ContractsProf Blog

Editor: Jeremy Telman
Oklahoma City University
School of Law

Friday, March 2, 2012

Lifetime Achievement Panel: Mel Eisenberg

EisenbergKeith Rowley has put together a panel consisting of Shawn Bayern, Omri Ben-Shahar, and Mark Gergen to honor Melvin Eisenberg, who is the fourth honoree for Lifetime Achievement at the Spring Contracts Conference.

Professor Bayern stressed Professor Eisenberg's fundamental refusal to reduce contracts law to any one unifying principle.  Law must be justified by relevant social propositions: including morality, policy and experiential propositions. Not meaning to criticize theorists who view contracts as promise, or as plan, etc., Professor Beyern regards such views as undoubtedly useful but incomplete when considered from the perspective of Professor Eisenberg's appreciation of contracts as contracts.  In addition, Professor Bayern highlighted Professor Eisenberg's contributions to and critiques of the field of law and economics.  Professor Bayern notes that Professor Eisenberg's work is often not categorized under the rubric as law and economics because although Eisenberg utilizes economic theory, he reaches conclusions that are not usually associated with law and economics.  But Professor Bayern challenges more traditional L&E types to attempt to refute any of Professor Eisenberg's arguments, which he (Professor Bayern) summarized as showing that, while economic models might make sense in the abstract world of rational actors, they do not help us understand the real world of contractual relations.

Omri Ben Shahar again stressed Mel Eisenberg's contributions in the realm of law and economics, recognizing Eisenberg as law and economics pioneer.  Eisenberg's approach to L&E enables economic analysis to improve in resolution.  Because Eisenberg focuses not on generating new theoretical models but on applying them in concrete situations, he can test and refine economic models and help them achieve greater clarity and specificity.   Professor Ben Shahar elaborated on Professor Eisenberg's substantive contributions in refining our understandings of disgorgement, the bargain theory of consideration and procedural unconscionability doctrine.

Mark Gergen celebrated Mel Eisenberg as the best exemplar of his generation of the great pragmatic tradition in contracts scholarship.  Professor Gergen illustrated this by comparing and contrasting Professor Eisenberg's work with that of last year's honoree, Stewart Macauley.  After noting the extent of overlap between the two scholars, Professor Gergen identified the key distinction that Mel Eisenberg more clearly sees the limitations of contracts doctrine.  Contracts may be about relationships, but it cannot repair such relationships when they are broken.  There may be damages, but often the parties just must go their separate ways.  Professor Gergen also contrasted Mel Eisenberg's work with that of another giant of Mel's generation of conracts scholars, Professor Robert Scott, especially in their estimation of the value of litigation and their faith in courts.

Ultimately, all agreed that Mel Eisenberg's scholarship defies easy categorization but is always characterized by lucidity, clarity and persuasiveness.  The pleasure of reading Mel Eisenberg's scholarship is that you always learn by reading him and emerge either persuaded or knowing, because of the clarity of Eisenberg's writing and his transparency in identifying his assumptions, exactly why you disagree.

As expected, Professor Eisenberg was gracious in his remarks, noting that he is currently at work on a book on contracts, and indicating that there is still some "open texture" in his work that he can work on with the help of the comments he received on his work.  


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Thanks for posting this, Jeremy. I'm sorry not to be at the conference since I am a huge fan of Eisenberg's work. Your post was almost as good as being there!

Posted by: Nancy | Mar 2, 2012 1:34:37 PM