Vanderbilt Law Review

First Page



Any consideration of what legal education should consist of must begin with the question of what "law," as a field of study, is. Whether a study of "the law" is science, philosophy, political science, or a field unto itself, or is more like a social science study of the norms and behaviors that human beings create and enforce for their self- governance, what the field is should have something to do with how it is studied.

So, one can ask, what is the object of study when one studies "the law"? Court decisions and interpretations (doctrine) and statutes and regulations (the rules) are "the substantive law" one could study. Or, one could study law's processes ("adjectival" law): procedure; constitutionalism (as in separation of powers, limited and specified authority, and federalism); institutional competence; law-making (legislation, administrative regulation, lobbying, advocacy); or enforcement and compliance (the "law in action"). Then there are the hermeneutics, or interpretative study, of law's meaning(s). To get at more root matters, one could study why there is law and what its purpose is (or should be)-the jurisprudence or theory of law. Even after defining the field of law one would still have to ask whether this field has a particular method of study that qualifies it to be called a discipline. Is law the study of the particular method of legal reasoning, which relies on precedents and rules of cases, differentiation of facts, policy analysis, and use of analogical reason to arrive at statements of what the law is? Does one treat law as the study of texts (as a humanistic discipline)? As the study of predictions or principles of social allocation (law and economics)? Or as predictions or descriptions of the actions of social institutions, legal actors, or the acted upon (socio-legal studies)?

Or is law merely a practice or activity, without any particular disciplinary or field boundaries? Law would then be simply all that lawyers do. Or, in Holmesian terms, the law would be only what the law does to those who violate it-the sanctions imposed on "bad men." Or, as this paper will suggest, perhaps there is no one way to see and study this elephant. Rather, the study of law is itself necessarily a multi-disciplinary enterprise, borrowing from or using the insights, methods, and canons of other fields to tell us about how we govern ourselves. As one sociologist of law has urged, when admonishing us to consider law and legal institutions from outside the categories that lawyers make: "[Liaw is to be understood in terms of social theory. Legal theory is to be seen as a particular branch or application of social theory."