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October 24, 2010


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James Grimmelmann

I think there are two different senses of what it means to study law at work in this story. One sense is yours: the legal scholars study the effects of law, wherever they may be found. Because law pervades society, legal scholars are necessarily wide-ranging. When you study sprawl, you are quite clearly studying law in this sense; law has had profound effects on our lived environment. If the faculty member assumed that "law" meant only the decisions made by courts, yes, that seems an impoverished view of the law professor's work.

Your interlocutor, on the other hand, may have a different additional assumption: the legal scholar engages with some feature of law beyond its consequences. On this point of view, architects, political scientists, and urban planners debate how law causes (or doesn't) cause sprawl, and how different laws could change the landscape. The contribution of the law professor must be -- if law professing is to be a discipline of its own -- something more; she must contribute some distinctive knowledge about law itself. She could discuss how court-made land use doctrines diverge from legislative decisions, how settlement shapes land law on the ground, or the proper interpretation of RLUIPA with sprawl effects in mind. Any which way, however, she must bring something to the table that academics from those other fields wouldn't.

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