Current Interests II
Bill Long 10/4/06
3. Reframing Jurisprudence
Jurisprudence isn't a word you hear spoken much on the street corners of America. But it is a course I have taught four times in the last 3 1/2 years. While the term has a narrow and broad definition (you can, as Casey Stengel used to say, "look it up"), I like to construe it broadly as any kind of "thinking about law" that we do. There is no unanimity in the legal academy about how you teach this class (sometimes called the "philosophy of law" when it is taught in the university). I don't want to bore you with details, but suffice it to say that two of the more popular modes of teaching it are either as a "historical" class (focusing on people or ideas before the 20th century) or "20th/21st century" class (more usual). Most who teach it are trained as philosophers, and so they bring a strong dosage of natural law to the task if they emphasize the former body of material or an awareness of Kant, Wittgenstein and other unpronounceable German names to the mix if they do the latter. I have developed an historical approach that has "worked" for me and that is represented in no textbook I have yet encountered. Actually, I think I would have to write two books (at least), but here are how they would be laid out.
The first would focus on the "ancient and early modern" world. I think I would go from "Hammurabi to Holmes," ending at OW Holmes Jr.'s 1897 law review essay "The Path of the Law." Along the way I would have ample sections on Hammurabi, Biblical Law, ancient Greek law (including the Antigone, the Apology, Crito, Euthyphro triad from Plato, then the Republic and possibly portions of The Laws of Plato, followed by sections of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics and Politics, and Roman law (Cicero, possibly some of the work of those legal scholars in the Digest and then the Institutes of Justinian). I would like sections also on Jewish and Islamic law (focusing on the jurisprudential tractates of the Babylonian Talmud and the development of the "four schools" of Islamic law before the 12th century). This would probably take a semester. Well, I guess you get the sense of how the "flow" of my mind works on this. I guess it might ultimately be a two-year (four semester) jurisprudential survey, but now, as usual, I am reaching for more than we can grasp. Let's leave it there. Jurisprudence needs to be reconceptualized, and I am interested in doing that.
4. Understanding Professional Ethics/Responsibility
Every law school in America now has at least one course (and usually more than one) in professional responsibility. These courses became mandated in the late 1970s and they are, in my experience, taken on by faculty who mostly would rather not teach them. The courses that I am familiar with usually go through "the rules," and tell you basic things that you probably either already knew (don't mingle client money with your own bank account) or that are weird (when and where you can solicit business). But my interest in legal ethics/professional responsibility emerges from another area. I, as well as many others, have noted that the legal profession has suffered the steepest decline in "prestige rating" in the last 30 years of any profession in America. I think this fact ought to be at the heart of the any course in legal ethics. Why is this the case? Is this inevitable? Can it be reversed? Ought it to be reversed? My preliminary investigations into this area have led me to consider the history of legal codes of ethics in America from the 1830s until today. I think lots can be learned by seeing how different people have framed the primary allegiances/duties of lawyers over the years. I would like to get to the heart of what lawyer self-understanding consists in and whether that is the role we want lawyers to play in our society.
5. Autism, Asperger's and the Law
The explosion in autism diagnoses in the past decade, with no end in sight, means that in a few years many people on the "autistic spectrum," as it is known, will not only become teens and young adults but will have to try to "fit" into a society which is difficult enough for "neurotypicals" (the word used in the autism field for us "more normal" people) to navigate. Legal issues abound for the child diagnosed with autism and his/her parents from the beginning of life. How do you get a diagnosis? How do you keep good records? How do you get a school district to provide your child a free appropriate public education? What happens with extra-or non-curricular teasing, bullying and other conduct that can land your child in trouble? How does one negotiate the practicalities (and legalities) of sexual conduct? What about employment? To what extent to employers have to make accommodations for autism-spectrum individuals? What about false confessons? About legal process? About that important issue known as "mental state" in criminal law when a a person with an autism diagnosis might have acted inappropriately but because of factors that are related to the disorder?
In this connection there is also a growing need for an "autism reader"-type of book, which would excerpt and anthologize significant writings from the field of autism since the phenomenon was first identified as such in 1943 by Kanner. I woudl love to have some time to collect some of these classic texts in an anthology.
These are only the tip of a very large iceberg of interests that move me at this point. I would love not only to continue my language study of the major European languages so that I can get to "75% fluency" (a squishy notion, but one in which I would be able to get along in five languages in almost any setting) in English, German, French, Spanish and Italan, but also begin Arabic so that I can ultimately have something to say about Islamic law and the Koran which is derived from primary source study. Long experience in other Semitic languages ought to be helpful.
And then, there are other things....but too numerous to mention at this point... Thanks for listening in on the conversation.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long