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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Professor Kingsfield as Teacher and Scholar

Paper Chase Chicago Faculty Blog, Co-authorship, Empiricism and Changes in Legal Scholarship, by Tom Ginsburg & Tom Miles:

In the 1973 movie The Paper Chase, there is a well-known scene in which the protagonist law student Hart goes with trepidation to the office of the stern Professor Kingsfield.  Hart’s entrance disturbs Professor Kingsfield from his work – reading and writing about the latest developments in contracts law. 

When viewed in 2011, so much of the movie seems dated.  Legal education – and our image of it – have in many ways changed a great deal since then.  Instructors and students no longer accept routine humiliation as an effective pedagogic technique.   In an age of laptops, i-pads, and electronic casebooks, the very notion of a paper chase seems anachronistic. 

While our image of legal teaching has kept up with the times, our image of legal scholarship has remained relatively fixed. Most of us imagine that today’s law professor still works like Professor Kingsfield.  Alone in the office, the law professor reads cases and statutes, thinks about them, and then writes about them.  We imagine that legal scholarship remains an inherently solitary and essentially literary endeavor.

In a recent co-authored paper, we found that this image of legal scholarship has for some law professors become just as anachronistic as the paper chase.  Some law professors now work in teams to produce scholarship; more and more scholars utilize statistical methods and other social science techniques rather than purely conceptual analysis in their scholarship. 

We examined patterns of collaboration and methodology in top law reviews and two faculty-edited law journals.  We found that the fraction of articles in the top fifteen law reviews that were co-authored trended upwards between 2000 and 2010.  What explains this increase in collaborations?  An increase in empirical articles accounted for a substantial share of the growth in co-authored articles, and the correlation between co-authorship and empiricism persisted after controlling for numerous other influences.  ...

It is no secret that today’s law professors do not conduct their classrooms in the same manner that Professor Kingsfield ran his.  It is also becoming apparent that the scholarship that some of today’s law professors produce and the manner in which they produce it also bear little resemblance to Professor Kingsfield’s approach.

(Hat Tip: Empirical Legal Studies.)

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