Journal of Legal Education — Interview with Judge Harry T. Edwards on Legal Scholarship
The latest issue of the Journal of Legal Education is out and contains, among other things, my question-and-answer interview with Judge Harry T. Edwards on the topic of legal scholarship. The interview is prefaced with a short biographical profile of the Judge and closes with a bibliography of all his published works.
Among other things, the interview contains the Judge’s responses to some of those who have commented on his writings on legal scholarship (17 articles), including Judge Richard Posner, Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, and Professors Michael Dorf, Lee Petherbridge, Pierre Schlag, and David L. Schwartz.
Here are a few excerpts [brackets added]:
- [The only African-American] When I entered the University of Michigan Law School in 1962, I was the only African American in my class. I graduated very high in my law school class, earning a number of honors for academic achievement. Nevertheless, when I finished law school, many major law firms to which I applied for jobs rejected me. I was told quite frankly by some of the hiring partners that, despite my strong academic record, the firms would not hire a Negro. It was only when my white mentor, Michigan law Professor Russell Smith, pressed on my behalf that I received a job offer from a major Chicago law firm.
- [Best kind of legal writing] In my view, “legal writing” at its best is precise, carefully reasoned, and well-supported (by both facts and governing principles). It should not be meandering, pointless, frivolous, or pedantic.
- [Addressing law’s purpose] There are still law professors who express disdain for the practice of law, and offer no concrete proposals for reform. In my view, this is unacceptable. In constructing a vision of legal education, I agree with Professor J.B. White, who once wrote that, in order for legal academic work “to be of value to the law it is essential that the work in question express interest in, and respect for, the possibilities of what lawyers . . . do.” This means that a good body of legal scholarship must address law’s purpose of serving society. Not all legal scholarship, but a good body of it.
- [Abstract scholarship] There is certainly value in some abstract scholarship. I have never doubted this. But it should not be preferred over other forms of scholarship. In order for legal scholarship to be relevant outside the legal academy, law professors should balance abstract scholarship with scholarly works that are of interest and use to lawyers, legislators, judges, and regulators who serve society through legal arguments, decision-making, regulatory initiatives, and enforcement actions. In other words, law schools, law reviews, and legal scholars should do a better job in producing scholarship that is of interest and use to wider audiences in society.
- [Theory-laden articles] Law review editors have come to understand the law schools’ preferences for obscure philosophical and theory-laden material, in part because they have received so many articles of this stripe in recent years. And the law reviews have accommodated these forms of scholarship, largely without protest.
- [Blogs] The worry that I have with law blogs (as with many Internet sites that purport to report and comment on the news) is that they sometimes report and comment too quickly on judicial decisions. As a result, blogs do not always capture the important nuances of an opinion or the precedent that underlies the decision.
- [Gulf between academy & the profession] Unless law schools ensure that their faculties reflect a real balance of talent—i.e., including professors with strengths in both concrete and abstract scholarship and teaching—the current gulf between the profession and the academy will continue to grow and become even more distressing.
- [Hitting a nerve] The reactions from the bench, bar, and academy [concerning my article “The Growing Disjunction Between Legal Education and the Legal Profession“] were more than anything I ever anticipated. One of my former colleagues at the University of Michigan Law School, who will remain unnamed, sent me a funny and poignant letter which said something like: “Obviously, you hit a nerve. And what is so amusing is that the members of the academy cannot simply dismiss your critique because you are a member of the academy and know what goes on in our ranks.”