Sally Gordon's recent post over at the Legal History Blog on legal historians who are on the market this year raises some interesting questions. I've written briefly elsewhere on the "relevance" of legal historians within the legal academy. But Dan Ernst's reply to Gordon's post that, “Now, more than ever, legal history candidates must be able to explain why they can only do what they want to do as a member of a law faculty,” has me thinking about the "utility" of legal historians to law schools.
Dan’s focus is on candidates’ scholarship and pedagogy. But, for the moment at least, I'd like to shift the discussion to staffing and course load, which for many law schools ranks up there with scholarship and pedagogy.
Legal historians typically have a broad knowledge of law. While we all have our particular areas of emphasis, our training in and study of legal history constantly exposes us to a broad sweep of the legal experience. I think if you were to look at the reading lists for legal historians' oral/preliminary exams, you'd see a wide range of substantive legal areas, not to mention legal education and practice. And that is in addition to our training as "generalists" in law school.
I would think that this training would be of considerable interest to law schools, at least from the perspective of staffing courses. In my own case, I have been teaching Property as my main course, despite the fact that most of my scholarship focuses on constitutional history. I am teaching Con Law this year, though, in addition to Property. I would also be willing to teach any of the first-year courses, in addition to Ad Law, Legislation, Con Crim Pro, or Trusts and Estates, if the need arose. I have yet to teach American legal history, as it is currently well-manned by my colleague Art McEvoy (who also teaches Torts). My legal history friends who teach in law schools also teach big non-legal history courses (e.g., Torts, Con Law, Property, Trusts and Estates, Ad Law, Tax). One particularly insane legal historian I know is teaching Property and T/E in the same semester this year!
It would appear, then, that legal historians are providing important value to their institutions.But I'll put the question to you all. Is this teaching flexibility of value to law schools? More generally, what would you say is the primary value of any professor (or at least an entry-level professor) to a law school? What value do we, or should we, place on the size of the classes that faculty teach? For example, if I teach two big sections of Property, does it matter that my scholarship focuses on legal history? If it doesn't, and if legal historians by their training are potentially able to fill a range of a school's teaching needs, shouldn't that make the legal historian more valuable to law schools than the average entry-level candidate, at least from a teaching perspective?