Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Obama, Law School, and Interdisciplinarity

Graphic-RodriguezDanielB._v2012-01-05;053739Dan Rodriguez, Northwestern University Law School dean and current president of the AALS, has some typically thoughtful commentary at PrawfsBlawg on the news that President Obama is not recommending law school as the grad school of choice, suggesting instead that we need more STEM professionals than lawyers.  

If I may characterize Dan's comment, he's not taking issue with the President's comment as much as suggesting the real name of the game is in interdisciplinarity, and lawyers and law degrees have something to contribute on that score.

I commented on his post over at Prawfs, but thought I'd reprint it here as well.

The business world is at least twenty (and probably more, given the structural and institutional problems with interdisciplinary work in academia) years ahead of universities in this. It's not to say that disciplinary and functional silos don't exist out there; they still do. But the fundamental insight of lean enterprise and continuous improvement was that research, engineering, manufacturing, and marketing all had to talk to each other from the outset, or you ended up with designs nobody could build, or products nobody wanted.

So who teaches interdisciplinarity? Louis Menand's "The Marketplace of Ideas" and Michele Lamont's "How Professors Think" are about as good as it gets in nailing what my casual empiricism tells me: there's a tension between dilettantism and disciplinary rigor every time you venture out into the space between disciplines (which by the way are something WE create and don't necessarily or even contingently cut fields of knowledge at the joints). The paradox, of course, is that once you establish peer review or other disciplinary standards in the new space you've replicated the original disciplinary problem.

So in academia, what you have to do is forge ahead notwithstanding the cautious naysayers (i.e. risk being called a dilettante, which ain't easy if you are pre-tenure) but at the same time do the best you can in finding like minded souls from the other discipline to afford you some check on rigor, mix it all together and hope for the best.

Finally, the particular hallmark of disciplinary rigor among both academic and practicing lawyers is attribution of blame as the focus of cause-and-effect in the world (from Honore & Hart to Moore to "all you say is 'no'"). That's usually one of the first things that effective business lawyers manage to shed, oftentimes to the dismay of lawyers' lawyers.


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