Do Law Professors Rule the World?

December 3rd, 2011

That’s what Noah Feldman said:

[T]he dislike [for legal academics] is a result of law professors being too much in the world. You see, law professors — and I should disclose here that I am one — very nearly run the world, or at least certain parts of the U.S. government. When you include Justice Anthony Kennedy, who taught nights, they make up the majority of the Supreme Court.

Why are law profs such rabble-rousers?

The fact that these people are all law professors matters because law professors, whatever their internal diversity, have some pretty distinctive habits of mind. First, they think in terms of how institutions are supposed to work in theory and then compare the theory to the reality. The comparison is usually frustrating. Law professors who look at policy are therefore natural reformers. They want to hold people to their aspirations, not accept the messy compromises that life throws at us. . . .

Because they tend to like logical principles, law professors are also big believers in the power of reason to prevail. If they could just get the public to see things clearly, they tell themselves, results would surely improve. Sunstein’s faith in enlightened cost-benefit analysis depends on the notion that careful thought will improve policy results. He’s right, of course — and that’s whyGlenn Beck labeled the moderate, pro-business Sunstein the “most dangerous man in America.”

Last, law professors are hopeless magpies, borrowing or stealing whatever ideas seem to be most exciting and shoe- horning them into new situations. This makes them astonishingly good at generating policy proposals. In recent decades, law schools have become hotbeds of engaged academic work as professors — many with doctoral-level training in other fields — apply the lessons of contemporary scholarship to the world of policy. An old issue can be reframed with fresh theoretical tools — if you can figure out which ones work well.

H/T ATL and Overlawyered.