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Tuesday, January 15, 2019

"Law and Public Policy" (With a Welcoming Nod to Gerard)

We at Prawfs are delighted to welcome Gerard to our family of bloggers. Wherever he has blogged, I have read him loyally and with interest. His energy, curiosity, and humor are a wonderful addition to Prawfsblawg, and I'm sure his productivity will be a good influence on the rest of us. The rest of the nod to Gerard comes at the tail end of this post. I wanted to write here about about a new course I taught this fall that I am perhaps unduly fond and proud of, called "Law and Public Policy."

I have taught Leg-Reg twice, once as a kind of trial run for upper-year students and once after Alabama, like many other schools and doubtless influenced by my superb trial run, made Leg-Reg a part of the 1L curriculum. It can be a great course and, in the long run, a useful one, for reasons explored by our co-blogger Ethan in this piece. I very much enjoyed teaching it and hope to be on the regular roster of Leg-Reg teachers. But...

I won't generalize about other profs' or students' experiences with Leg-Reg. Much depends on the syllabus and the book chosen. Still, I found a couple of aspects of the course surprising and disappointing. Although I tried to compensate for them in my own syllabus, I suspect others will have encountered or exemplified the same problems. The general idea behind adding Leg-Reg to the curriculum is that we live in an age of statutes and regulations, and that students whose curriculum focuses on reading cases and generally inhabiting a judge-centered universe will learn less about reading and interpreting statutes, and about the regulatory state in general, than they ought to. In practice, however, the Leg-Reg course often ends up focusing on...cases and judges. A Leg-Reg course can easily be less about legislation and regulation as such, and more a course that could, roughly speaking, be called "Statutory Interpretation by Judges--With a Little Chevron in it." (h/t: Sullivan's Travels.) That's useful, but still heavily court-centered and oriented around a close reading of judges' close readings of statutes. 

A related potential problem with Leg-Reg courses is that they can be light on both the details of the political process and on what I call the vocabulary of regulatory and public policy. On the first point, casebooks vary. The Eskridge et al. book(s), for instance, use(s) the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as a foundational example (at least up to the most recent edition I looked at), and include(s) a good deal of history about its passage. I'm not sure that's the best example pedagogically, and it's a little long in the tooth. The Bressman et al. casebook uses what I think is a better example--auto safety legislation and regulation--although it too is a little old as an example. Individual teachers may use examples of their own. Even so, that material can pass by swiftly, depending on the individual teacher, and one is soon back at statutory-interpretation-plus-Chevron. The generally wonderful Manning/Stephenson casebook, at least in the second edition, contains very little indeed on the political/legislative process itself.

And all this is still more process than substance. The substance of regulatory and public policy, and the vocabulary with which people discuss and analyze it, can easily get short shrift. I was lucky enough as a 1L to take a course called "Foundations of the Regulatory State" from Richard Pierce, during a brief interval in which it was part of the mandatory first-year curriculum at Columbia. Pierce used a series of case studies, such as the Clean Air Act and rent control, to introduce us to the vocabulary of regulatory policy and politics, including such things as public choice, externalities, and cost-benefit analysis. I have found that vocabulary useful in everything else I have done, in law school, legal practice, and legal scholarship. (Pierce has said somewhere that many students weren't nuts about the course. They were wrong.) Leg-Reg courses, with their focus on statutory interpretation and on judges, can easily omit much or most of this.

That's a loss, in my view. Learning the vocabulary of public policy can enrich students' experience in every course they take, in both public and private law, and make them better lawyers. Of course, some Leg-Reg teachers will include more of this material. And some teachers in any course will bring in law and economics and other useful tools of policy analysis. But not all will. And although, again, casebooks vary, teachers may find that they have to supplement the casebook materials and/or that adding this kind of material forces them to swim upstream, given the general orientation of the course and the other materials the school expects them to cover.

My Law and Public Policy course was designed to respond to all this. I hope it will prove especially useful to students who end up as government lawyers or in government-oriented practice, as legislative staff, or as lawyers who are involved, in practice or in a civic capacity, in politics and public policy in their own communities or in wider political environments. But all law and legal advice ultimately intersects with public policy, so any law student can benefit from such a course. Alabama has an excellent curriculum, clinical environment, and certificates in Governmental Affairs and in Public Interest law, and I hope the Law and Public Policy course will be a useful addition to our offerings in these areas.  

