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Friday, July 14, 2006

Kalman on Yale Law School in the Sixties

I recently finished reading Laura Kalman's recent book, Yale Law School and the Sixties: Revolt and ReverberationsOrin Kerr and Alfred Brophy, evidently much quicker readers than I am, have already plugged it.  Let me just add my own recommendation.  I confess that I have been a fan of Kalman for some time and wrote a review of her book The Strange Career of Legal Liberalism in the Albany Law Review, for which Kalman graciously provided comments to a then wholly unknown recently minted LL.M.  This one is a somewhat slower read than that volume, but is still very engaging, at least for those of us who are fascinated by the intellectual and personal history of 20th century American (and Canadian too, in my case) law schools.  A few observations:

1) Kalman writes the best footnotes in the business by far.  It's a shame they're presented as endnotes, although her method more or less demands it, because you'll spend as much time flipping back to the end of the book as you will in the main text.

2) She is commendably up-front about her perspective on the events she recounts, writing that her story "displays an instinctive sympathy for the 'student revolution' in the university," and exudes a "wistfulness and hopefulness doubtless reflect[ing], at least in part, my own regret at missing out on the sixties."  That perspective undoubtedly colors the book, at times I think too much.  She is not, by a long shot, Eleanor Kerlow, whose account of Harvard Law School in the 80s and early 90s was, I think, marred by her overly credulous acceptance of the left-leaning students' arguments.  But I found myself somewhat less sympathetic than Kalman, or at least chafing more at the mixture of grandiosity, ambition, and self-centeredness that sometimes characterized the students she writes about in this volume.  (And not only the students, to be fair.)  Still, her candor about her own perspective on the history she is writing should enable anyone, from any perspective, to benefit from the book.

3) At times, the students' push for greater and greater regularization of various procedures reminded me of the words of their own teacher, Grant Gilmore, who pointed out (I'm paraphrasing here) that in hell there will be nothing but due process.

4) It is some measure of precisely how cataclysmic the period she is describing here was that someone could go from facing a disciplinary proceeding for threatening a professor with, depending on the account, a having his ass kicked or having "the shit [beat] out of him," to a seat on the Sixth Circuit, as happened with now-Judge Eric Clay.  I was not very sympathetic to the contemporaneous arguments made in his defense, although Kalman is also at pains to point out the breadth of his post-law school contributions to the profession and this alters the picture a good deal.  Lest we think of this simply a result of the Clintonian tendency to reward the members of its own version of "Our Gang" -- although surely that is part of it -- one must recall that a number of people who achieved positions of responsibility in their later adulthood, particularly in various Republican administrations, once raised their own hell among the stacks at CCNY.

5) Finally, there is a certain lasting sense of the sheer moxie -- or, to put it differently, the gall -- of the generation of students she describes.  Believing that a student walkout at Yale is a vital part of the effort to end the U.S. incursion into Cambodia, ensure racial justice, and reshape society is one thing.  But adding to that the insistent demand that students who walked out should also be entitled to receive "credit for their courses without requiring them to sit for final examinations"!  (p. 218)  Well, that is a generation that is supremely capable of juggling both Utopianism and an eye for the main chance.  (I note parenthetically that one of the student moderators at the meeting where this proposal is advanced is one Hillary Rodham.)  Kalman cautions us to maintain a sense of the historicity of her account.  But there is a quality at work in this account that transcends history, that is timeless, and I know it when I see it -- and that is chutzpah.      

Posted by Paul Horwitz on July 14, 2006 at 08:12 PM in Books | Permalink


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Paul Horwitz at Prawfsblawg recently posted a review of Laura Kalman's recent book, Yale Law School and the Sixties: Revolt and Reverberations (UNC Press 2005); he also links to other reviews by Al Brophy and Orin Kerr. Kalman, who is [Read More]

Tracked on Jul 17, 2006 1:51:53 PM


thanks so much for your nice words about my book, paul. as abe fortas would say, praise from you means a great deal to me!
i think you guys are right and that i should have mentioned the reporters. the problem was that in some instances, i thought it would be really interesting to know the reporter--say, for example, if it was david margolick. in other instances, mentioning the author's name just consumed more space in what was already a lengthy book and did not seem to add much. so in the interest of consistency and saving space, i didn't mention author's names. it was probably a bad call and one i would especially resent if i had ever been a reporter!
i too was at times struck by the grandiosity, gall and chutzpah of the students--and as you say, paul, at times, not just the students!

Posted by: laura kalman | Jul 18, 2006 7:49:46 PM

Agreed, Adam -- and I say that as a former journalist, not just a scholar. Thanks for pointing this out. We're always happy here at Prawfsblawg to have readers at the Gray Lady.

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Jul 17, 2006 5:26:26 PM

Just one small dissent on this perceptive and sympathetic take on a very interesting book: the footnotes would have been better yet had Kalman identified the authors of journalistic work by name rather than just article title and publication. The authors of legal work were, of course, named. But journalism was cited in the form of "Article on Yale Law School," The New York Times (or whatever). This reader, at least, was interested in knowing the name of the reporters involved.

Posted by: Adam Liptak | Jul 17, 2006 4:38:39 PM

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