May 22, 2011

"What the academy is doing, as far as I can tell... is largely of no use or interest to people who actually practice law."

Said Chief Justice John Roberts, in a quote that sprang to mind when I read this from Gordon Smith (via Instapundit):
[Some old lawprof once said:] "To become a great law professor, one must write a casebook, a treatise, and a Restatement ... Seavey never wrote a treatise."

... It is impossible to imagine anyone giving Scott's advice to a young professor today. The sort of doctrinal synthesis that lies at the heart of casebooks, treatises, and Restatements is not highly valued among today's law professors, even though it has real-world value.

What is the measure of a great law professor today? The highest achievement of a law professor today is creating a new concept or theory that is used widely by other academics in the field....
Lawprofs injecting other lawprofs with theories. It sounds unsanitary, but it's a closed system, so what could go wrong? It's not as if a law professor is going to break out and grasp massive power in the actual real world. Imagine a lawprof as President! It's absurd!

Aw, come on. Seriously. Barack Obama wasn't a law professor law professor. Did he ever try to create a new concept or theory for other lawprofs to use in the sickly circulatory system of academia? Absolutely not. He was always organizing and operating in the political world.


David said...

"[Obama} was always organizing and operating in the political world."

Yeah, but he got a lot of his infections in academia.

Obama is a perfect example of what Roberts was talking about, except that Obama was--like most--an absorber not a creator of ideas.

The full extent of the disease is still unclear.

TS said...

Never another lawyer for any high office. Please.

Automatic_Wing said...

So Academia is largely a self-licking ce cream cone. Who knew?

bagoh20 said...

It is a strong attribute and often a failing of modernity to overvalue the new and undervalue the the old. It's progressivism, and it's a fatal bias because it's not reason nor logic, but unexamined preference to always turn left no matter how successful the road to the right has been, nor how devastating the left turns have proven. It's institutional neurosis.

traditionalguy said...

The writing of the authoritative Treatise on your subject that is in use by the Judges who often took the course from you is real power and the legal system. The Progressives in Academia now reward men, and mostly women, for leading in the Revolution of Redistribution.

edutcher said...

I think Ann just released a statement saying she won't give Little Zero a primary challenge.

Too bad, I'd love to see her debate him.

PS She's correct in saying he wasn't a professor - merely a lecturer.

Anonymous said...

As an English major over 10 years ago, I watched as good Ph D candidates hustled for fewer and fewer jobs, the departments didn't take care of their own (every man for himself), the spirit of useless theory having long ago took over. It was understood that you wrote a lot, most of it useless, and published, published, published...

With some legal academics in the family, I've been hoping that law wouldn't suffer the same fate, or if my experience is even applicable (not enough jobs, the academy and the profession dividing, useless theory (wink-wink, write some too and you'll get a job...more and more people arguing over less and less).

I don't know if it's economic (golden days are gone, bubble), a sign of intellectual rot (in English, it was postmodernism, feminism, the rise of the political groups, the lack of a canon) or something else...or even if this analysis is correct.

I can say that professors, and intellectuals, are just as susceptible to trends, the next big 'thing', navel-gazing, etc. as anyone else....and usually not short on ego.

Unknown said...

Academics inventing theories ruined the humanities. I cringe when I think of what critical theory will do to the law. Or has already done to the law.

(I think we just read a defense of a traitor based on the fact he was an "other." It has begun.)

Anonymous said...


Maybe It's the threat that progressivism, faulty logic, moral absolutism of all stripes, using the political process to expiate our sins..politics as spectacle..all pose to our institutions and traditions.

But as for law professors, why all the cross-discipline talk? The law library is a 'laboratory' bullshit?

Shouldn't they just focus on making decent lawyers? teaching useful skills, staying up on their areas...cultivating their own gardens?

Every indian a chief?

ricpic said...

So Academia is largely a self-licking ice cream cone.

Academia is no more (and no less) solipsistic than any other guild. The secret handshake, the insider lingo, the self-referentialism and outer-reality denialism: all these increase inevitably over time as the elect moat out the ignorant horde.

mccullough said...

Let's just abolish the requirement in most states that you have to graduate law school to be a lawyer, as well as pass a bar exam. Better yet, let's just abolish the bar exam as well. If purchasers of legal services care about the credential of a law degree, then some lawyers will go to law school. We also need to abolish federal student grants and loans. Let states subsidize higher education, if they want. Let students figure out a way to pay for higher education.