I had three primary goals and two pedagogical aims in mind in designing the course. The main goals were: 1) To give students a basic vocabulary in discussing and analyzing public policy. 2) To help students think about how to function, and what they can add, when they are "in the room" with various players, including both the stakeholders on a particular issue (community groups, interest groups, politicians, and others) and non-lawyer professionals of various sorts, from economists to social workers to urban planners. Law school doesn't focus much in general on how lawyers interact with the various players, including non-lawyers, who are in the room when various decisions get worked out. 3) T0 not focus on judges or courts. They show up in the course from time to time but are decidedly bit players. My pedagogical aims were: 1) To find a balance between technical/academic vocabulary and the academic readings involved in learning it, and the more practical aspects of the course, by picking a case study each week--a policy issue, and practical readings about it, with which to examine and apply the vocabulary we are learning that week, resulting cumulatively in the ability to apply a variety of analytical tools to a variety of public policy issues. 2) To bring in guest speakers who are far more experienced and engaged in the nuts and bolts of law and public policy than I am, at various levels and in different positions. This year, my guest speakers included a representative of our state's legislative policy staff, the chief of staff to one of Alabama's United States senators, and a major player in (among other things) both federal executive-branch work and in private practice involving government, politics, and public policy. Needless to say, the students loved them and were grateful to have the class taught by experts for once--not to mention experts whose boots are actually on the ground. (Lawyers and others working in this field who might be interested in serving as guest speakers, or who have suggestions of other speakers I might invite, are very welcome to get in touch with me.) 

It was the first time through the course, and doubtless I will make changes as I go, particularly in shortening the readings and continually revising the case studies. But the "vocabulary" covered in the course this semester included: the definitions of public policy and of regulation; basics of public policy analysis; economic and non-economic rationales for regulation; private ordering and private law as forms of regulation; externalities; public and private goods; commons issues; various forms of regulatory instrument, including command-and-control regulation, Pigouvian taxes, and many others; implementation and evaluation of public policies; public choice theory, rent-seeking, unintended consequences, government/regulatory failure, and other pathologies of public policy; cost-benefit analysis; risk and uncertainty; behavioral economics; and various new forms of regulation, such as democratic experimentalism or "new governance," meta-regulation, and self-regulation. In each case, I was sure to include not only criticisms of the tools and arguments presented, but specifically non-instrumental criticisms about distributive equity and equality, morality, technocracy, and so on. I would like to think that students picked up an array of tools for their toolkits and language to add to their vocabulary in reading any case and analyzing any legal issues (as well as reading about or dealing with public policy issues in general, of course), and that the use of case studies, guest speakers, and policy-memo assignments (see below) added some practicality to the admittedly academic (but fun!) reading they did. 

I avoided an exam-style evaluation. (I no longer give 100 percent finals in any of my courses, because I find them pedagogically dubious if not absurd.) Instead, I relied on class participation and on two short papers during the semester and one longer one during the exam period, all of them modeled after white papers or policy memos rather than research or academic papers and each of them based on a different public policy issue and relevant material about that issue. I hope those exercises will serve as useful experiences for students who end up writing, or at least reading, policy memos as legislative aides or practicing lawyers, or as they get involved in local civic issues. 

I give some bibliographical suggestions below the fold. Law professors who are interested in seeing the syllabus are welcome to use my Alabama email address to get in touch. I am also happy to hear from those who teach similar courses; I'm sure they are out there, and that various professor teaching in specific policy areas, such as environmental law or health law or others, end up using those courses to cover some of this ground, but a search for "law and public policy" courses as such garnered very few hits at law schools. I would also be interested in hearing from students or lawyers who took Leg-Reg on whether they agree with my description of what these courses often end up omitting, or whether their experience was different and why. Also, if there are any academics, legal or otherwise, who are interested in the possibility of contributing short chapters to a "primer" on law and public policy I am developing, which might be assigned as an inexpensive, modular supplement to a Leg-Reg course or other law school courses or as a primary book for a law and public policy course, I urge them to contact me. (Of course any publishers are equally invited to break down my door about this.)

One last note: Putting together the course and teaching it, however imperfectly, was a lot of work and a lot of fun. But the real stars of the course were my students. It was a fairly small-enrollment course--understandably, given both the person teaching it and the unknown factor in a new course--and I hope more will sign up in the future despite the instructor remaining the same. But the students who did take it were superb: diverse in their experiences but in many cases with fascinating backgrounds in public policy and legislative work, thoughtful and eager in discussion, patient with my many shortcomings, and fantastic writers whose final papers, in particular, were a joy to read and showed tremendous growth over the semester. Sometimes one is blessed by chance at the right moment, and in this case I was blessed that this particular group of students took the course as I was launching it. I thank them all. 

