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October 20, 2010


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Legal scholarship is supposed to *matter* for current law and policy? That's a major surprise.

Orin Kerr

Looking Over,

I don't think there needs to be a policy impact; rather, the question is designed to ask what's the broader point of the scholarship generally to get a sense of what the author cares about. For example, the point of a particularly scholarly agenda might be to shed light on an empirical question, to help the law deal with a particular problem, to illuminate a jurisprudential debate, or to show a recurring dynamic in a particular area of law. These are all perfectly fair sorts of answers to the "so what?" question.



Your scholarship seems decidedly practical (I mean no offense; I admire that you establish the bride between academy and the real world). But with that in mind, I doubt what you are looking for in the "So?" question is the same as what most interviewers are. It seems far more likely that scholarship that has any type of real world relevance is usually frowned upon, and hence my (mildly) tongue in cheek comment.

It just seems odd that hiring committees would ask about the real world relevance of a candidate's scholarship when in all likelihood the members of that committee deliberately write on issues that don't matter. I will not hesitate to except your excellent work from this characterization, given that your work seems to be rooted in doctrine (again, no offense by suggesting you care about law/doctrine -- I wish the professoriate were more like you).

Greg McNeal

I don't think it's so much a matter of a committee as a whole or a faculty writ large caring about real world relevance, rather I think Mary's original post, and my post were trying to highlight the fact that a candidate should be prepared to answer why their scholarship matters and to whom (or to which debates). It could just as easily be framed as "Why did you write this piece?" Some intellectual curiosity must have prompted the idea...a debate amongst scholars, a desire to change the law, an unobserved inconsistency, and even (but not necessarily) a practical policy impact. Mary framed this as the "cash out value" and noted that might mean the question will be posed as "'how does your work matter for contemporary law and policy.' Or perhaps: 'I care about law as a means of improving society. Why should I care about your work?'" I think Orin's providing a few more helpful examples of the "cash out value" "so?/who cares?" question that are not necessarily practical or real world relevant. Perhaps I could have made the framing clearer in my original post where I focused just on the law and policy question... Mary's point was broader than that so I'm going to tweak my OP just slightly for posterity.


These posts (this one and the one on LHB) are actually quite helpful. Because the question is usually framed in terms of "what normative changes does your scholarship lead to?" As someone who has written mainly scholarship, the answer is "not much." On the other hand, if you're asking me how my scholarship changes our view of the development of the law or adds to the corpus of legal scholarship, I can give a much more enthusiastic response.

Orin Kerr


Glad it's helpful. I think the key lesson here is that every interviewee needs to be ready to go "meta": You need to have a sense of why you're doing what you're doing.


Your comment reminds me of a great comment Habermas once made about his theory of communicative action. If I had ever actually read any Habermas, I'll bet I could recite it for you.

Mary Dudziak

Sorry for this late rejoinder -- I've been off-line/traveling. Just to tweak this a bit: one reason for my post is that there is a particular twist on this issue for interdisciplinary scholars. Everyone should be able to explain why they took up their project, and why it matters. For legal historians and other interdisciplinary folks, the answer they would give when defending their dissertation is not necessarily an answer that will work when interviewing for a law school job. JD/PhD's need to be able to speak to the interests and concerns of a group of generalists: law profs who may not care about what counts as a contribution within a particular Ph.D. field. When far along at work in a specialized field, it is often easy to, in Orin's words, "go meta" within your field. For law interviews, you have to essentially translate that. If your project is a major contribution to scholarship in, say, anthropology, how is it also important to scholarship and teaching in the law school world?

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