Young Legal Scholars Look to Make Their Mark

June 23, 2003

Associate Professor Richard Schragger organized the May Gathering, a meeting of young legal academics.

, a young associate professor of law at the University
of Virginia, did not know he was striking an academic nerve last
year when he organized an informal gathering of other newcomers
to legal scholarship to sort out which issues seemed most pressing.
But word-of-mouth spread interest in the meeting and this year's
gathering had a larger and even more enthusiastic turnout.

"The purpose of
the meeting was to talk about legal scholarship generally and
the question of generational change," said Schragger, whose
expertise is in local government and land use law, as well as
legal theory. "What's the next thing? How do we see legal
scholarship? What kind of models do we have?"

Referred to as the May Gathering, this year's
meeting at Georgetown University drew 40 young scholars, all of
whom have been law faculty for fewer than six years, including
four others from U.Va. Other schools represented included Yale,
Columbia, Washington University, Wake Forest, Georgetown, and
Texas. Membership in the group is still undefined but Schragger
said he doubts scholars will "graduate" from the group
as they get older; instead participants will be defined by their
generation and move forward together.

"We're asking questions about the generational
nature of legal scholarship. Do generations have a character and
if so, what's ours?" Schragger said.

He added that scholarly symposia reflect the
traditional battles between "crits," adherents of the
viewpoint known as critical legal studies, and formalists. The
1970s and 1980s produced both the crits and followers of law and
economics, a view that looks at how law and economic principles
interact to create incentives for behavior.

"A generation ago these were the upstart
movements. Now their ideas have been assimilated into the legal
canon. Is there something more after that?" Schragger asked.

"What's interesting to me is the self-conscious
quality of these movements, the participant's sense that they
were generating new models that would replace the old ones. Does
the next generation have that same sense?

"Today there is a tremendous amount of
interdisciplinary influx, particularly from history, economics,
philosophy and psychology," Schragger noted. "That alone
is having profound institutional effects. It's not unusual for
young law scholars to have Ph.D.s in other subjects."

Schragger said the idea to convene the gathering
came to him as he was reading
The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in Americaby Louis Menand, an account of the development
of pragmatist philosophy through the intellectual exchanges of
Oliver Wendell Holmes, John Dewey, William James and Charles Sanders

"These thinkers sought to change the intellectual
landscape," Schragger said. "One of my purposes in arranging
these gatherings is to generate that same kind of passion. The
scholarly enterprise should have high stakes. It should matter."

This year's session included presentations
of papers from sociological and philosophical viewpoints, he said,
as well as doctrinal and efficiency analyses. "The participants
really enjoyed having freewheeling discussions about new currents
in legal scholarship," said Schragger, who has meanwhile
has begun organizing next year's gathering.

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