More on What Makes a Legal Scholar

This post started as a comment to Frank Pasquale’s post regarding legal scholarship, and I realized that I wanted to make it a post of its own.

Thanks, Frank, for this post. I wish that I had time to enter this debate directly. Pointers to Dinwoodie and Janis and especially to Julie Cohen are exactly right. I want to add two points:


I think that legal scholars’ obsession with normativity clouds their appreciation for the contributions that other disciplines can make. Solum writes, in the excerpt that Frank quoted: “[L]egal scholars need to be able to address normative questions about law–and normative questions are not bounded by the walls that separate the disciplines.” Substitute “descriptive” for “normative” in that sentence, and I think that it’s not just equally correct, but stronger. My own work (here, for example, and here), which Julie Cohen cites, reflects my own methodological eclecticism (I hesitate to say “anxiety”), but it’s highly descriptive. I think that law doesn’t have any special claim on normativity, but that’s a debatable claim and a discussion for another day. Law’s claim on normativity, I think, insulates strong proponents of that claim from feeling the need to explore other fields. On the other hand, description is mandatory, in law no less than in any other field. Does a powerful descriptive argument call for interdisciplinarity on the same grounds that Larry describes? I believe so.

(I should add that I take Larry’s point to be that legal scholars need to be able to understand normative claims, not that they are expected always to make them. But the use of “address” in his sentence above, while casual, might suggest otherwise.)


There aren’t many interdisciplinary Legal Scholar Superstars that fit Larry’s bill. That’s not just an accident of the way that lawyers and law professors are trained; it’s a fact of life. Learning any additional discipline, even in connection with some specific research project, and even under expert supervision (i.e., “don’t try this at home!”), requires a huge amount of time. As both teachers and students (as well as parents, partners, spouses, etc., etc.), we all inhabit second- and third- and even fourth-best worlds, where time is sometimes an unimaginable luxury. The real question isn’t “what are the tools and discourses that competent legal scholars should be conversant with.” The real question is “given that only the truly exceptional legal scholar will be familiar with enough analytic tools to truly appreciate the nature of the universe, how does the modal legal scholar acquire enough analytic tools to make a meaningful scholarly — and pedagogical — contribution?” What we should be discussing, in other words, is not where we believe all legal scholars should end up. We should be discussing where we believe legal scholars should start.