The Rise of Interdisciplinary Legal Education

[Editor’s Note: This month, we asked a few veteran faculty members to share their reflections on what has changed the most in legal education since they became law professors.  This is the fourth in the series.]

Since 1995, when I first joined Marquette’s law faculty, one of the most obvious changes I have witnessed has been an increase in the interdisciplinary nature of legal scholarship and, not uncoincidentally I believe, the number of interdisciplinary (“law and”) courses that law schools, including Marquette, offer their students.  Certainly these trends were on the rise before 1995, but their present pervasiveness across law school faculties and curricula seems to me to mark a cumulatively significant change.

This development likely has multiple causes.  The influx into law faculties of those holding doctoral degrees in other fields, noted recently by Professor Hylton, is certainly one, although the ready susceptibility of law or legal topics to analysis by these other disciplines suggests that other factors are at work.  One haunting explanation, of course, is that law is perhaps not a genuinely autonomous discipline after all, but rather little more than the procedure-laden application of independent fields of knowledge to the prevention and resolution of conflict.

Whatever its causes, this development likely has also generated multiple consequences, some of which might be seen as benefits, others as costs. 

On the one hand, lawyers sensitive to interdisciplinary perspectives are more apt to view their role and the legal system with greater sophistication.  At the very least, they may possess a greater arsenal of skills and resources for use in their professional work. 

On the other hand, lawyers with greater interdisciplinary exposure may be more easily disillusioned by the ways in which the methodologies of extralegal disciplines are sometimes manipulated or mishandled by lawyers and judges.  They may even lose some degree of confidence in the alleged coherence of legal doctrine or the promised integrity of the legal system and its processes. 

It is quite possible that for most lawyers and future lawyers, the increased interdisciplinary nature of legal scholarship and education either has gone unnoticed or is deemed of no special significance.  For those of us who teach law as a career, however, it is difficult to avoid seeing that such a change has in fact occurred and perhaps even more difficult to avoid asking why — and with such rapidity and ease — this change has taken place.

The first three posts in the series are here (Kossow), here (Bradford), and here (Edwards).

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Joseph Hylton

    As a law student and law professor, I have witnessed, and participated in, the rise of the “Law and” course in American legal education.

    While I believe that there is a place in the basic law school curriculum for courses in the history of law, jurisprudence, and comparative law, I have come to believe that the benefits to legal education would have been greater had the interdisciplinary influence manifested itself inside the traditional curriculum rather than as a supplement to it.

    In other words, professors with specialized training in fields like Economics, Sociology, Cultural Studies, and Psychology should concentrate on incorporating their “perspectives” into courses like Torts, Property, Contracts, or Business Associations, rather than offering specialized courses like Sociology of Law and Law and Economics.

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