Friday, December 11, 2009
Authority Arguers (Litigating Lawyers) Versus Authority Creators (Transactional Lawyers): It's Still All Outside-In
Posted by Jeff Lipshaw
Some time ago, I wrote an article, largely in reaction to an article Richard Posner had written on contract interpretation, suggesting that there was far less connection than commonly expected by lawyers between a “mutual intention of the parties” supposedly embodied in even a heavily negotiated contract and subsequent colorable disputes involving interpretation of that same contract (see The Bewitchment of Intelligence). Having immersed myself for the last several months in scholarship (such as it is) on consciousness, judgment, and wisdom, I now realize that Bewitchment merely took on one particular manifestation of the objective, rational model that is the teaching, scholarship, and practice of American law.
I am prepared to expand the thesis. I will defer exposition of my own articulation of the difference between arguments from authority and arguments from merit (in process) to Professor Geoffrey Samuel's (Kent, left) more sociological exposition of the same point: the reason it is hard to take law seriously as a “science” (and, I would add, the reason the explanatory so often blurs into the normative) is that law is, and has always has been, based on an “authority paradigm,” more akin to theology than to science. The authority paradigm is the key thing, because authority must come from somewhere: from the standpoint of mind, authority is "outside-in." That distinguishes it from wisdom and judgment, which, from the standpoint of mind, are "inside-out." (Pardon my Kantian tendencies here, but outside-in strikes me as legislating, or heteronomous, while inside-out strikes me as self-legislating, or autonomous.)
Let me bring this back to the practice of lawyering, rather than just the theory of law. We are in the midst of working through our curriculum on transactional skills, and the first building block is, invariably, “contract drafting.” I realize I am treading close to heresy here, and I don’t intend to suggest that contract drafting isn’t one of the transactional lawyer’s core skills. But it dawned on me (again) this morning, as I was reading an essay by Laura Dunham (University of St. Thomas, right) on business ethics in entrepreneurship, that even contract drafting (as a lawyering skill) fails to get at the critical difference between judgment and lawyering. Most of what lawyers think and do (at least classically) either in the litigation or the transactional setting constitutes a category error when it comes to the exercise of judgment (in the everyday and not judicial sense). As I argued in Objectivity and Subjectivity in Contract Law, the fundamental dividing line as between promise and contract doesn’t have to do with efficiency or morality; it has to do with objective versus subjective, or public versus private, or (perhaps?) inside-out versus outside-in.
The paradox of law in the litigation context is that both parties are praying to the same god for victory in the name of justice. The Europeans (like Luhmann or Derrida - at least in the latter's views on justice) expose an uncomfortable possibility: it is not an appeal to justice; it is an appeal to authority with the patina of justice. That’s what we teach first year lawyers: how to make an argument - the best ones being those that satisfy the Dworkinian standard of integrity: fit and justification (i.e., they give the best appearance of being not only just, but consistent with authority). Contract drafters aren’t authority arguers; they are authority creators (in the sense of the private law that is the law of contracts). There is no real connection between the contract and the later dispute (despite the arguments of Judge Posner, Professors Schwartz and Scott, and other rationalists), except in the sense that words that were written will come to constitute whatever “law” there is.
Judgment and wisdom, on the other hand, require that we step back from the authority paradigm (and perhaps also from the self-interest paradigm). That’s the quality that comes after first year doctrine, contract drafting, and deal skills. It means somehow teaching the inside-out rather than the outside-in. Now here’s the tough question: what are the academic and professional bona fides for teaching that advanced course?