November 7, 2005

Does the title law professor inspire confidence that you're going to hear an accurate presentation of the case law?

Law professors have been so eager to tell us that judges aren't really judges. Have they ended up convincing you that law professors aren't really law professors?


Jacques Cuze said...

Glenn Reynolds, Hugh Hewitt, Eugene Volokh, Ann Althouse, .... and numerous other miscellaneous other 3rd tier law prof cranks....


Jacques Cuze said...

My belief is because "professors" like Reynolds fundamentally do believe in the Hegelian Didactic and the Adversarial method and do their best and think that that is the ethical thing to do to best present their own side. The other side can fend for itself.

Based on my experience with Reynolds and Hugeass Halfwit, there is no way I can take anything a law professor says at face value.

Ann Althouse said...

Yes or no isn't a good response to this set of two questions. You've got to go with no-yes or yes-no if your answer's not maybe.

nunzio said...

I take it you mean "accurate presentation of case law" in news stories. That answer is "no" in general. I found that when I was in law school, the answer was "yes" in class.

The answer to the second question is also generally "no" if it's a news story and yes if it's in class.

I've got no problems with the law profs sharing political views and views of why the law is wrong, but they should be much more forthcoming when asked what the law is if they're commenting in news stories.

John Jenkins said...

Given my daily and extensive dealings with law professors, I will give the answer they've beaten into me: it depends.

When I read Eugene Volokh, I get a sense that he will be honest about what the law is.

Larry Tribe I lost respect for a long time ago, ditto Leiter (who, to be fair, doesn't do a lot of popular law stuff, but he's so damned insufferable and uncharitable it's painful to read most of the time) and Balkin. Eric Mueller I have found to typically be honest, though I disagree with his spin sometimes.

Glenn Reynolds doesn't do much actual law blogging, so that's kind of unfair.

It also has to do with the medium. If I read it in the NYT, I am going to be quite a bit more skeptical than I might if I read it in a journal or even on the professor's blog.

I think the final answer is that this is an individualized fact-based inquiry. Some (EV, AA, EM) are good, others less so.

Richard Fagin said...

The vast majority of law professors labor out of the pubilc eye, and from my limited contact with them appear go about their scholarly and instructional duties in a workmanlike manner. I suspect there are 10 or even 100 Jim Hergets (retired Univ. Of Houston con law professor known to be seen at gun shows, and the one I credit for teaching me how to write a decent final exam answer) for every Laurence Tribe, Judicial Slanderer. Con law professors at gun shows - there is indeed still hope for America.

reader_iam said...

Ann, OF COURSE, you beat me to it: there are two questions, and "and" can't really figure into the answers--at least as you've framed the queries.

I am beyond sad to say that the answer is no-yes for me--in the context of being "out here." I've no doubt that the situation is different in a law school setting, at least mostly, a distinction that Nunzio points out.

Reflexively, my starting point is respect for authority and expertise (beyond whatever natural inclination, I AM the daughter of tenured professor, after all), although I have no problem vigorously challenging--even alone--if I deem it necessary. But my natural and strong skepticism kicks in almost simultaneously in this regard. And, again sadly, believe you me, it is the latter, rather than the former, that has been increasingly reinforced over the years, and exponentially over the past decade.

When I was dating my husband, I made him promise that he would support (and I'm not meaning this in the sense of $, necessarily) my long-time desire to attend law school, even if it was later in life, and even if it didn't result in a long career.

I recently came to the conclusion that that's a pledge from which I would release him--and not due to my own determination of a lack of aptitude on my part or external or objective assessments of ability, and not due to a lack of encouragement of the (many) lawyers with whom I have and do interact.

When I entered college, it was with the intention of entering law school and pursuing a career in internation and/or maritime law,first as practicing attorney, and then, after some years, as a law prof. For years, I regretted that I did not, could not, immediately pursue that in the time frame I originally envisioned.

No more. Which explains why I'm so very sad.

For what it's worth (not much, no doubt).

John(classic) said...


Too many attempts to convince us that an oyster is a rooster. It only takes a significant few to have us lose faith in all.

Jacques Cuze said...

Offtopic, startling new research shows how hard women have to work to get a joke.

Simon said...

Not in all cases, but I'm afraid that Jack Balkin's most recent diatribe has convinced me that he should no longer be taken seriously.

John Jenkins said...

Simon, that's not really what you'd call a diatribe. In fact, it read pretty tamely. It shows that Balkin is a realist, but that's about all. (I think he's dead wrong about originalism, but that's because I am not a realist). Realism is an accepted (if entirely cynical) and widely understood theory of jurisprudence and I just can't see what's so bad about that particular writing, though some of his other stuff is just maddening.

JM Hanes said...

Invoked twice in the same day, wow!

1. Confidence, no. Hope, steady to flickering, depending on context/topic.

2. Nope, just confirming that there are media/political whores in every profession.

paul said...

No, of course not. But having said this, I do not view law professors any differently from other positions of authority. I think all appeals to authority need to be viewed with skepticism, at least when the view being expressed is related to a political position. So I might trust what a physics professor says about the ring of saturn in National Geographic, but be skeptical about what he says about global warming and the Kyoto treaty.

peter hoh said...

Like when deconstructionists tried to convince us that words were meaningless, and in so doing convinced us that deconstructionists were meaningless?

Richard Dolan said...

For a little perpective, change "law professor" to "literature professor." Do you think you get an "accurate presentation of literary works" from a litprof? (If you do, you're in for a disappointment.)

To the extent the professor adds value, it's to point the student to perspectives that he might not have come up with on his own. Just think of the "schools" of literary criticism over the last 50 years, where there were successive waves of the New Critics, the Yale School, the various flavors of Marxist critics, the Deconstructionist, the whole zoo of special-pleaders (Feminist, Gay, you name it), and on and on. Ploughing through that stuff is not a useful exercise if your objective is to find out what the author wrote (instead just read the book). But it's not necessarily a waste of time either. The law profs seem to me to be in the same place vis-a-vis the texts on which they comment. From my passing exposure to the current fads in law schools, it seems that a large percentage of the law profs today are involved, to some extent, in modes of analysis often having a clear ideological perspective -- the Crits, Feminist/Gay/Gender, etc.

While I have been out of law school for 30 years, it would never occur to me to turn to any academic for an "accurate presentation of the case law," other than, perhaps, an author of a standard hornbook. (That's one reason why it's a very rate practicing attorney who ever consults a law review article.) I think most lawyers, and perhaps most non-lawyer observers as well, recognize that academics often have an intellectual ax (not necessarily a partisan ax) to grind, and as long as you recognize that, no big deal. If your query is focused on the political commentary that the Alito (and Roberts) nominations received from the law professoriate, such as the op eds by Tribe, Ackerman and Sunstein, a reader would have to be pretty naive not to expect to get a lefty slant, let alone to fail to recognize it when it hits the reader in the face.

I just don't see that there's a big problem with highly opinionated stuff, even analyses by law profs that are far from what any objective observer (I realize how some would dismiss that notion as itself naive) would regard as an accurate presentation of the case law. It seems to me that we've come a long way from 1986 when the Bork nomination could be torpedoed by outlandish accusations or racism and the like.

So, to me, it's not a question of having confidence in anything someone might write, about the law or anything else, because the writer holds the title of law professor. Whatever authority or preumption of careful analysis that title might once have carried, I doubt that any informed reader would find that it adds anything special today.