Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Law School

Over at The Volokh Conspiracy, Todd Zywicki has an interesting post on some of the foibles of law school scholarship.
Without rehashing the whole peer review v. non-peer review debate yet again, to my mind one benefit of peer review is that it tends to prevent errors of omission--i.e., completely ignoring a relevant article or argument that is related to the subject under examination. This means that old ideas can be passed off as new--and often, not even intentionally, just unintentionally because of a lack of knowledge of what came before. Of course, the process of graduate school training, including mandatory courses and field exams also goes a long way to insuring that you have a basic grasp of the foundational material. Nothing like that exists in law, that I can see.
Perhaps the problem's a bit deeper.

Perhaps the root of the problem is that law schools transformed themselves from the latter part of an undergraduate education (where you earned your L.L.B., or "Bachelor of Laws") into graduate institutions (where you earn your J.D., or "Juris Doctor") without actually making a significant change to anything but the writing on the diploma. While the evolution of law school makes the teaching of law something quite apart from the role of a professor who never teaches graduate school, and instead exclusively teaches undergraduate classes, a strong argument can be made that something was lost in the manner of transformation of the basic law degree into a graduate degree, and that loss continues to have ramifications in the nature and quality of legal scholarship.

Granted (I cynically add), one could argue that the biggest difference is that a humanities professor at any other elite graduate school has to master his or her field of study before composing an article that will be sufficiently novel to merit publication in a prominent, peer reviewed journal, usually to be read by few, understood by fewer, and of value to (almost?) no one. But, I guess, such is the cost of making the publication of articles a critical element of staying on the tenure track.

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