Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Stanley Fish on the Study of Law

Stanley Fish puts clear words to the reason I was initially drawn to law school--and one of my greatest laments of law school in practice. I was fortunate in this pursuit in so far as I found a way to make it as reflective as possible. Many of my compatriots were not so. Instead, there's was by happenstance or design a more practical approach. One more in line with that of Segal's critique than of Leiter's response. I think many of them are pleased with this outcome but it certainly was not my preferred route. That said, it is much easier, I think, to experience law school as a practicum--mine, at least, was prefigured in that manner. Mr. Fish:

In his response to Segal’s essay, Brian Leiter, a professor of law at the University of Chicago, rejects the question of whether what one learns in law school is of any help: “The criterion of scholarly inquiry is whether it makes a contribution to knowledge and understanding, not whether it ‘helps.’” Leiter adds that what he calls “genuine” knowledge often does help with “a host of concrete and practical problems.” But he refuses (rightly, I think) to justify the academic study of law on that basis, for, he explains, “it is the central premise of a research institution that the measure of its achievement is the quality of the scholarship, i.e. its contribution to knowledge — whether of law or biology or literature — not its practical payoff in the short-term.”

The emphasis on practical short-term payoffs has already laid waste to the traditional project of the liberal arts, which may not survive. Is the law next? The law is surely a practice but it is also a subject, and if it ceases to be a subject — ceases to be an object of analysis in classrooms and in law reviews — its practice will be diminished. When a Times editorial declares that “[l]aw is now regarded as a means rather than an end, a tool for solving problems” rather than something of interest in its own right, one wants to say more’s the pity.

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