We at the New Legal Realism blog want to congratulate the Law & Society Association on the occasion of its 50th anniversary meetings. The LSA Meetings, currently underway in Minneapolis, have for many years drawn social science and legal scholars together for productive scholarly conversations across many tough-to-traverse disciplinary boundaries. The “broad tent” approach always espoused by LSA has drawn its critics, but it also has permitted diversity of many kinds to flourish – not least of which is the constant back-and-forth between theories and methods from a broad range of social sciences, on the one hand, and the concerns of lawyers who struggle on the ground to bring law to its best potential. We celebrate that ongoing vibrant exchange in our May NLR post.
Work in the LSA tradition has spanned all of the social sciences, permitting scholars to match the methods they use to the questions they seek to answer (rather than adhering to methodological orthodoxies). It has, importantly, drawn on theory as well as method from the social sciences, while it has also bridged the divide between legal scholarship and empirical research. The very first winner of the LSA’s prestigious Harry J. Kalven, Jr. Prize in 1983 was University of Chicago law professor Hans Ziesel, who along with sociologist Kalven, had conducted a famous study of “The American Jury.” Abraham Goldstein described the project as follows:
… directed by a distinguished lawyer and sociologist, it offered at long last to fulfill the promise of realist jurisprudence. The legal realists, who came of age in the 20’s and 30’s, had called academic lawyers away from the abstract doctrines announced by appellate courts and had urged them instead to study legal institutions and processes as they functioned in the real world – the behavioral assumptions underlying them, the interactions among them and the relation they bore to other social phenomena. (Review of “The American Jury” in Commentary Magazine (April 1967))
Since 1983, the Kalven Prize (along with other LSA honors) has been awarded to scholars from a broad range of disciplinary backgrounds, including psychology, anthropology, law, criminology, political science, and sociology – and has recognized work using experimental, qualitative, quantitative and mixed methods conducted to high standards. At the same time, we see among those honored by the LSA an enduring concern with justice and with applying social science knowledge to real world problems. This year’s honorees include Empirical Legal Studies founder Ted Eisenberg, whose quantitative research contributed to better understandings of the law in action across a host of arenas (from jury behavior to capital punishment to attorney fee systems) – and Kim Lane Scheppele, whose empirical ethnographic work on comparative constitutional law manages to also bridge legal and social science theory at high levels, while speaking directly to urgent policy issues.
The John Hope Franklin Prize at LSA honors top-notch research on race, racism, and the law — and work by outstanding scholars on gender, class, legal history, and international topics (to mention just a few) has been fostered and recognized by the LSA (which regularly draws scholars from across the world together). In its ongoing support for truly interdisciplinary research and intellectual exchange about the law in action, LSA exemplifies the spirit of the new legal realism. Happy Birthday, LSA, and here’s to the next 50 years!