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October 04, 2006


Orin Kerr


I think your notion of a "complete legal academic" is somewhat particular to your interests. For example, if you teach and write in the area of tax law, are you really an incomplete legal academic if you don't know a lot about moral and political philosophy, metaethics, and analytic jurisprudence? If you teach and write in the area of family law, do you really need to understand and interpret the game-theoretic models deployed by Positive Political Theory?

Frank Cross

I think that goes to what makes one a complete legal academic. You don't need these fields of expertise, if your analysis is entirely descriptive and doctrinal.

But I would think tax law profs should have a familiarity with moral and political philosophy, if they are going to propose any changes in tax law, at least. And a family law practioner might not need positive political theory, but it is just a subdivision of game theory. And I imagine game theory permeates some parts of family law, such as that dealing with prenuptial agreements and post-divorce arrangemetns


I'm not sure it's really possible to be a "complete legal academic" anymore. There is just too much to know.

I really wish there were more lawyers & who knew more about philosophy of language, of course, and to be a complete legal academic, I suppose that I would put that on the list of things you'd need to know. But we can't expect very many people to know that, *and* economics, *and* all the rest. So we need to have faculties with lots of different people available to read drafts.

No hyperlink capability in the comments. And no italicization capability. So sad not to be able to promote my phi-language-involving article, but more subtly, with a hyperlink. But here it is, more blatantly:


Elizabeth Mertz

Empirical methods, of course, include far more than statistics. I would think that the basic skills needed for understanding good qualitative empirical research might be just as -- or more -- important to students of family law as the quantitative skills. And I have heard many quantitative researchers recently expressing deep concern about pushing legal academics to absorb a surface-level understanding of statistical methods without the deeper theoretical matrices within which those methods are grounded in particular social science fields. I have heard that what you get without those deeper theoretical matrices is referred to as "data dredging," and it is not held in high repute. (Note that one of the earlier meanings of the word "empirical" was precisely an overly slavish devotion to the details of observation without a theory to guide one in interpreting the results....a meaning that we hope will remain more a footnote in history than a description of current events!)

In general, the very interesting ideas in the exchanges here (and on other blogs such as ELS) are focusing on precisely the questions that folks involved in new legal realism conferences and discussions care about -- the process by which we translate between different disciplines. (see Foreword to the New Legal Realism Symposium in the Wisconsin Law Review (Vol. 2005, No. 2)). An assumption of transparent translation -- whether by legal academics or social scientists -- frequently leads to very shallow or misleading results.


Perhaps the five skills necessary for an individual to be considered a "complete legal academic," are instead necessary for the faculty at a law school to be considered a "complete legal academic faculty."

Based on my experience as a grad student in political science, I think I would find no "complete political scientists" if I insisted that they master all aspects of the field, including diverse methodologies and substantive issue areas. Instead a good department (or law school) will try to include many academics with diverse skills, most of whom adhere to the central research or pedadogical principle of the department (law school).

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