There has been more good discussion of the issues discussed yesterday in Interdisciplinary Ignorance and the Legal Academics of the Future. Among the important posts:
Let me just say that all of these posts are really interesting. Don't miss Cross, Rosenberg, Ford, Tushnet, or Graber!
I would like to talke up a point made by Dan Solove, Larry Ribstein, and Michael Rappaport. In a way, it is about specialization versus generalization. My post argued that the "complete legal academic" needed basic competence in normative legal theory (including moral philosophy, political theory & philsophy, metaethics, & analytic jurisprudence), law and economics, empirical legal methods, positive political theory and attitudinalism, and a familiarity with the most important ideas about law from the rest of the social sciences and history. This is, of course, a provisional list offered in a blog post.
What I want to emphasize now is that I do not believe that every legal academic needs to be a competent practioner in each of these five areas. That is, I am not arguing against specialization and for some extreme ideal of the law professor as omnicompetent generalist. What I do believe is that every law professor needs core competences in each of these areas. That is, we should not be producing legal academics who have never heard of the Coase theorem, never read H.L.A. Hart, have no idea what a standard deviation is or what a measure of statistical significance is, have no clue what the phrase "positive political theory means," have never read any legal history, don't know what the word "deontology" means, haven't a clue what the debate over "functionalist explanation in the social sciences" was about.
Why not? Why not produce law professors who have basic legal competence and mastery of a single discipline other than law? Actually, that is exactly the wrong way to pose the question! I am not arguing against "mastery of a discipline other than law"--that is a very good thing. What I am arguing against is incompetence in the core disciplines that inform the study of law.
What's wrong with incompetence you may ask? Was does an economist need to know anything about normative legal theory? Why does a legal philosopher need to know what a test for statistical significance is? Why should a legal historian have ever heard about positive political theory? Why not have a legal empiricist who has never read a word of legal history?
These are large questions. One answer is that legal scholars need to be able to address normative questions about law--and normative questions are not bounded by the walls that separate the disciplines. Whether a given legal rule is all things considered the best rule is not a question where we can guarantee that the right answer can be discerned through armchair philosophical speculation or by economic modeling or by an empirical study or by introspection informed by the lessons of history. This is not to say that a given piece of legal scholarship can limit its scope to the economic, normative-theoretic, or empirical dimension of a given question of legal policy, but legal scholars need, at the very least, to be able to recognize the point at which their own work leaves unanswered questions.
Another answer is that shared core competences are required for the legal academy to flourish. I don't need to be able to do empirical studies, but if I am to be able to act as a responsible citizen of my institution, I need to be able to appreciate what empiricists do. The alternative is the fragmentation of the legal academy into warring camps of specialists whose real loyalties lie with their home discipline. The legal academy will not flourish if we economists value only economics, philosophers only philosophy, and empricists only empirical work.
In the end, the question about specialists versus generalists in the legal academy is probably a red herring. The truth is that we probably need both. But a belief in the value of specialization does not entail a belief in the value of general incompetence. Becoming a fine legal economist is not inconsistent with acquiring knowledge of the core of normative legal theory. Becoming a great empricist is not inconsistent with a knowledge of game theoretic models of legal behavior.
Specialization may be inevitable, but interdisciplinary ignorance is not the inevitable fate of the legal academy.