Young Legal Scholars Look to Make Their Mark

June 23, 2003

Richard Schragger, 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 America by 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 Pierce.

"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.


Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

News Highlights