Celebrating a Scholar’s Life

Posted on Categories Legal Scholarship

Walter Weyrauch, Stephen C. O’Connell Chair and Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of Florida, passed away last fall after more than a half century of faculty service at UF Law School.  A memorial service — quite a warm and joyous reminiscence and celebration of Walter’s life and work — was held last month in Gainesville. My admission ticket was courtesy of my wife, Professor Alison Barnes, for whom Walter was a mentor and co-author, as well as a dear friend.

What prompts me to write about the memorial service was one particular theme that almost every speaker emphasized. Walter was scholar to his core, an indefatigable reader, and a highly original thinker. Quite importantly in terms of his scholarship, Walter had a key insight.

Professor W. Michael Reisman, Myres S. McDougal Professor of International Law at Yale Law School, characterizes that insight this way: 

Wherever there are social groups, there is law. Much of that law is held at such low levels of consciousness we are unaware of it. When consciousness of that law is raised, there is conflict.

Professor Lynn M. LoPucki, Security Pacific Bank Professor at UCLA School of Law, provides this example of how Walter saw and understood social groups:

Years ago, Walter and I had lunch with a group of law professors in a seedy restaurant in Key West. We spent the lunch deep in discussion. Only later, when we talked about what had been happening in the restaurant during our lunch, did we realize that Walter had not only seen it but had been drawing complex inferences about the relationships among the people in the restaurant and their motivations.

What emerges from the accounts of his many friends and colleagues is a scholar who brought his life into his scholarship and his scholarship into his life. It is remarkable how moved people often are by a serious thinker possessed of original ideas. Indeed, such individuals can change the world, even if only one colleague, reader, or student at a time. 

Scholarship within a law school among law faculty should hardly need new justification or defense, but it was quite satisfying on a spring day in Gainesville to be a part of the celebration of a scholar’s life, with central attention paid to the scholarship itself, and its inseparability from its author and from his impact on those he taught.

For more information on Professor Weyrauch, you may wish to look at the symposium on his work that was held last fall at the University of Florida.

One thought on “Celebrating a Scholar’s Life”

  1. Thanks for the moving tribute to the legal scholar Walter Weyrauch. I share your respect and admiration for the scholarly life, and therefore find it troubling that the frequent calls for reform of legal education almost never recognize the important role scholarship can and should play in legal academia. The self-styled reformers’ emphasis is almost always on practice skills and ways to pay more attention to these skills in law schools. Beneath the surface of these reform proposals, an anti-intellectualism often lurks. It’s the type of attitude or sentiment that has no respect for the scholarship of educators like Walter Weyrauch.

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