I promised a few bibliographical suggestions. I put together my own materials, but I have to give major credit to one book that I also assigned and used through much of the course: Mizzou Law professor Thomas Lambert's How to Regulate: A Guide for Policymakers. It's a fun book and a useful one. (Blurbs are blurbs, but I'll note that Cass Sunstein in his blurb says it "may well be the best guide, ever, to the regulatory state.") It did not do everything I wanted--what book does?--but it did do a great deal, and did so with excellent examples and references and a nice helping of wit. I recommend it not only to anyone considering a course in law and public policy but to anyone teaching Leg-Reg, to read for themselves and perhaps to assign as a supplemental book in any Leg-Reg class. (It costs $32 in paperback and $17 currently on Kindle, so it's not a back-breaker for students, which matters to me. And it's under 260 pages of text, in chapters that are sufficiently modular that one can assign only some of them.)

A few more bibliographical notes. First, although I did not assign it, teachers who are interested in getting some background on these issues should also check out Barak Orbach's unique and fascinating "casebook" (there are cases, but there is much more besides), Regulation: Why and How the State Regulates. Second, I highly recommend the Oxford Handbooks on Regulation and on Public Policy. The chapters are excellent and some serve as perfect reading assignments, as well as a learning resource for the teacher. Another very useful text is Understanding Regulation, by Robert Baldwin et al. On government failure and regulatory pathologies, and also because it's fun and enjoyably depressing and has tons of examples, I also recommend Peter Schuck's Why Government Fails So Often: And How it Can Do Better. Finally, and here's that final nod to Gerard, although I haven't used these in the class materials or discussion yet, this would be a fitting course in which to add quotes, videos, or chapters (perhaps serving as case studies) from the print editions of Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister. I hope Gerard will continue at Prawfs his tradition of providing useful quotes from that series!

 

Posted by Paul Horwitz on January 15, 2019 at 09:51 AM in Paul Horwitz | Permalink

Comments

Thanks Paul. Every time I think that the “Yes, Minister” references are exhausted, I am proven wrong.

Posted by: Gerard | Jan 16, 2019 2:46:55 PM

Thanks Paul! Every time I think that the "Yes Minister" references are exhausted, I am proven wrong.

Posted by: GERARD MAGLIOCCA | Jan 16, 2019 2:40:51 PM

Thanks Paul! Every time I think that the "Yes Minister" references are exhausted, I am proven wrong.

Posted by: GERARD MAGLIOCCA | Jan 16, 2019 2:40:43 PM

Great post, Paul! And I am so glad that you are teaching this course, which I would suggest for any law school curriculum. As a former government attorney and legal advisor (and now professor), I can see the need for lawyers and others working in the policy field to better understand the relationships between theory and practice, history and present application, and the intersection of business, law and governance. I designed a Law & Public Policy course a few years ago at my institution and it has always been an oversubscribed course. I suspect that, especially in the current environment, we will see more demand for courses like this in law, business, policy sci, and other programs.

A quick plug, if I may. I recently published a textbook called Law & Public Policy (Routledge, 2018) that addresses many of the issues that you raised, from the regulatory state to the electoral process to the relationship between key substantive areas of law and the policies that informed them. It is, of course, available on Amazon.

Thanks again for teaching this course and spreading the word about the importance of this subject!

Kevin Fandl
Assistant Professor of Legal Studies
Fox School of Business, Temple University

Posted by: Kevin Fandl | Jan 15, 2019 10:05:33 PM

I'm not sure I made it very clear in the post, except by way of self-deprecation, but I too learned a great deal from the experience. That definitely included learning from the guest speakers.

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Jan 15, 2019 12:07:50 PM

Paul, thanks for the thoughtful and thought-provoking post. I taught a national security legislation course as an experiential case study, with students playing the role of congressional and executive branch lawyers negotiating a law on the use of force. I also used guest speakers from the policy trenches. I have to say I probably learned more than anyone from the experience--I had to change my grading rubric halfway through when I realized the result would be an impasse, and I realized that the learning from the class was not how legislation is passed but why it is often not. Good luck with your work! I'll reach out on your BamaLaw mail too

Posted by: clinicalanon | Jan 15, 2019 11:55:15 AM

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