Legal Amateurism

31 Pages Posted: 26 Oct 2016

See all articles by Annelise Riles

Annelise Riles

Cornell University - Law School

Date Written: October 25, 2016


Academics in the humanities and social sciences have often remarked upon the “amateuristic” quality of the analytical tools used by legal scholars. Rather than dismiss this quality out of hand, this paper approaches “legal amateurism” as a practice of knowledge production that can be studied ethnographically. The type of academic work produced by legal scholars expresses a unique relationship between scholarship and practice that bears the imprint of both the Formalist and Realist legal traditions. A certain degree of amateuristic scholarship, especially if it pertains to topics outside of one’s immediate area of expertise, provides legal professionals with a space for thought, reflection, and play – elements that are experienced as sorely lacking in today’s fast-paced, highly technological world. While amateur, non-monetized work can be a way to accrue symbolic capital or demonstrate a certain level of privilege, it also offers legal professionals the opportunity to refresh and renew their commitment to their own work and the legal profession more generally. Drawing on examples from the eccentric scholarship of John Henry Wigmore, as well as the drafting of technical documents in a Japanese bank, this paper argues that a certain aesthetic of amateurism lies at the heart of what it means to be a legal professional today.

Keywords: Amateurism, Collateral, Instrumentalism, Japan, John Henry Wigmore, Legal Realism, Pedagogy, Performativity, Time

Suggested Citation

Riles, Annelise, Legal Amateurism (October 25, 2016). Cornell Legal Studies Research Paper No. 16-41. Available at SSRN:

Annelise Riles (Contact Author)

Cornell University - Law School ( email )

Myron Taylor Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853-4901
United States

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