Days of Future Past: A Plea for More Useful and More Local Legal Scholarship
53 Pages Posted: 2 Jun 2017 Last revised: 14 Jun 2017
Date Written: May 30, 2017
Legal scholarship is at an inflection point because the legal education industry, to which legal scholarship is merely an internally overvalued appendage, is passing from a period of affluent abundance to a period of relative austerity. Scarcity stimulates self-examination.
This essay describes how the population explosion in American law schools during the 1990s and the simultaneous rise of the U.S. News rankings mania created a kind of tulip bubble in legal scholarship - a bubble that is rapidly, and properly, deflating. I make several concededly retrograde recommendations for dealing with a post-bubble world, including changing law school hiring practices to favor professors with more legal experience than has long been the fashion, assessing scholarship more by effect and less by placement, and devoting more of our scholarly attention to questions of state law and practice.
These suggestions all flow from the basic premise that we should more consciously encourage, even if we do not limit ourselves to, producing legal scholarship that has practical value to legal and business professionals and to policy makers at every level of American government. That premise, in turn, is based on the conviction that a modestly more pragmatic approach to the scholarly project is good for society and is, in any case, a sensible response to the parlous state of the legal education industry.
I even go so far as to suggest that increased pragmatism and localism in legal scholarship will assist law schools in the U.S. News rankings wars.
Note: This paper is one of a set emerging from a conference on "The Fate of Scholarship in American Law Schools" at the University of Baltimore in late March 2016. The entire set will be published as a book by the Cambridge University Press.
Keywords: legal scholarship, scholarship, law school, law professor, tenure, law school rankings, U.S. News
JEL Classification: K00
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation
By Orin S. Kerr