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Friday, September 22, 2006

J.B. Ruhl's Hierarchy of Legal Scholarship

Jim Chen J.B. Ruhl, at Jurisdynamics, has posted his quite interesting and helpful Hierarchy of Legal Scholarship.  (The VC also discusses the heirarchy here.)  He ranks different types of scholarship from 1-10, with 10 being the most . . .  well, I'm not sure what exactly.  I suppose "valuable" captures a good deal of it, but not "valuable" in the sense of "useful," which could describe a well written but uncomplicated survey or ALR annotation.  Instead, the best legal scholarship in Ruhl's view is that which is likely to make the greatest impact on society outside of law. Scholarship having a great impact within the legal profession has slightly less status, and so on, with blogs receiving a rank of "0" as "not legal scholarship."  Books are not treated as a separate category, and I wonder whether Ruhl would consider casebooks to be (#3) doctrinal studies of the law, (#4) doctrinal syntheses of developments in the law, or something else altogether.

I suppose the post will provoke a series of defensive arguments (most, no doubt, in dueling blog posts) about whether one type of article is deserving of the rank that Ruhl has accorded it.  Nevertheless, the hierarchy is helpful to me in directing my research.  If I've produced a (#5) normative policy analysis, can I add a reform proposal (#6)?  This additional layer of complexity can make a work more valuable regardless of whether the rankings are formalized, but the list helps to remind writers of opportunities to take one's scholarship to the next level without changing the entire project.

Students and other writers searching for assistance along these lines should consult Eugene Volokh's excellent Academic Legal Writing, which discusses on pages 48-52 of the second edition techniques for expanding and revising practical memoranda to construct articles.

Posted by Michael Dimino on September 22, 2006 at 01:50 PM in Legal Theory | Permalink

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Comments

Some of this strikes me as a bit of an overstatement.

"It improves matters only marginally to conduct doctrinal work when the topic under study presents novel or interesting questions of law. Once again, practitioners are more likely know what those questions are and to have reviewed the pertinent legal authorities."

I'm not so sure about this....There are thousands and thousands of important legal issues out there that need resolving. Private citizens must engage lawyers to answer questions which, if some professor thought to write about, could save the citizens quite a bit of money. If, e.g., someone wants to help the Fortune 500 out, then he should write about the proper method of determining the tax basis of property transferred from abroad to the United States (that determination remains elusive).

If someone wants to help the small guy, there are unresolved questions regarding innocent spouse relief that could benefit from doctrinal analysis. Too many widows and abandoned women must repeatedly pay their lawyers to research whether the Tax Court of the Bankruptcy court can grant her relief under I.R.C. 6015(f). The Eighth Circuit recently asked for amicus briefs on the issue, and fortunately at least one scholar has actually deigned to further the development of the law by writing about the contested issue. See http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=911275.

I really don't think that professors chiming in on doctrine is as hopeless an endeavor as it is perhaps made out to be in the hierarchy. Actually writing about the law might not be as "interesting" as performing the "impact studies" at the top of the hierarchy, but I'd hope law professors don't entirely forsake the study of law.

Posted by: andy | Sep 22, 2006 7:44:02 PM

Jim Chen himself has posted a response to the initial post, suggesting that the categories be fewer (6) and adjusted significantly to account for value of scholarship instead of the effort expended in producing it. His post is at this link:
http://jurisdynamics.blogspot.com/2006/09/value-based-hierarchy-of-legal.html

Posted by: Mike Dimino | Sep 23, 2006 8:19:00 PM

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