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Monday, March 2, 2009

A Formula For Destroying Law Schools? Surely You Jest!

I saw a reference at Brian Leiter's Law Report blog touting an article that might be "perhaps the best thing to happen to law schools since U.S. News?" Others are citing this potentially ground-breaking piece, including the Wall Street Journal law page, and the TaxProf Blog.

U.S. News. That's like dragging red meat in front of law professors, so I clicked the link.

I love the short article, entitled A Derivatives Market in Legal Academia (you can download it for free here), by Paul H. Edelman of Vanderbilt. It's one of those tidy little exercises in intellect that probably will have people talking. But it's a set up. Keep reading.

Here's the "abstract" of the article:
Building on the success of derivatives markets in the financial arena, I show how similar markets can be used to hedge risk in legal academia. Prudent use of these markets will generate cash, mitigate errors in hiring, and increase the academic prestige of law schools. In short, they can do for legal academia what they have already done to the financial world.
My first reaction was, what the .... The "success of derivatives markets"? I then downloaded the article, and saw that the author was a professor of law and mathematics. That worried me. Maybe the author is so smart, that I'm just not getting what he's saying.

So the article lays out "puts" and "calls" on legal scholarship. I never really understood options, so maybe the author knows something I don't. But still suspicious.

The first solid clue that the author was writing tongue-in-cheek came in a footnote (which is where the good stuff is in all law review articles):
"You may wonder about the wisdom of introducing derivatives in this market given their less than stellar reputation in other areas of the economy. In response I will remind you that all the great cutting-edge insights in legal academia arrived many years after they had been repudiated in their fields of origin."
Repudiated indeed! Like the entire body of critical legal studies. If derivatives did to law schools what derivatives did to the financial markets, this proposal would be a formula for destruction.

So is this a real proposal for a derivatives market in legal academia, or is the author engaging in a witty but none-too-serious intellectual exercise? Surely he must be jesting.

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