I didn’t have access to the NYT article which sparked Orin Kerr’s post, but it reminded me enough of some favorite themes of the returned-to-blogging Hopefully Anonymous that I felt it merited a post here. Charlie Nesson is a prestigious expert in the field of law by virtue of his position at Harvard. There is widespread agreement that he just did a poor job as a trial lawyer, and that for many of the same reasons he does a poor job of preparing students to be lawyers. Harvard Law is where the best lawyers are supposed to come from, there is immense competition to get in, and Harvard’s reputation has brought in vast amounts of money. Something just doesn’t seem right here, although there are also other Harvard professors who are really brand names who do little of the work credited to them. Is this the case for other fields? I read more about economics, and there it seems that while lefties might think Mankiw hackish and disingenuous, they still consider him smart and his textbook good (although his students have reported that his lectures aren’t great). Similarly, strident libertarians consider Dani Rodrik a good economist despite his anti-Washington Consensus approval of industrial policy (and most congratulated Krugman’s Nobel as deserved). A commenter at a different Volokh thread on how Duncan Kennedy got tenure at Harvard law said “publication requirements for tenure in the legal academy are appallingly low in comparison to other disciplines”. It is also only recently that the first peer-reviewed law journal which is not specialized by methodology or subject matter appeared (usually students edit law review journals).

n/a of the race/history/evolution notes blog had a post on the old “white-shoe” WASP law firm which looked down on trial lawyering. Could Nesson be adhering to the lingering ethos of that old model which prized status above cut-throat victory in argument? I don’t usually buy into cultural explanations for why inequality or CEO pay increased, why medicine has gotten more expensive or in this case why law firms for so long didn’t exploit such opportunities. The old way of negotiating in boardrooms seems to share the ideals behind Robin Hanson’s Efficient Economist’s Pledge and so it may have been to the advantage of firms to set up a structure in which there was mutual disarmament. How did they accomplish that and what caused the gentleman’s agreement to erode?

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