Category: Law School (Scholarship)

5

Does Blind Review See Race?*

In a comment to my earlier post suggesting that law review editors should seek out work from underrepresented demographic groups, my co-blogger Dave Hoffman asked an excellent question: Would blind review remedy these concerns? It seems to me that the answer here is complicated. Blind review would probably be an improvement on balance, but could still suffer from — err, blind spots. Here are a few reasons why.

The paradigmatic case for the merits of blind review comes from a well-known study of musician hiring, published about a decade ago by Claudia Goldin and Cecilia Rouse in the American Economic Review. Goldin and Rouse gathered data on symphony auditions, and found that blind auditions — that is, ones which concealed the gender of the auditioning musician — resulted in a significantly higher proportion of women musicians auditioning successfully. As Rouse commented,

“This country’s top symphony orchestras have long been alleged to discriminate against women, and others, in hiring. Our research suggests both that there has been differential treatment of women and that blind auditions go a long way towards resolving the problem.”

The Goldin-Rouse study shows that blind review can be a useful tool in combating bias. Would a similar review system work in the law review context?

Well, maybe. Read More

1

What is the Point of Symposia?

Over at the Faculty Lounge, the estimable Michelle Meyer argues that it’s possibly inconsistent to take account of race, gender, and sexual orientation in symposia invitations but not to do so when selecting articles in law reviews.  Her post is thoughtful and well-written, though I believe it rests on a false premise.  Go over there and read it and then come back to find out which one.

Read More

43

In Defense of Law Review Affirmative Action

As you may have seen, the new Scholastica submission service allows law reviews to collect demographic information from authors. A flurry of blog posts has recently cropped up in response (including some in this space); as far as I can tell, they range from negative to negative to kinda-maybe-negative to negative to still negative. The most positive post I’ve seen comes from Michelle Meyer at the Faculty Lounge, who discusses whether Scholastica’s norms are like symposium selection norms, and in the process implies that Scholastica’s model might be okay. Michael Mannheimer at Prawfs also makes a sort of lukewarm defense that editors were probably doing this anyway.

But is it really the case that law review affirmative action would be a bad thing? Read More

0

NBLSC Call-for-Papers

From our friends sponsoring the National Business Law Scholars Conference (NBLSC), scholars please take note of the following  Call-for-Papers:

The NBLSC will be held on Wednesday, June 12th and Thursday, June 13th at The Ohio State University Michael E. Moritz College of Law in Columbus, Ohio. This is the fourth annual meeting of the NBLSC, a conference which annually draws together dozens of legal scholars from across the United States and around the world.

All on-topic submissions are welcome and the sponsors will attempt to provide the opportunity for everyone to actively participate. Junior scholars and those considering entering the legal academy are especially encouraged to participate.

To submit a presentation, email Professor Eric C. Chaffee at echaffee1@udayton.edu with an abstract or paper by April 15, 2013. Please title the email “NBLSC Submission – {Name}”. If you would like to attend, but not present, email Professor Chaffee with an email entitled “NBLSC Attendance”. Please specify in your email whether you are willing to serve as a commentator or moderator. A conference schedule will be circulated in late May.

Conference Organizers: Barbara Black (University of Cincinnati); Eric C. Chaffee (University of Dayton); Steven M. Davidoff (The Ohio State University).

14

When is it ok to be “descriptive”

I presented a taxonomy of federal litigation today to a terrific audience at Rutgers-Camden. As I’ve covered in exhausting detail, the paper sets out to describe how lawyers organize causes of action together into complaints.  It uses a method called spectral clustering to illustrate the networks of legal theories that typically are pled together.  (It does some more stuff, but that’s the gist.)  As often happens when presenting this particular paper, it was pointed out to me that the project lacks a clearly defined normative “so what”.  This is basically correct. The “so what” of the paper is “this is a different, more-finely grained, way to see how attorneys think and produce cases. With pretty pictures. How do you like them apples?

As I said, I tend to get the so-what objection quite often when presenting this paper, and it’s pushed my co-authors and I to make the paper clearer about the implications of the method. At the same time, it has made me even more aware of the bias in legal writing to come up with papers that do more than taxonomize, or describe. This is a well-known problem with the legal academy.  True, taxonomies can be highly successful – Solove’s Taxonomy article is just one recent hit in a long parade of exceptionally good papers that basically try out different ways to organize legal concepts.  But those papers generally pitch the contribution of taxonomies  as systems to harmonize doctrine, or because they illustrate something about the world that needs fixing, or they uncover a missing category that is novel and interesting.

What’s less common is work that is no more than descriptive – this is what the world looks like; this is what happened – and doesn’t go on to fix or recommend a single thing.  Often such work is derided as mere reportage, a practitioner’s piece, or (worse) an uninteresting collection of facts, put together without a synthesis of why we should care.  (Actually, some papers are attacked on all three grounds.)  But other times, descriptive work is seen universally to be immensely important and valuable, even if it doesn’t advance any prescriptive agenda. Some of the middle-period Law and Society papers have this feel, though of course L&S generally is quite ideological.

