Tuesday, January 5, 2010

In partial defense of bad sociologists

I should just let this alone and kick to it to Pnin, who has both the comparative and absolute advantage here, but I can't resist the urge to pick on Charles Rounds's "Bad Sociology, Not Law." The gist of it is not surprising: Rounds wants law schools to be more traditional. They should be less nterdisciplinarity and instead "get back to basics." While I agree that some of the courses he cites are probably unfortunately heavy on identity politics and light on anything else, I wouldn't go nearly so far. Some scattered observations:

1)In several places, Rounds singles out the downfall of traditional courses in Agency as particularly unfortunate. My law school covered agency law in a four-hour required course on Business Associations, which covered the law of agency, partnership, and corporations. Most schools do it this way; in fact, I was just talking to one of Pnin's friends at dinner on Saturday, a law professor in the Southeast, who's trying to move his school from the patchwork model and develop a five-hour class in Business Associations. While my school may have been somewhat unusual in requiring all students to take BA, my sense is that it's popular enough elsewhere that many students do anyway.

I suspect that may be why Rounds isn't seeing Agency as separately listed in the course catalogs. I believe that many of the schools that don't have a separate course in Agency combine it with Partnership - I'm not sure, honestly, if there's enough meat to justify a full three hour course (or even a two hour one) of just Agency. But I should defer to the judgment of people who actually work in an area where they use these concepts more than I do.

2)Aside from grade inflation and sensitivity concerns, there are plenty of good reasons not to employ Socratic. See, e.g.

3)Rounds is against lawyers being bad sociologists. Fine. But can we be bad economists instead? Antitrust lawyers, for example, generally need to be well-versed in economic concepts, even though most are not qualified to be professional economists. Is Rounds against all multi-disciplinarity, including law and economics? If not, why is training lawyers to be bad economists worse than training us to be bad sociologists?

4)He says, "As for Property, well, let’s just say, it is no longer your father’s Property course. It’s now more about politics than the fee simple." Is it really worse that baby lawyers spend their time on, say, contentious eminent domain battles rather than the traditional common law estates? Note specifically the opportunity costs of teaching the complex and frustrating Rule Against Perpetuities, which I understand is of limited use in actual practice.

5)Also somewhat strange: Rounds writes "Those who are less sociologically inclined are likely preoccupied with some ultra-technical aspect of the Constitution, some piece of legislation, or a regulation. Many professors manage to cobble together entire courses around their preoccupations." Because Rounds says he is in favor of practicality, and in training lawyers who can hit the ground running, this sentence is bizarre. There are lots of jobs for young lawyers who are well versed in particular statutes or regulations! See, e.g., ERISA! Title VII! The ADA! I'm sure there are plenty of others, and that my list reflects my own narrow interests. ( I'm told it can be useful to be well versed in the food and drug regulations, but I never bothered to become such, so I couldn't cite the key sections of the CFR to you.)

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