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Thursday, September 21, 2006

Research Canons: Commercial Law & Bankruptcy

Our next subject matter for the research canons project is Commercial Law & Bankruptcy.  (See here for a discussion of the research canons project, including some newly added categories, dates, and links to previous installments.)  Please comment on the books and articles that are essential to a new academic in the field.  It would be helfpul to discuss whether these "two categories in one" have an overlapping literature, or whether they are completely distinct.

Posted by Matt Bodie on September 21, 2006 at 12:12 PM in Research Canons | Permalink

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Kate -- ok, then, let's assume that all of the people reading this are current applicants. Still, do you think that any law teaching applicant who is fresh out of a clerkship can honestly claim to have read and mastered every important work in any major field of law?

Different people have different ideas about what is canonical, you know; one person might think that everyone should read Scholar X's 1985 article, while other people might disagree. I'd guess that there are a lot of law teaching applicants who might benefit from seeing a range of opinion as to what is canonical in any given field. They might be reminded, "Oh, gee, I've read 95% of the works here, and I've seen enough references to Jane Doe's article to know what it's generically about, but I didn't realize that someone thought it canonical. If that's the case, I'd better have a thorough read."

Why you think that is a form of "pretend[ing]," or that it's akin to simply reading Gilbert's Outlines, is a mystery.

Posted by: Anon | Sep 22, 2006 10:04:06 PM

I give up, then.

Posted by: Kate Litvak | Sep 22, 2006 6:10:19 PM

Kate, I feel like Tom Hanks in the board room scene in "Big": "I don't get it."

Posted by: Bruce Boyden | Sep 22, 2006 6:04:16 PM

Because, Anon, Matt specifically wanted to use the canons project to help the folks who are now on the market. And, Anon, "canons" are utterly irrelevant to a non-specialist junior person who is arm-twisted into teaching Wills and Trusts at a lower-ranked school. Such junior person is better off reading teacher's manual instead.

Posted by: Kate Litvak | Sep 22, 2006 5:36:35 PM

I've been trying to figure out why Kate's comments all seem to assume -- for no apparent reason -- that the only people who read this blog are the equivalent of "post-docs," who are all already on the market and should already know the canon in their own field. Has she considered the fact that many 3Ls or judicial clerks or newbie lawyers might be reading this blog; might intend to apply to teach in a year or two; and might very well not have taken more than one or two courses in any one area of law? Or has she considered the fact that many new law teachers at many lower-ranked schools can't get away with saying, "I refuse to teach anything but a high-level seminar in my chosen area of specialty" -- i.e., they are suddenly asked to take on a bread-and-butter course that no one else wants to teach, such as "Wills and Trusts" or "Article 9"? In such situations, it would be quite useful to have a handy list of the canonical works that one should know before dipping into a new field.

Posted by: Anon | Sep 22, 2006 4:38:34 PM

Bruce, if a sedentary and obese person decides to run a marathon tonight, it is rather pointless to give him a crash course on proper diet and exercise. It’s just too late. Likewise, if a job candidate enters the market without knowing canons in his own field, the right advice is not “here is how you fake knowing your own field.” No, the right advice is “get out of the market and learn things for real before you make a fool of yourself and foreclose your chances of impressing relevant people later.”

Posted by: Kate Litvak | Sep 22, 2006 3:55:37 PM

"Yes, by the time a person enters the job market, he is supposed to know what counts as canons in his own field." Where is that knowledge supposed to come from? The one or two courses the person took in that area during law school? And why are you (if I understand you correctly) opposed to giving any additional advice to job candidates? Even weirder, if I understand you correctly, your advice is that job candidates should *ignore* any advice Matt et al. manage to put together. It may be late in the game, but I just don't get why anyone would think it's a bad idea to attempt to help prospective job candidates in this way.

Posted by: Bruce Boyden | Sep 22, 2006 3:25:16 PM

Yes, by the time a person enters the job market, he is supposed to know what counts as canons in his own field. Anyone who still hasn’t figured that out should quit the process. Or, as Generation Y colorfully puts it, kill self.

