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Monday, November 23, 2015

"Of Foxes, Hedgehogs, and . . . Law School"

My former colleague, Dan Myers -- who is now the Provost of Marquette University -- has an essay in the Fall 2015 issue of the Marquette Lawyer called "Of Foxes, Hedgehogs, and Marquette Law School."  He writes, among other things, that "[l]aw schools, like most academic divisions, have a natural tendency to operate more like hedgehogs than foxes, and this tendency is reinforced by an administrative structure that sets the law school in a somewhat peripheral functional location at a university. . . .  It is incumbent on law schools to resist and to find ways of becoming more vulpine in their activities and reach."  

Dan makes a good point about the potential of administrative (or even simply geographical) matters to "reinforce[]" "more like hedgehogs" practices.  At the same time, I think there's a fair bit about legal education, legal scholarship, and the legal enterprise itself that has a "natural tendency" in the opposite direction.  My impression is that, sometimes, this latter "natural tendency" is stunted not by anything inherent in or interior to the enterprise of law schools but instead by expectations in Universities' central administrations or other units that law schools should become less "vulpine" -- that is, more siloed, specialized, and heavily invested in specific methodologies.  

Dan's piece points to some good things going on at Marquette and he expresses his support for them and their fox-like potential.  I wonder, though, if part of the project of "find[ing] ways of [helping law schools] becom[e] more vulpine in their activities and reach" is to let them be themselves?  

Posted by Rick Garnett on November 23, 2015 at 02:13 PM in Rick Garnett | Permalink

Comments

When it comes to the university administration, yes, law schools should be left to be themselves. I recently took advantage of some of the resources available at our university for both teaching and research, but I had to significantly adapt everything to the law school context because it's different from other departments. Only then did it work well.

Posted by: Margaret Ryznar | Nov 23, 2015 2:34:29 PM

For schools committed to teaching practicing attorneys, as opposed to scholars, is being more erinaceous--the opposite of vulpine in this analogy--so bad? In many areas of law, practicing attorneys grossly specialize. In my area--patent litigation--the best practicing attorneys have incredibly narrowly fields: not merely patent litigation, for example, but patent litigation before the International Trade Commission, or patent litigation concerning brand-generic disputes under the Hatch-Waxman Act. Knowing this to be the case, why is it wrong to foster this mentality in our students?

There are areas of law, to be sure, where having broader experience matters. It's tough to do some business transactional work and not have a varied diet. But students wishing to craft such an experience in law school could easily get that by taking a variety of courses from specialists, rather than numerous courses from generalists. It seems, in that case, that a law school comprising a prickle of hedgehogs is better suited for all students than one consisting of a skulk of foxes.

Posted by: Jacob S Sherkow | Nov 23, 2015 3:16:46 PM

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