Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Tamanaha on Interdisciplinary Scholarship

I'm an avid reader of Balkinization, which offers such incredible legal analysis that I wonder if I should be paying for the privilege.

But while I would have eventually caught this on my RSS feed, Brian Tamanaha was nice enough to alert me to his post expressing skepticism about the current trend of interdisciplinary legal scholarship, at least with respect to the benefits that would accrue to non-elite law schools and their students (and thus the future legal profession).

This was generous of him to share, and especially generous of him to point out (not that I would have taken offense, understanding his meaning) that this isn't a criticism of the movement in general, the work, or people who do the work. That was very nice of him.

I hope you read his post, which will offer a nice counterbalance and perspective to the posts here (and elsewhere, e.g. on ELSBlog ) that aggressively push for interdisciplinary scholarship as the new Valhalla for legal scholarship. Heck, I just posted on the fact that I'm taking statistics again, first basic, and then later advanced modeling courses. Why the Valhalla metaphor? Because the common critique of traditional doctrinal legal scholarship is that it's "not rigorous," i.e. "empirical." Admittedly, social scientists (not that I'm really one of them! I have no formal training...yet!) turn up their noses at case-crunching, theorizing, doctrinaire legal scholarship with its insane footnotes and bizarre citation system. I know this for a fact. I am taught by J.D./Ph.Ds who say such things out loud.

So it's as if the valiant warriors, having demonstrated their rigor and vigor on the battlefield of scholarship (look! data! math! tables!) think of their work as a way into Odin's Hall, and that empirical legal studies is the future pinnacle of legal scholarship.

I am not a fan of false dichotomies or fightin' words like "more rigorous" or "experientially grounded" or "at least we have a theory." Whatever. The stuff I'm doing is technically empirical, being a qualitative study, and my future work might be more statistical. Even within the social sciences there's a schism between the qualitative and quantitative types. There seems to be many more paths to legal scholarship now than just a few years ago, and I'm grateful about that. It's no longer only Top 5 + law review + clerkship.

There is no single way into Valhalla, and there's no best method of legal scholarship. Be wary of any intellectual movement that proclaims as much, whether it's old school or new school. That there are so many different types of legal scholarship speak to the fact that there are more paths ot legal academia now.What this portends for students and future lawyers at non-elite law schools, I don't know. Perhaps social scientists will tell us 25 years from now.

I hope that you read Tamanaha's post, which offers much to think about.


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