Anonymous said...

Having been an Adjunct Associate Professor of Law for over 10 years, I'm puzzled by the question:
"What is the measure of a great law professor today?"
It seems to me, that the measure of a great law professor is someone who actually TEACHES his or her students.
I'm all in favor of scholars of the law, but not at the expense of law teachers.

Ann Althouse said...

"It seems to me, that the measure of a great law professor is someone who actually TEACHES his or her students."

Isn't that just someone who is meeting the basic requirements of the job he is paid to do? "Greatness" should be something only a handful of lawprofs achieve. Who are the great lawprofs today? It can't be the thousands of lawprofs who are devoted and excellent teachers.

Carol_Herman said...

Nope. Pushing the clock back is futile.

However, Mark Steyn was right. Obama has marinated in the sewers of faculty lounges. And, those alligators are now terrified that they face losses, ahead.

If you want lessons on the law, and you want to see this stuff clearly stated in books, I'd recommend Noah Feldman. He dissects a court that moved into liberal territory. With four seated members on the bench. All sticking their oars in and pumping in their own direction! Frankfurter was a putz. So, to Jackson. So, I'm not surprised lawyers have been fetching their water, now, from other ponds.

Scum just the same. And, what's really lost is reputation.

Carol_Herman said...

One of the reasons I think Obama can win re-election is that he never gets anything "done." And, a lot of his shipmates are under the wheels of the bus.

Yes, he talks big.

And, yes, lots of people think democraps stink to the high heavens. But it's like religion. When someone drops out. They don't necessarily decide to switch to your church.

The GOP is held in even less regards.

And, as the Independents grow ... they get only one day to exercise their votes. And, both parties continue playing stupid games. Because that's where the money is.

Today, if you're a lawyer ... and you're forced to join one team ... which one would you pick ... if you have a goal of becoming selected by politicians to become a judge?

While I can only wish the man who decided KITZMILLER got selected to sit on our Supreme's. But first, Orin Hatch has to lose his seat.

somefeller said...

Althouse asks regarding law professors and teaching: Isn't that just someone who is meeting the basic requirements of the job he is paid to do?

In a just world, yes. But we don't live in that world, and it sure seems like the ability to teach law (real law, not interesting but largely useless theories about it that aren't even as good as the ones you would hear in the political science or philosophy departments) well isn't necessarily the royal road to success in legal academia.

mtrobertsattorney said...

If the Chief Justice is right,who is it that finds the work done by the legal academy useful or interesting? The answer, as
Smith says, is themselves.

Too many law professors operate like members of the Flat Earth Society. While these folks spend a great deal of time and energy developing "new concepts or theories" that allow them to interpret the latest discoveries in astronomy so that they are consistent with their flat earth theory, nobody pays any attention to them. They're not taken seriously.

In a more rational world, law school deans would be embarrassed and shamed by the Chief Justice's observations.

Anonymous said...

Ann - you said "Isn't that just someone who is meeting the basic requirements of the job he is paid to do? "Greatness" should be something only a handful of lawprofs achieve. Who are the great lawprofs today? It can't be the thousands of lawprofs who are devoted and excellent teachers."
And while I graduated from an Ivy League Law School some 38 years ago, and acknowledge things may have changed since then, I must beg to differ with you - I'd guess that less than 25% of law professors are ADEQUATE teachers. Perhaps 10% would qualify as Great Teachers and frankly, in my observation, most law professors are so busy being legal scholars that they don't pay the attention they should to the teaching part of their jobs.

Robin said...

As far as I can tell, not only did his students learn nothing useful at his "seminars" but neither did Obama.

Beldar said...

Prof. Althouse, your recollection of this quotation from Chief Justice Roberts' confirmation hearing is very apt indeed.

@ TS: You are, I think, overgeneralizing a bit. I'm not arguing that only lawyers are qualified to be POTUS. To the contrary, I think Bush-43, for example, benefited from not being a lawyer, as did Reagan.

Clinton, you'll recall, had in common with Obama not just being a lawyer, but a law professor, and Clinton did it as a full-time job.

But you'll recall, of course, that many of our founding fathers were lawyers, and they managed to draft such things as the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights -- this during an era when physicians, for example, still believed imbalances in bodily humors (black & yellow bile, phlegm, and blood) caused disease.

I do recall another Illinois lawyer who made a rather fine president, but he hasn't much else in common with the current one.