As those who have been following New Legal Realism know, a core question for us is how best to translate social science for law?  Indeed, sometimes we’ve asked whether you can even “get there from here.”  In a provocative New York Times column, Nicholas Kristof called out to members of the academy, welcoming their input to public debate while bemoaning their failure to reach out beyond narrow disciplinary boundaries: “Professors, We Need You!” 

Kristof has received pushback from academics, who have pointed out that he failed to recognize the many professors already actively involved in public debate, the many more who’d like to be if the media would only let them, and the ways the structure of the university punishes those who spend too much time on such efforts: see, for example these posts: 1. Huffington Post; 2. Corey Robin; 3. Scientific American  (and more– see bottom of the page for links to more responses)

We at the New Legal Realism blog were delighted to see this much-needed conversation take off.   Regardless of Kristof’s blind spots, he has called attention to an ongoing problem:  how do we get some of the best-informed views into the public domain, without eviscerating those views in the process??   The “old” Legal Realists shared this concern, hoping to apply the best available social science knowledge to policy issues facing this country during the New Deal era…. and the New Legal Realists are working toward a similar goal today.  In both eras, similar problems persist: easy answers are more palatable than complex ones; a number or quantitative result seems simpler, but by itself often misses the depth of qualitative research; politics and law often warp the information received from careful researchers beyond recognition.  In the following piece, new NLR blogger Joe Margulies replies to Kristof with a challenge of his own, saying in essence: 

Journalists, We Need You Too!

 Have academics abandoned the public square?  Nicholas Kristof apparently thinks so. In his column in the New York Times, Kristof complained that the academy has developed “a culture that glorifies arcane unintelligibility while disdaining impact and audience.”[1] Part of this is old; mocking academic gibberish makes easy sport, and because it is easy, has often been done. But the claim that academics not only speak nonsense but court irrelevance is a more serious charge. Is it true?

Well, yes and no. It is certainly true that a great many academic specialists have deliberately taken themselves out of public life. And that’s a shame, since their expertise could help bring more light and less heat to the issues of the day. But who can blame them? Imagine yourself an authority on climate change at a small Midwestern university. For years, you have carefully studied the evidence. One day, you pen an editorial for your local newspaper in support of some initiative—say, perhaps, a high-occupancy commuter lane on a nearby highway. You point out that, among other benefits, carpooling might help reduce greenhouse gases and slow the rate of global warming.

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2013 in review

Our yearly blog report is in and it shows that our web presence grew in 2013.  We occupy a relatively quiet corner of the internet, but that’s okay with us!  We are happy to stand with the “slow movement” — especially the “slow reading” process that encourages us to value careful thinking over racing to amass greater quantities of stuff.  That said, we have some exciting new ideas for posts — and some new bloggers — planned for 2014.  Thanks to you all for tuning in this past year.  We are especially proud that we are hearing from people all over the world (88 countries in all).   There really is a new spirit and interest rising in studying law “on the ground”!  Happy New Year!


Aman on Lawyers, Social Science, and Globalization

What should social scientists know about lawyers’ views on globalization? In our previous post, Michele LaVigne argued that social scientists need to consult with lawyers more if they want their research to have any impact on fairness in indigent defense. Fred Aman was inspired to send in some advice to scholars interested in law and globalization.

Globalization: Legal Aspects

Law’s role in globalization is often misunderstood, mainly with respect to whether “the global” is its own distinct and unified field. To a large extent, this misunderstanding reflects the influence of neoliberalism, some versions of which treat globalization as a function of capitalism (thereby relegating it to the preserve of economics). Such a formulation leaves little room for law, except in relation to international law and such “global” institutions as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Trade Organization (WTO), and other legal arrangements primarily associated with the liberalization of trade. From this standpoint, one might imagine that globalization is all about competition—a competition for markets and investments that is global in scale and increasingly intense as markets expand. Accordingly, one might not think that law has much to do with this phenomenon beyond stepping out of the way, except where law contributes to the creation of markets and to ensuring that they function efficiently.

But the reality of globalization challenges such formulations. Law has an important role to play, particularly in contexts in which economic activity generates human rights questions, such as child labor. We need to focus on law’s prominence in the creation, implementation and contestation of globalization. The contexts in which law is relevant reflect the great diversity of relationships, circumstances, and legal arrangements under which globalization develops….