P.S. Econ and finance grad schools aren't ten years either. Two years of coursework plus a couple of years of thesis-writing – about the same as three years of JD (two of which can be spent entirely on seminars and directed-research projects) plus an increasingly typical fellowship or a low-pressure clerkship. Lawyers should quit endless whining.

Posted by: Kate Litvak | Sep 22, 2006 2:56:39 PM

Law school is only three years, not ten, so we're effectively talking about the same people. And my impression is that no one gives out canons in any subject during that time, so there's no duplication of effort here. Are you saying it's too late to distribute them now because they haven't been done before? That everyone figures it out on their own? That junior scholars are not worth helping? I don't get why this is an unproductive exercise.

Posted by: Bruce Boyden | Sep 22, 2006 2:25:39 PM

Bruce: lists of canons are normally given to very junior grad students in basic field-survey courses. They are not given to post-docs who are on the market. People who don't know "canons" of their own fields should not be on the market. And people who don't know "canons" in unrelated fields should not bother: as I said, a con law type yakking about Easterbrook and Fischel will impress nobody.

Posted by: Kate Litvak | Sep 22, 2006 1:51:30 PM

Kate, your objection is puzzling. Many people embarking on their scholarly careers find it quite useful to have a list to tell them what others, with more experience, think is the core set of scholarship they will be expected to be familiar with. As best I recall, when I was in grad school this list was referred to as the "canon" (hence the name of this project, I take it), and it was distributed to Ph.D. students in their second year or so on good old-fashioned photocopied paper, but I really see nothing wrong with compiling it and distributing it via a blog. The idea is not to pretend to know stuff you don't know, it's to know stuff you should know. The only innovation here is in applying this concept to would-be law professors.

Posted by: Bruce Boyden | Sep 22, 2006 12:55:01 PM

Matt, I am simply not sure I understand the point of this enterprise. If a person is on a market, say, in corporate law, and needs a blog to tell him to read Easterbrook and Fischel, then, this person is not likely to impress anyone who knows anything about corporate law. Most of us can tell a phony after a two-minute conversation. No amount of quick brush-up will help.

If, on the other hand, a candidate is a con law type, I could not care less whether he’d ever heard of Easterbrook and Fischel. I don’t read con law either. The worst thing a con law type can do is to try convincing corporate people on the appointments committee that he actually knows something about corporate law because he read Easterbrook and Fischel. This would put a serious question mark on his judgment.

My best advice to job candidates is to skip the “canons” lists and not to pretend to know something they don’t actually know. Appointments committees are really – really really –not fooled that easily.

Posted by: Kate Litvak | Sep 22, 2006 12:18:07 PM

Ah, yes. Sarcasm! Nice. But then there's the problem of ambiguous meaning. Is the sarcasm directed at the suggestions or the appointments committees?

Perhaps you disagree with someone else's list. Hey, that's useful to know -- no reason we all need to agree. But then perhaps you might want to suggest (seriously) what people should read instead?

Posted by: Matt Bodie | Sep 22, 2006 9:10:37 AM

To continue Tim's list of cannons, I'd also add Gilbert's on Bankruptcy and Emmanuel’s on Secured Credit. All you need to know to impress an appointments committee.

Posted by: Kate Litvak | Sep 21, 2006 10:16:36 PM


For secured transactions, Grant Gilmore's two-volume treatise, SECURITY INTERESTS IN PERSONAL PROPERTY, is a must-read. I also recommend the symposium issue on Revised UCC Article 9 published by the Chicago-Kent Law Review in 1999 or 2000.

For payment systems, I recommend AN INTRODUCTION TO PAYMENT SYSTEMS by Loyola-LA law professor Lary Lawrence. I also suggest the symposium issue on Revised UCC Articles 3 and 4 and new Article 4A published by the Alabama Law Review sometime around 1991.

For letters of credit, anything written by Wayne State law professor John Dolan is helpful.

For bankruptcy, I recommend THE LAW OF BANKRUPTCY by Illinois law professor Charles Tabb (but I'd wait for the forthcoming second edition, as the first edition is rather out of date).

And don't forget the "practitioner's edition" of the multi-volume treatise on the UCC co-authored by Michigan law professor Jim White and Cornell law professor Robert Summers.

Posted by: tim zinnecker | Sep 21, 2006 3:19:25 PM

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