'Legal Theory,' Strategies of Learned Production, and the Relatively Weak Autonomy of the Subfield of Learned Law
'Legal Theory,' Strategies of Learned Production, and the Relatively Weak Autonomy of the Subfield of Learned Law, in In Search of Contemporary Legal Thought (working title), (Justin Desautels-Stein & Christopher Tomlins, eds.)
This chapter focuses on the relationship between learned or scholarly law and economic and political power. It begins by introducing Pierre Bourdieu’s writings on the role of law and legal theories, which provide a general sociological framework, and then it draws on that approach to examine the role of learned law in the United States. The first part examines a key period in the genesis of the U.S. legal field and its hierarchies -- the outsourcing of the reproduction of lawyers and the compilation of legal knowledge to the law schools late in the nineteenth century. Law professors and their theories were quite marginal in the US legal field at that time. The second part examines the Legal Realist “coup” of the law professors against the dominance of the elite judges and corporate lawyers in the 1930s. The third part discusses similar challenges to the place of elite lawyers and judges in the 1960s from the left and more recently from the right. In each case, we show that legal academics and their theories are part of a larger story of adaptation and relegitimation of the enduring hierarchies of the U.S. legal field. A major theme, which these histories make clear, is the relatively weak autonomy of the field of learned law in the United States. Within this larger story, however, we point out the factors that created what looks in retrospect like a “golden age” of academic theory in the 1980s.