined frameworks of social science. We see the same phenomenon in public policy, where different kinds of knowledge are more regularly pooled, resulting in a fuller, less one-dimensional view of the world.

Second, many law professors also team up in their research, even if neither have interdisciplinary backgrounds. The modern legal academy is marked by increased competition for both students and faculty. Standards for productivity and quality have clearly risen even in my two decades in the businesses. One way of competing better is to combine forces. 

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America’s Class Divide: Scribes v. Producers

The most comprehensive study of the ideology in the legal profession ever has just been published. It confirms what most people have already intuited: lawyers as a whole lean strongly to the left. Within the profession, a few characteristics predict that a lawyer will be even farther left than the median. Females and government attorneys are even more liberal, and no category is farther to the left than law professors. So much for diversity in legal education.

But what is most interesting about the study was its comparison of the ideology of lawyers with that of other key professions. Academics as a whole are substantially more left-wing than lawyers, and journalists in the print media are even slightly more left-wing than academics. Thus, we now know that there is a shared ideology of what we might call the scribal class – those who seek to alter the world by their use of information and rhetoric.

This scribal class wields enormous political power.

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