Globalization is embedded in our institutions—domestic and international, public and private, by virtue of legal arrangements (legislation, agency regulations, contracts, etc.) that draw global “forces” into everyday life, and vice versa. It is not a unilinear process or geography “out there,” but a dynamic relation across multiple regimes of public and private ordering. Globalization is subject to a wide array of influences and control and yields pervasive social effects—some of them broadly homogenizing, some of them diversifying in highly specific ways Understanding the relationship of globalization to law requires analysis of the interactions of markets, rights and bodies of law at all levels of government, domestic and international, as well as diverse processes of governance that involve norm creation, enforcement and adjudication by state and non-state actors alike.

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Shedding Empirical Light on Indigent Defense

Often the new empiricism in law takes the form of advice from social scientists to lawyers.  In this interesting post, Professor Michele LaVigne turns the New Legal Realist tables, and gives social scientists advice on the kind of information that is needed by lawyers involved in trying to make the legal system fairer:

Happy Birthday Gideon

 For a brief while this year, the news turned its attention to the state of indigent defense in the United States.  First, Gideon v. Wainwright turned 50 and we heard that Gideon is a dream unfulfilled or deferred, or at the very least, it’s an unfunded mandate and in many jurisdictions it looks like one.   Then came the sequester and no surprise, federal defender services took the first hard hit, with federal defenders facing either lay offs or furloughs that will drag on for who knows how long. (There is no corresponding shortfall for federal prosecutors)

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Law in action and law on the books: A primer

We are pleased to welcome a guest blogger, Bill Clune, whose post gives us his “primer” on the concept of law-in-action, a concept shared by the original legal realists, scholars in the law-and-society tradition, and many new legal realists. Clune’s reflection was occasioned by questions raised at the University of Wisconsin Law School. We welcome other reflections on the concept of “law-in-action” at

Guest Blogger: Bill Clune,* May, 2013

This essay was prompted by a question from the then Assistant Dean of Admissions to me as Admissions Chair about what to tell applicants who asked him about the meaning of “law-in-action.” He is a graduate of our school [the University of Wisconsin Law School], which has specialized in the area for many decades, and he had listened to and read many explanations, including those on our web site, which is also available to and often read by the applicants. I think of myself as having spent a lifetime of scholarship and teaching in the area, but it was easier for me to give examples and say words circling the concept than to formulate a clear, concise explanation. The puzzle was accentuated by a survey subsequently administered to our law students which found that the most common understanding of law-in-action was clinical education, a response which seemed to me unquestionably valid from a student perspective yet also incomplete.

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Tejani on Legal Ed Reform: Be Careful!

Beyond San Jose State: Legal Ed Innovation Should be Handled with Care  By Riaz Tejani

Educational “innovation” should be approached with care. In today’s legal ed crisis, this is especially true. High-tech innovation is seductive to law teaching because it seems to have arguably worked in legal practice, business, communication, and security and law enforcement.

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Chambliss on Law School Socialization and Sorting

Remember The Paper Chase? Mr. Hart on the hot seat on his first day at Harvard Law School, commanded by Professor Kingsfield to “fill the room” with his intelligence? Or One L, with similar themes about the rigors of legal education and the profound socialization that occurs in the iconic first year?

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Comparative institutional analysis and NLR

How do we move from detailed empirical research on law to address broader questions about how law operates? Our blog and website this month feature scholarly attempts to join empirical legal research with comparative institutional analysis…

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In this entry, Professors Katherine Barnes and Elizabeth Mertz share some findings on women law professors, drawn from their work on the ABF “After Tenure” study.   In the first segment of our Forum, Professor Carroll Seron talked about the continuing gap in earnings, status, and power that exists within law practice between men and women…

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Blog Forum – WOMEN in the LEGAL PROFESSION [Seron]

NLR BLOG FORUM:  What is happening to women in the legal profession?

We begin this forum with some observations on the current status of women in the legal profession from research by Carroll Seron, President elect of the Law & Society Association, and a faculty member at the new University of California at Irvine Law School (by courtesy) and in the Department of Criminology, Law & Society.

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