[T]he dislike [for legal academics] is a result of law professors being too much in the world. You see, law professors — and I should disclose here that I am one — very nearly run the world, or at least certain parts of the U.S. government. When you include Justice Anthony Kennedy, who taught nights, they make up the majority of the Supreme Court.

– Professor Noah Feldman, in an interesting and provocative Bloomberg opinion piece (via Overlawyered), responding in part to David Segal’s latest New York Times piece criticizing legal education.

(Additional excerpts and discussion, after the jump.)

Professor Feldman’s essay starts strong, and it ends strong. Here’s the last paragraph:

So don’t expect law professors to begin restricting themselves to doing obscure and technical legal doctrine. They are presidents and pundits and activists and educators, and they believe in reason and reform. They are the very model of an educated, self-replenishing meritocratic elite. No wonder they make some people nervous.

That’s a good summary of the entire article (which you can read in its entirety over here). Professor Feldman’s essential argument is that law professors are (1) “an elite within an elite” (former law profs include Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, and Hillary Clinton); (2) “natural reformers,” because they “think in terms of how institutions are supposed to work in theory, and then compare the theory to the reality”; and (3) “astonishingly good at generating policy proposals.”

So it shouldn’t be surprising that law professors prefer to write law review articles and books in which they think Big Thoughts, instead of narrow doctrinal pieces that navigate statutory backwaters and interstices of case law. Doctrinal articles might be useful to legal practitioners, but law professors dwell largely in the realm of policy, not practice. (One possible critique, of course, might be that policy proposals ought to be informed by practical knowledge, which some law professors lack.)

For additional insightful commentary on the NYT article, check out the excellent links collected below (gavel bang to Walter Olson of Overlawyered), to posts from Professors Jonathan Adler (critical but fair), Matthew Bodie (funny and snarky), Orin Kerr (thoughtful and judicious), and Daniel Solove (thorough and persuasive).

For Better Government, Don’t Kill All the Lawyers: Noah Feldman [Bloomberg View]
NYT front-pager: law schools don’t teach how to be a lawyer [Overlawyered]
NYT-on-lawprofs reactions, cont’d [Overlawyered]
What Should Law Schools Teach? (What Should the NYT Learn?) [Volokh Conspiracy (Jonathan Adler)]
A Recipe for Trashing Legal Scholarship [PrawfsBlawg (Matt Bodie)]
What the NYT Article on Law Schools Gets Right [Volokh Conspiracy (Orin Kerr)]
The Usefulness of Legal Scholarship [Concurring Opinions (Dan Solove)]

Earlier: Pay to Go to Law School or Get Paid to Quit: You Won’t Be Learning Anything Either Way


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