You may be wondering: what’s the so-what of this post?  Here it comes:

-what is your sense of the appropriate criteria for deciding that purely descriptive scholarship makes a contribution?

-relatedly, if you were advising a first-time scholar, would you advise against writing a paper that is missing a policy solution in Part IV?  

My answer to the first question is that schools and faculties vary widely, and consequently I’d say the risk averse response to the second question is very, very clear.  Discuss.

1

What’s Next for Contracts in the Real World?

Thanks to all participants for their wonderful contributions to the on-line symposium about Contracts in the Real World: Stories of Popular Contracts and Why They Matter.   (To see all posts together, click the subject matter link below this or other posts for Symposium (Contracts Real World) or select that topic from the Categories menu on the sidebar at left.)

As the reviews suggest about readers finding the stories fun and the lessons enjoyable, you may be able to guess that I found researching and writing them fun and enjoyable too.  Many of the stories were originally written, in a slightly different form, for this blog. Many of those stories generated productive comments.

I therefore must thank not only my fellow perma-bloggers here at Concurring Opinions for the opportunity to develop these ideas on this site, but also to many readers of the site for their thoughtful contributions. Double that gratitude for having allowed so much space to be devoted to the book these past several days.

Beyond contracts, several publishers and I believe that there is a series in this approach to the content and presentation of many law school subjects. That would certainly seem apt for other traditional 1L courses such as Torts, Property, Criminal Law and Civil Procedure.   Read More

0

Using Contracts in the Real World in the Classroom

Aside from the deeper theoretical questions that Prof. Cunningham raises about contract theory in Contracts in the Real World,  the heart of the book is in its fun, rollicking, and thoroughly modern examples.

Every contracts professor should take a look at this book to glean ideas for real-world examples and hypotheticals.  Even if your textbook is stuck in the world of itinerant homesteaders, ships using astrolabes for navigation, and delayed industrial components (shout out to Kirksey, Raffles, and Hadley v. Baxendale!), your students will appreciate the use of some fun celebrity stories to liven up the classroom discussion.

The last time that I taught Contracts, for example, I did a series of hypotheticals based on Charlie Sheen’s contractual troubles.  Based on Prof. Cunningham’s materials, I was able to structure some hypotheticals based on Sheen for my unit on conditions.    The students seemed to appreciate it, and in fact, I have asked a student from my class last year to share her impressions with our blog readers. It appears here

 

Miriam Cherry is Professor of Law at Saint Louis University School of Law.  Some of her scholarship can be found at this link on SSRN.

0

Modern Technology: A Disruptive Influence on Contract Doctrine?

In my view, modern technology has exacerbated the doctrinal tensions within contract law.  Currently, clickwraps and browsewraps stretch the notion of mutual assent to its extreme, perhaps warping it in the process.

The recent literature on form contracting online has been substantial.  While some of this literature sees online contracting as a natural inheritance to traditional contract law doctrine, other commentators have argued that contracting online has distorted the doctrine.

In Contracts in the Real World, Prof. Cunningham attempts to reconcile two recent cases, Specht v. Netscape and Pro-CD v. Zeidenberg, as part of his treatment of the theme of contract formation and mutual assent.  As much as he tries, to me the cases still seem to be in conflict.

And if that weren’t enough, two well-known additional cases that dealt with late-arriving terms inside a computer box, Hill v. Gateway and Klocek v. Gateway, blatantly contradict each other, with contrary holdings on virtually identical facts.

In my mind, these contradictions reveal a mismatch in the doctrine and the reality on the ground.  If there is no way for consumers to read or understand, or perhaps even see these clickwrap agreements, it hardly seems fair to bind consumers to them.  As seen above, however, this leads to contradictory rulings.

Inconsistent holdings create the appearance of an arbitrary justice system, and these disputes, which are governed by the Uniform Commercial Code, should turn out in a uniform manner.  When they do not, it only intensifies the debate about how to deal with online contracting and adhesion contracts online.

As we all continue to click our way through countless EULAs and are told that we are subject to “terms and conditions” that no reasonable consumer has had the time to read,  I do not believe that it is enough to hope that antiquated laws will handle new situations.

Instead, I would suggest that we need to continue to build on the wisdom of contract law.  While there is much to celebrate in the received wisdom of ancient doctrines, we must also recognize that it is the common law’s dynamism and adaptability that have led to its genius.

 

Miriam Cherry is Professor of Law at Saint Louis University School of Law.  Some of her scholarship can be found at this link on SSRN.

