The Strange Death of Academic Commercial Law
27 Pages Posted: 8 Aug 2006
In the 1960s, commercial law was a hot field. Bright young things flocked to commercial law; the best law journals regularly published commercial law articles; the field, recently upended by the then-current enactment of the Uniform Commercial Code, seemed a Golconda for the eager scholar. Now, though, what do we see? An aging and shrinking professoriate, particularly at the better schools; fewer and fewer offerings, and those not infrequently taught by adjuncts - again, mainly at the better schools; less and less scholarship, especially in the top journals. In short, a dying field, and one with few signs of revival.
In this essay, part of a symposium on commercial calamities to be published in the Ohio State Law Journal, I first see whether these signs of decline, generally acknowledged by academic commercial lawyers, are in fact present. By looking over the last several decades at teaching demographics and publication records, we see that they are, particularly at the schools that produce most law professors. The causes are many: a hiring boom in the 1960s, followed by a hiring bust of a few decades; the emergence of other, more apparently glamorous fields as contenders for the attentions of ambitious academic fledglings; the relaxed attention given curriculum generally by the leading law schools; the often unimaginative teaching materials that make the field seem intellectually uninteresting. The consequences of these many causes are dire. If leading schools do little to produce commercial law scholars, and if their journals publish little if anything in the area, then it is hard to see how this decline might cease. This should concern us all, not merely within the shrinking commercial professoriate; if the field lacks intellectual vitality, then we are likely to see unimaginative and sterile law, whether through law reform or through judicial development.
The essay concludes with some suggested means to reverse this trend. Most, to be sure, require a degree of individual or institutional inconvenience uncommon in the academy, and others require that concerns of ranking be somewhat subordinate - again, not a usual vantage, particularly now. But rescuing academic commercial law is important enough that some temporary inconvenience is a modest enough cost - at least, if we are willing to bear our share of responsibility for the well-being of the law.
Keywords: UCC, Uniform Commercial Code, legal education, law professors, commercial law, Llewellyn
JEL Classification: K10, K12, K20, K30
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation