Two Birds One Stone: Thoughts on Theory and Law Practice

Deven Desai

Deven Desai is an associate professor of law and ethics at the Scheller College of Business, Georgia Institute of Technology. He was also the first, and to date, only Academic Research Counsel at Google, Inc., and a Visiting Fellow at Princeton University’s Center for Information Technology Policy. He is a graduate of U.C. Berkeley and the Yale Law School. Professor Desai’s scholarship examines how business interests, new technology, and economic theories shape privacy and intellectual property law and where those arguments explain productivity or where they fail to capture society’s interest in the free flow of information and development. His work has appeared in leading law reviews and journals including the Georgetown Law Journal, Minnesota Law Review, Notre Dame Law Review, Wisconsin Law Review, and U.C. Davis Law Review.

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1 Response

  1. A.J. Sutter says:

    Deven, I think your advice about theory is a little unclear. If you mean understanding stuff like how statutes and regulations interact, or the analytical fine points of definitions, or about proximate cause, or, to get slightly more arcane, about differences between certain civilian and common law legal categories, I agree with you that this sort of “theory” is useful to practitioners. But if “theory” includes academic theories about property, the Coase theorem, Dworkin vs Scalia debates about what judges do, etc., I don’t think digging into this sort of theory is at all necessary for most people who aspire to be “just a good attorney.” On the contrary, from the perspectives of having been both a provider and consumer of “Biglaw” legal services, I’d say practical knowledge about people and business is infinitely more useful than a engagement with that second type of theory. (Which is not to say that such theory is entirely useless for society as a whole.)

    My advice for those who’d like to be able to “do anything with a law degree” (except, perhaps, to become a law professor) is to maintain lifelong interests in the things you enjoy, and lifelong learning of new stuff (not necessarily law, much less legal theory) despite your work schedule. That’s more difficult than it sounds, but if you focus on things you’re already naturally interested in and things that grow out of those interests, it gets easier. I have met many more new clients as a result of being a science/humanities/desserts nerd than from being a law nerd.