2

Contracts in the Real World – At Last, a Book for Modern Minds

In a world where contract law, as typically taught, has one foot in the quicksand of the past, Lawrence Cunningham’s Contracts in the Real World is a most welcome and liberating alternative.  Just consider the domain of what is commonly offered up:

* sales of “Blackacre” circa the 18th and 19th centuries,

* sailing ships destined for Liverpool circa 1864,

* carloads of Mason green fruit jars circa 1899,

* a promise to pay ₤100 to anyone who contracted the flu after using a “Carbolic Smoke Ball,” circa late 19th century,

* a 12-word “contract of sale” penned on the back of a “counter check,” circa early 1950s,

* a material breach case about a dispute over the brand of pipe (Reading or Cohoes) to be used in the construction of a home (circa early 1920s),

* representations made in 1959 in connection with a grocery “chain” begun in 1922 (by 2010 the “chain” was down to a lone store in Green Bay, Wisc.),

* promises re an option to buy a ranch, circa 1960s, and

* a 1965 contract involving the 78 year-old actress Shirley MacLaine (co-star of the 1960 movie The Apartment).

One need not be wed to Henry Ford’s maxim that “history is bunk” to appreciate that much of what is presented in contracts casebooks is past tense, past perfect, and past its time.  While such an approach to teaching contracts may be a boon to slothful professors averse to updating their class notes, it does little to prepare today’s law students for the challenges facing them in the 2012 marketplace of digital deals.

Given the yester-world of many contracts casebooks, it is refreshing to have a book that brings modernity onto the stage of legal education.  While Professor Cunningham pays due deference to the canonical cases (e.g., Lawrence v. Fox, N.Y., 1859), he does so in ways that reveal their contemporary relevance (e.g., as in how that precedent applied to a 2005 Wal-Mart dispute).  Moreover, what is so stimulating about his book is that Cunningham highlights the law relevant to current business dealings of everyone from Bernard Madoff and Donald Trump to Lady Gaga and Paris Hilton, and 50 Cent, too.  There is even a case involving a dispute over the rights to the HBO TV series The Sopranos.

Likewise, Cunningham both identifies and understands the real-world contexts of modern contract law involving everything from electronic transactions and confidentiality of information, to agreements re season tickets subscriptions for sports events, to entertainment contracts, to Amazon’s provider contracts, to any variety of contemporary non-disclosure agreements, et cetera.

In all of these ways and many others, Contracts in the Real World stands alone as a work that ushers the law of contracts into our times.

At the risk of sounding unduly laudatory, this book was a joy to read. Both stylistically and substantively, it is a work of admirable achievement without a real rival.  When one offers such acclaim, there is a corresponding obligation to justify it.  Hence, permit me to explain my evaluation, at least in summary fashion. Read More

0

Dichotomies in Contract Theory and Doctrine

In this blog post, I would like to examine some of the dichotomies in contract theory and doctrine that are noted in Professor Cunningham’s Contracts in the Real World.  Some would claim that contract law is revolutionary; others would argue that it is reactionary.  Compared to the status relationships of the Middle Ages, in which economic power was primarily determined through feudal or family relationships, contract and market relations promised a more egalitarian alternative.

In the classic text Ancient Law, Sir Henry Maine described the radical transformation from a feudal society governed by custom and hierarchy to one transformed by the industrial revolution, in which socio-economic mobility was not only possible, but which was expected.  On the other hand, many today would argue that contract acts as a reactionary force, for enforcing bargains strictly as written could result in reinforcing the power imbalances that already exist in society.

Contracts in the Real World notes these dichotomies and strikes a middle ground between them.  Prof. Cunningham characterizes the schism in contract law as a dispute between formalists and realists.  This schism, he posits, applies even to foundational matters, such as the question of whether a contract has been formed.  Prof. Cunningham notes that extreme formalists would champion a return to the days of the seal and enforce only those deals that meet the strict definitions of offer, acceptance, and consideration.

Realists, on the other hand, favor scrutinizing the context of every bargain, accepting the most informal of deals and even enforcing promises to make gifts as contracts.  Thus the dichotomy between formalists and realists turns into a debate over the extent of government or court involvement in private ordering.

Throughout the book, Prof. Cunningham walks a tightrope between these positions, often making reference to contract law’s “sensible center,” and noting that with many common problems, the rules that have evolved over the years make a good deal of sense.  In essence, he makes a case for the status quo, eschewing reform in either the direction of more government interference in contract, or government withdrawal from contract.

Prof. Cunningham suggests that current law strikes the proper balance between two rather extreme positions.  The book extols the earthy pragmatism of old precedents and wise judges, and suggests that these doctrines will ultimately win out and reach a balance.  In my next blog post, I will question whether this assertion holds true in the context of technological change.

Miriam Cherry is Professor of Law at Saint Louis University School of Law.  Some of her scholarship can be found at this link on SSRN.