In this interview, NLR Conversations asked Marc Galanter to talk about his memories of Karl Llewellyn and Soia Mentschikoff during his time at the University of Chicago Law School in the 1950s.
“For my first year of law school, I went to the University of Pennsylvania, but I wasn’t very happy there. So I transferred to the University of Chicago, where I’d been an undergraduate and a graduate student before, for my second and third years. Unfortunately, that meant I missed Karl’s famous Elements course, which my classmates had taken and I heard a lot about. Karl and his wife Soia Mentschikoff were major figures at the Law School at Chicago. And the class of 1956, which I was in, was probably one of the smallest classes of the time. You see, the law schools had a boom after World War II, and until the people who graduated around 1951 or 1952, there were very big classes – but after that there was this sudden drought; I think our class was about half the size of the ones that had come before. So the faculty tended to know everybody.
I took two classes from Llewellyn. One was his Jurisprudence course; I still have the notes. The other was a wonderful course – it was a seminar. Chicago was quite unique in those days, in the sense that apart from the first year there were really no requirements! You could take anything you wanted to. And that was a time when most law schools had one elective in the second year and maybe one elective in the third year, something like that.
So, Karl gave this seminar – I think it was called something like Comparative Law – and he gave it with Max Rheinstein, who was one of the great German scholars (and translator of Max Weber). It was the two of them – and my recollection is that other faculty from other parts of the university were there, so there were around four or five faculty present, making it like an advanced seminar. There was someone from the Oriental Institute, and I still remember sitting around this big table with lots of people from all over the University. It was a great experience. It was very interdisciplinary and very theoretical. People weren’t concerned with “what kind of rule should we have for this,” but instead it was a big picture course.
Llewellyn’s approach was very eclectic. The things that he was trying to teach us were not confined to law texts. One day he came in with a whole bunch of spoons and he talked about the different styles of spoons. He viewed this as parallel to different styles of judging. It was a mind-expanding thing. You learned to look at things that you’d been looking at in a different way. I think that was the big lesson of the time. Things look different from different angles. Llewellyn took us everywhere; he would talk about the Cheyenne; he had all these examples and created all these different juxtapositions.
He was also very temperamental. He’d have these big mood swings and angry outbursts, particularly if he was disappointed with you or if you missed something. He would let you know that he was disappointed. One that comes to mind is a time that I didn’t do well on an exam for his course. I remember that he stopped me on the steps and asked “What was the matter with you?” He was not hesitant in expressing his disappointment. It’s interesting now that I think of it, it was an exam, not a paper — how did he even know who I was?
Llewellyn was not a Kingsfield type in class. He was very open. I think if there was something someone said that surprised him or caused him to looked at something in a different way, he would respond positively, unlike Kingsfield — who already knew what he wanted to hear. I think Llewellyn tried to provoke people. I’m sure he had his routines that he had developed in teaching over the years, but he was open to things outside the box.
Karl and Soia were a pair. I took several classes from her. She was very busy because that was the period when the whole Uniform Commercial Code thing was coming in. Chicago was an interesting place at that moment. Ed Levi had gotten the Ford Foundation to support a whole series of empirical projects at the University, the most famous one being the Jury Project. There was also something called the Arbitration Project. Soia was the lead person on that, just like Harry Kalven was the lead person on the Jury Project. On the one hand, Soia was trying to massage the Law Revision Commission in New York or whoever could get the UCC passed. She had this huge success in Pennsylvania when it adopted the UCC and that was their first big break. I don’t remember Llewellyn mentioning the UCC. At the time, that was her baby. He had some influence, in the way he structured it — but she got it done. From the perspective of the students at the University of Chicago, she seemed very absorbed in it and he was connected with it but it wasn’t his constant preoccupation in the same way as it was hers. She seemed to be traveling a lot to basically sell it, taking criticisms and modifying it. I don’t have any sense that he was preoccupied with it. My sense was that he was busy writing about appellate courts and how they worked.
I took two classes from Soia. One was on commercial law…. She made an impression, of course. I went to Chicago my second and third year, and then I spent a year as a teaching fellow. I was a Bigelow with Stewart [Macaulay] in the same cycle. That’s where I met Stewart. He must have graduated law school a year before me because he had clerked for a judge in San Francisco. Then he and Jackie came out to Chicago. There were around six of us Bigelows at that time. About five of us were basically the writing instructors. Stewart was pulled aside and worked for Nick Katzenbach. But the others, one became a don at Oxford and leading figure in legal education there but like many law teachers of the day, never wrote a thing. He was the only one that I kept in touch with. There were a couple of others. But Karl and Soia were very much a pair. Although, now that I think of it, I didn’t see them together. When I was at U of C, I was very much a student of Llewellyn and Rheinstein.
That year I was a Bigelow, there were a whole bunch of social scientists around the law school. There was the Jury Project. This was a couple years before the famous book by Kalven and Zeisel came out. There was a book with Zeisel as editor that had already come out called Delay in the Court. So in some sense, Chicago was the living example of the realist thing. They had the empirical projects going on there. I don’t recall the label “realism” being used per se, but we were used to the notion that these big empirical investigations were a legitimate, important, pioneering thing. The empirical projects had a lot of staff.
I don’t recall anyone complaining that the interdisciplinary stuff wasn’t appropriate for law students. Chicago prided itself as having people who were considered outliers. Ed Levi was very much in the Realist tradition. He was very supportive of all the social science research, the Arbitration Project and the Jury Project, these large empirical projects that the Ford Foundation sponsored. He was the guy who went out and promoted those and got the money from Ford; he was very interested in this kind of work on law. So I would say that Levi was very much in the Realist tradition and that he really wanted to add an empirical, systematic dimension to it. He went into the Ford government after Nixon fell and the he became Attorney General under Ford. The other thing is that when there was student unrest in Chicago while Levi was the Chancellor, he was very tough. He is a really unexamined figure; it would be interesting to do a study of Levi. He didn’t use the label “realist” but he seemed to me very much in that tradition as Dean of the Law School.
In some sense, the University of Chicago was the quintessential realist law school, with all those big empirical projects going forward. And while Levi was Dean, the outreach to social science was very central to the Law School.