In the beginning, there was law. Then came law-and. Law and society, law and economics, law and history, law and literature, law and philosophy, law and finance, statistics, game theory, psychology, anthropology, linguistics, critical theory, cultural studies, political theory, political science, organizational behavior, to name a few. The variety of extralegal disciplines represented in the books reviewed in this issue attests to this explosion of perspectives on the law in legal scholarship.
This development makes clear that the vocation of the legal scholar has shifted from that of priest to theologian. No longer is a law professor successful by virtue of well-informed and detached normative prescription directed to those toiling at practice, policymaking and adjudication. No longer is the highest aspiration of the law professor to restate the law or lead the bar. Instead, legal knowledge is perceived to advance through techniques of measurement, explanation and interpretation, the positive and analytic tools of the social sciences and the humanities.
And yet we continue to owe our jobs as law professors, with our special place and privileges within the university, to teaching lawyers the tools of practice. We still publish casebooks and respond to requests from judges, legislators, and businesses for advice. The analytic techniques of the law school classroom continue to follow the ancient professional folkways of taxonomy and synthesis, analogy and distinction, even as enhanced by power-point slides and quantitative techniques. The life cycle of many legal theorists includes a period of policy-oriented prescription, offered in op-eds, public testimony, or consulting memoranda. We thus live a curiously bifocal existence, viewing law close up by day, and from an external vantage point by night, both insiders and outsiders to our profession.
To some of those who practice and apply law, this development represents decline and fall. A decade ago, in the pages of this law review, Judge Harry Edwards famously lamented that "many law schools ... have abandoned their proper place, by emphasizing abstract theory at the expense of practical scholarship and pedagogy," thus dissociating the legal academy from the legal profession in a centrifugal spiral. (1) In his view, law professors no longer spoke sufficiently directly to judges, litigators or legal policymakers from a shared internal perspective in a language that was intelligible or useful. In his view, the article or book that truly concerned law was a rare occasion for celebration.
To others, especially non-legal academics who toil in the underpaid precincts of university disciplines outside the basic sciences, this development represents an unjust windfall. In their view, law professors who do interdisciplinary work are practicing social science and humanism without a proper professional license, acting as are historians, economists, or political theorists manquees, but nevertheless reaping high salaries and lavish worldly opportunities (at least by university standards) merely by virtue of having obtained a law degree. In their view, our erstwhile interdisciplinary articles in the peculiar venue of student-edited journals represent law office history, noisy regressions, synthetic social science, or adulterated critique, all freighted with unnecessary references and footnotes that could sink a thousand ships. The accompanying emotions of contempt and envy are tempered only by the nervous suspicion that there may be mysteries to the legal priesthood inaccessible to the uninitiated, and mysterious power in the legal sacraments capable of actually affecting events in the outside world.
I reject both these critiques, and argue here that current trends toward interdisciplinarity in legal scholarship are cause for excitement, not lament. The extreme implication of the first critique is that law schools ought be increasingly partitioned from the rest of the university, specializing in practical education with little affinity for other disciplines; the extreme implication of the second critique is that law schools ought be dissolved as distinct entities and absorbed into the university's various other departments. The far better third alternative, in my view, is to retain the distinctive institutional place of law schools as post-graduate professional schools within the university, while continuing to lower the barriers to exchange between scholars of law and other disciplines university-wide. On this third view, the rise of law-and scholarship has elevated both our knowledge of how law works and our teaching of how to practice it. Hence the importance and justified influence of this annual, interdisciplinary book review issue of this law review.
The argument proceeds in three steps. First, I briefly reiterate the sometimes overlooked point that law is itself a discipline, not simply a hologram or pastiche of other disciplines. This feature supports the institutional autonomy and distinctiveness of law schools. Second, I note that this discipline, the discipline of law, is itself multidisciplinary, built upon if not reducible into elements of the humanities and social sciences. Thus, attempts to fragment law teaching, law professors, or legal scholarship into the "practical" on the one hand and the "theoretical" on the other are artificial and misleading. Third, I conclude that interdisciplinarity in legal scholarship is not just an exercise in consumption by law professors, but has productive utility both for the university and--as is sometimes overlooked--for legal practitioners and the many political, corporate...