Skip to content

A Little Legal History

[Cross-posted at Conglomerate]

Following my account of the Prawsblawg dialogue on the role of Ph.D.’s in interdisciplinary scholarship, a colleague of mine, far wiser than I, pointed me to Thomas F. Bergin, The Law Teacher: A Man Divided Against Himself, 54 Va. L. Rev. 637 (1968). The law teaching profession has trod this ground before, and long ago.

Professor Bergin wrote:

By compelling true academics, or those who have the potential for serious scholarship, to play out a Hessian-trainer role, and by compelling highly skilled Hessian-trainers to make believe they are legal scholars, the disease dilutes both scholarship and Hessian training to the advantages of neither. That this compulsion (I am using the word in as many senses as I lawfully may) exists in today’s law schools seems to me plain upon inspection; for there is no fact more visible in our law schools than that teachers with extraordinary scholarly skills are being made to “pay for their keep” by rule preaching and case parsing. The time they must give over to preparation for the Hessian-trainer roles makes it literally impossible to produce serious works of scholarship. (at 645)

Bergin’s conclusion was that law school education itself could be bifurcated, into what might be called academic and practitioner (Bergin called it “Hessian-trainer”) tracks. The former would more closely resemble doctoral training in other disciplines and would be the source of the future law professoriate. Kate Litvak echoes his argument in part (Bergin supposes that faculty themselves would find it worth investing in their own doctoral training), and I have to say that I find it intriguing.

1 thought on “A Little Legal History”

  1. A quasi-bifurcated model is already in place: S.J.D. (or J.S.D.) programs at leading law schools. Such oft-overlooked programs give students the time to publish under the tutelage of established law faculty on heartland scholarly legal issues. To be sure, such programs are offered to American students only after they have received the more practioner-focused J.D.. But with little effort they could be arranged into a simultaneous track with J.D. studies.

    As Bergin suggests, law faculty, at least anecdotally, appear to have some of their most fruitful experiences with the doctoral students. It is high time for those already in academia to be more cognizant of those who equip themselves with the S.J.D..

Comments are closed.