Unifying the Two Cultures in Law Schools

Almost seventy years ago, C.P. Snow famously warned of a split between two cultures in our universities and society. The first was the scientific culture marked by rigorous modeling and empirical methods. That culture itself divided into defined specialties. The second was humanistic culture marked by a focus on rhetoric and the evaluation of ways of life. That culture was less specialized because it wanted to try to answer some of the great human questions that knew no boundaries.

Snow oddly enough left out the social sciences in general from his schema and law in particular, although the protagonist of his most famous novel, The Masters, was an academic lawyer. But that same cultural divide replicates itself in many of the social sciences and especially on top law schools faculties today. One kind of legal academic is scientific, concerned with models and empiricism. Those working on this side have defined methods—well cultivated gardens of the intellect. And this scholarship tends to be positive, looking at how the world is rather how it should be. The humanistic kind of scholarship is more discursive, sometimes of a bit of jumble.  It is less specialized and tends to the normative.

Snow worried that the loss of a common culture would create cliques within universities and make it harder to solve social problems. Neither technocracy nor the refinement of moral ideals suffices to improve the world.  The danger besets law schools as well today, as the more scientifically minded and the more traditional scholars often appear even to lack a common language—a particular obstacle to unity because law is constituted in large measure by its own distinctive language.

What can be done to unite the two cultures at law schools? Personnel decisions are key. Appointments committees should make sure that prospective faculty members are open to learning about methods not their own. Candidates with only a PhD may well have trouble transcending their specialty and acculturating to a generalist atmosphere.   Possessing a J.D. as well as a PhD provides substantial assurance the faculty member will know the language of the law.

But Deans should also encourage scholars ignorant of the scientific approaches to law  to continue their education.  A few law schools, like my own and  the Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University, offer rigorous boot camps for law professors in social science methods from causal inference to public choice.

Second, law schools must create a weekly forum for faculty workshops where all professors are expected to ask questions even about work that employs methodologies foreign to their own. We demand that our students learn about things they have trouble comprehending at first. The faculty needs to apply their own standards to themselves.  The most important way to merge the two cultures is to create a single culture where the desire for knowledge is the highest good.