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Sunday, August 20, 2006

Thoughts From a Touchless Car Wash About the Joys of Being a Law Professor

The Prius was screaming for a bath this morning, and that ubiquitous woman in the GPS ("in half of a mile, right turn onto L-A thirteen fifty-two") directed me over to a touchless car wash on Louisiana Street.  As this thing that resembled a miniature of the Grande Arche de la Defense moved back and forth over head, at one point coating us with something that looked like melted rainbow sherbet, I thought about my dinner out with new colleagues last evening, Gordon Smith's post and the associated comments over on Conglomerate about interview questions, and Article 9 of the UCC.  I didn't think it was blogworthy until I got back here, and was chuckling to myself (a strange thing when you are sitting alone in your office on a Sunday morning) over Kate Litvak's last comment to Michael O'Hear's post on teaching criminal law:  namely learning the  criminal statutes (then, I presume, getting the hell out) and getting on to the fun stuff like Article 9.  Perhaps it is the liberating and creative effect of humor (the unexpected juxtaposition of heretofore wholly unrelated events or concepts, like Robin Williams' impression of Elmer Fudd singing Bruce Springsteen - "I'm dwivin' in my cah, tuhn on da wadio...") that just snapped it all together.  (Thank you, Kate!)

Call this paean to the academic life ridiculously sentimental; call me a fool; but ask me the interview question "why do you want to be a law professor?"

Because, despite all the faults, the incomprehensibility of the hiring system, the thrashing over student-edited publications, the struggle to determine the legal academy's place between research university scholarship and the trade school training of professional lawyers, the impact of internet access in the classroom, the butterflies in my stomach (and  shpilkes) the thirty minutes before EVERY class, my worry that I have tapped myself out on ideas for new articles (or to a far lesser degree, blog posts), I love it.

How on earth does that possibly tie back to dinner last night and Article 9?   That was what I was considering as the shower of red, blue and yellow glop spread over the windshield.  A long-time faculty member (who teaches criminal law, among other things, and was a prosecutor at one time) and his wife invited another visiting faculty member, his spouse, and me over to their lovely home for a glass of wine, and then we all went out to dinner.  The occasions in my previous life for having a conversation in which the other parties have tremendous experience and expertise in things like criminal law and international law were relatively few.  This conversation started in on current events (Iraq, fighting the Taliban as a response to 9/11, the Israeli-Hezbollah war), turned to theories of the law of war where recognized nation-states are belligerent with non-state entities in failed states, and finally, as I was taking a break to gather my thoughts and catch my breath (I compared it to being the dummy in bridge), the critical theorist view of the whole idea of international law as being something created by the European colonial powers, thereby incorporating within it presumptions about colonialism, legitimate defense, the rules of war, and terrorism.

And just a few hours before, I had jotted some notes to myself from the Warren and Walt book on Secured Transactions to raise with the students on Tuesday:  the debate between Jackson and Kronman, on one hand, taking an efficiency view why there should be secured credit (while it might seem unfair to let a debtor prefer some creditors over others, the subordinated or unsecured creditors will reflect their greater risk in a premium for lending or in turning to other borrowers), and Lynn LoPucki's response why this fails to take account of involuntary unsecured creditors like tort victims (hence we should prefer such creditors even over the secured creditors in bankruptcy).  I had posed the question, at least to consider:  does Article 9 favor the entrenched, the powerful, the banks, the corporations, the diligent, the smart?  And is that the right policy?

Do I buy critical theory either in the area of international law, or the far more mundane world of project finance?  Not really, although the Frankfurt School critiques of modern media and institutions are powerful and thought-provoking.  Do I worry about the segue from critical theory to post-modern despair or nihilism?  Yes.  But the point is the intellectual struggle in civil discourse, the journey, not the destination.  That's the common thread between discussion of the law of war and the law of purchase money security interests.  And that's why I love it.

Posted by Jeff Lipshaw on August 20, 2006 at 12:09 PM in Corporate, Life of Law Schools, Lipshaw, Teaching Law | Permalink

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