Naturally this raises the question of why law students should be paying between half and three-quarters of this cost (those fractions represent the portion of a law school's operating budget that is covered by tuition at most law schools, with the fractional share tending to increase as one moves down the law school hierarchy).
Chief Justice John Roberts seems skeptical about whether students (or anyone else) are getting their money's worth:
Specifically Roberts claimed that legal scholarship is not relevant to the work of lawyers and judges, saying he is on the same page with Judge Harry T. Edwards of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, who believes there is a great “disconnect between the academy and the profession.”On one level I'm annoyed by Roberts' faux-populist anti-intellectual carping, in which the former
Roberts continued, “Pick up a copy of any law review that you see, and the first article is likely to be, you know, the influence of Immanuel Kant on evidentiary approaches in 18th Century Bulgaria, or something, which I’m sure was of great interest to the academic that wrote it, but isn’t of much help to the bar.”
Roberts added that he doesn’t necessarily think anything is wrong with such an approach, albeit a relatively irrelevant one. “If the academy wants to deal with the legal issues at a particularly abstract, philosophical level,” Roberts continued, “that’s great and that’s their business, but they shouldn’t expect that it would be of any particular help or even interest to the members of the practice of the bar or judges.”
This little spat raises the question of what sort of legal scholarship, if any, school faculties should be producing, given the very high price tag their publications command. People like Justice Roberts and Judge Edwards have an answer to that: law professors should be writing things that help judges and lawyers do their job -- what Edwards, in a somewhat infamous law review article published nearly 20 years ago, called "practical scholarship." (Roberts' claim that he doesn't care if legal academics busy themselves publishing obscurantist arcana, as long as they don't expect their work to be of any use to judges and lawyers, seems like a purely rhetorical gesture). The defensive responses of law professors, who protest they are in fact producing "muscular critiques of contemporary legal doctrine," rather than Kantian meditations on 18th-century Bulgarian civil procedure, indicate that many legal academics -- I would venture to guess the overwhelming majority -- agree. From their perspective, "legal scholarship" means, essentially, writing things that will be of practical use to judges and lawyers.
Indeed, there is something very strange about complaints such as Edwards' and Roberts.' The claim that we are suffering from a shortage of "practical" scholarship -- meaning, in Edwards' and Roberts' terms, traditional doctrinal scholarship aimed primarily at the bench and the bar -- is about as plausible as claiming America is currently suffering from a shortage of reality TV shows. Vastly more traditional legal scholarship is being published now than when Judge Edwards was an articles editor of the Michigan Law Review in the 1960s. This is because while the percentage of what Edwards' calls "impractical" (non-doctrinal, and/or non-normative, and/or interdisciplinary) scholarship has increased significantly, the large majority of what law professors publish still falls squarely within the traditional model, while at the same time, because of the increase in the size of the law faculties and the raising of publication requirements by law schools, the total amount of legal academic publishing has grown by several orders of magnitude.
Since Roberts' joined the SCOTUS, legal academics have published literally hundreds of perfectly traditional doctrinal articles, not merely about the Supreme Court, but focused on the current Supreme Court's work product. I would venture to guess that the number of these articles that have been read by any member of the Court could be counted on the fingers of Mordecai Brown's pitching hand, with a couple of digits to spare. Which raises an awkward fact about legal scholarship aimed at judges and other legal decision makers: The evidence is overwhelming that the putative audience for this writing ignores it almost completely. In this regard judges are no different than anyone else. The typical law review article is read by perhaps five people: the author, one or two of the author's more diligent colleagues, and a couple of law review editors.
Edwards and Roberts claim they want legal academics to write "helpful" things, but judges already have plenty of reading material to help them decide cases, in the form of briefs and bench memos, which deal directly with the cases actually before them at any particular time. The claim that they wish to enrich their professional literary experiences with a wider selection of doctrinal legal scholarship than is available to them currently is, to put it far more politely than this claim deserves, highly disingenuous.
Given the void into which almost all it immediately tumbles, is traditional doctrinal legal scholarship good for anything? I would not go so far as to claim it has no value: even under current technological conditions, which allow a lawyer or clerk to find judicial opinions and summaries of their content much more quickly than in the pre-online era, there is some value added to the system by having a certain number of diligent judicial factotums organize, categorize, and critique the current structure of legal doctrine. But the key modifier here is "a certain number." That number, in my view, is surely much lower than the number of legal academics (several thousand) who dedicate their intellectual energies to this particular endeavor.
Well then what about the non-traditional scholarship that Chief Justice Roberts and Judge Edwards disparage? That is a subject for another post.