Paul L. Caron

Monday, March 21, 2011

McGinnis Reviews The Legal Academy and an Overlawyered America

Schools for MisruleJohn O. McGinnis (Northwestern) reviews the new book by Walter Olson (Cato Institute), Schools for Misrule: Legal Academia and an Overlawyered America (2011) in today's Wall Street Journal:

Law schools wield more social influence than any other part of the American university. To what effect? ...

One of his themes is that law professors serve the interests of the legal profession above all else; they seek to enlarge the scope of the law, creating more work for lawyers even as the changes themselves impose more costs on society. By keeping legal rules in a state of endless churning, lawyers undermine a stable rule of law and make legal outcomes less predictable; the result is more litigation and, not incidentally, more billable hours for lawyers, who must now be consulted about the most routine matters of business practice and social life. ...

To be sure, intellectual life in the legal academy would be more vibrant if law schools were less lopsidedly left-liberal—if, that is, they encouraged more internal debate. Tenure also permits aging 1960s and 1970s ideologues to enjoy positions of academic power. ... What is novel about law schools today is that, compared with their checkered past, so many more scholars are vigorously returning to the methods that made America.

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Politics aside (A.K.A. questioning whether the policies of law school grads turned politicians are good or bad) what I am concerned about is Olson’s argument that law school shouldn’t be academic, but professional. I understand that a clear goal should be to turn people into good lawyers, but an equally important goal should be to turn people into good legal theorists. If Olson had his way and got rid of the constant flux of legal academia, our laws would stop advancing. Our conceptions with what’s right and wrong need constant improvement and modification, and I doubt that having the brightest legal minds stagnate would be ideal for that to happen. I basically disagree with the conjecture drawn in this statement “lawyers undermine a stable rule of law.” A stable system of law is not necessarily a good one. I think the LSAT would call that a false assumption.

Of course though, I agree with your own analysis that increasing healthy debate between conservative and liberal view points would be a good thing. I only dispute what i believe Olson to be tacitly arguing for; making law schools more a vocational school rather than an academic.

Posted by: Eric Fidel | Mar 21, 2011 3:10:51 PM