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June 23, 2014

More on interdisciplinarity and where law schools can meet the real world

by Dan Rodriguez

Jeff Lipshaw has some spot-on reflections on interdisciplinarity in a post on The Legal Whiteboard — spurred, he kindly notes, by a recent post of mine on PrawfsBlawg.

The disconnect between what the business world knows, tells us, and shows us with respect to the collapse of disciplinary silos and what we ruminate about in the comparatively-less-innovative space of universities is a profound fact on the ground. At least twenty years behind says Lipshaw? I won’t quarrel with that description, although I might tepidly suggest that some universities are pushing ahead more innovatively. Stanford’s D-School may be just the most conspicuous example because, well, it is Stanford. But there are bits and pieces of innovation in universities which aspire to take a bolder path. Still and all, the incentive structure that impedes multidisciplinarity (perhaps a better mouthful term to capture the point than “interdisciplinarity”) in the university setting is important and vexing.

Let me offer a key amendment to Jeff’s general depiction of the problem: What we do in the curricular settings of professional schools is, much more often than not, drawing from bodies of research to undergird our teaching. So, it might be essential for a scholar aimed at moving the field forward to ground her contribution in a disciplinary tradition which is hard to marry to multidisciplinary reality and performance. Yet, what is to stop the innovative teacher, looking to arm his students with the professional equipment and skills to prosper in the new economy, from looking at the world in a fundamentally multidisciplinary (and, indeed, disruptive) way? Maybe the short term answer to the difficulties Jeff wisely illustrates is to focus, first, on the teaching and training function of legal instruction. Perhaps innovation will emerge in pedagogy and programs before it reshapes more fundamentally the literature of the practice.

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