July 1 Saul Levmore assumed the deanship of the Law School ("Chicago
Journal," June/01). The William B. Graham professor of
law since joining Chicago from the University of Virginia in
1998, Levmore is the 12th dean in the Law School's 98-year history.
With a B.A. from Columbia University and both a Ph.D. in economics
and a J.D. from Yale University, he has been a visiting professor
at Yale, Harvard, Michigan, Northwestern, and in 1993, Chicago.
of seven U of C scholars elected to the American Academy of
Arts and Sciences in 2000, Levmore has written on a range of
legal topics, including torts, corporate law, comparative law,
nonprofit organizations, and public choice.
is it about the University of Chicago Law School that makes
you want to be its dean?
The intellectual intensity-that's the easy answer. That's what
we do best, and I like it. If you talk to people at alumni reunions
or read the alumni magazine interviews with people who were
here, it's different than if you go to other schools and ask
them what it was like, where they'll say, "Remember the
time we got drunk and circled the president's house?" What's
cool about Chicago is people remember the ideas they learned
here-"I remember this class I had with Ed Levi; it really
changed the way I thought about law"-and from the teacher's
point of view this is amazing. Here ideas make the difference,
and students come here because they self-select for that.
the same time, we are a relatively lean and mean law school.
We may even look humble; the paint is peeling. Other law schools
are making massive investments in physical structure, they are
hiring faculty left and right, they're spending a fortune attracting
the best students, there are centers and conferences and free
lunches for all, so to speak. We have really lagged on that.
I don't think we should be like other law schools, but it is
probably time for us to see the way the market has gone and
what will continue to attract the best people to the best law
fewer than 600 students, the Law School is fairly small and
has a reputation for intimacy. Do you think there is an optimal
size for the school?
don't think there is an optimal size, but I do think the current
size works pretty well for us. One of the secrets of how law
schools work is that they are very intimate at some level. But
educating lots of people about corporate law and evidence and
contracts are bread-and-butter priorities, the "core curriculum"
of law schools. This kind of teaching is generally done in very
large classes so that law schools have much "worse"
faculty-student ratios than colleges. Put another way, they
are much more efficient delivery vehicles.
no danger of us growing-that's not in the cards-but I think
we could incorporate a few more faculty members and still be
a closer community; that is, I imagine the faculty and students
could know each other better, as they might have 30 years ago.
One way to do that is by initiating more small-group, faculty-student
activities. I'd like to start by seeing more faculty do quasi-courses-"law
in literature" or "law in films," or something
like that-and they might have regular sessions at their houses
throughout the year.
been quoted as saying that you would like to "bring legal
theory into the real world." How do you propose to do that?
already do that, but we can do it even more. For example, national
health care is a huge issue-and one that has a lot to do with
law. Thinking about the legal rules, about better ways to plan
health care, has a lot to do with law and public policy and
how people would vote on such things. It's a great law topic.
Other such topics are dispute resolution, tax and regulatory
compliance, and government accountability.
typical law school-especially a great law school like ours-has
many people with expertise. We have terrific tax-policy experts,
people who know a lot about social welfare, people who know
about insurance vehicles-and we're capable of getting people
to focus on certain topics, to start conferences, to get working
groups going and proposals written. I can imagine a University
of Chicago health-care proposal put forth after one or two years
of study, papers, and affiliated courses, and then put out there
for the nation to consider.
course that kind of initiative requires resources, and I see
that as part of my job, attracting donors who will want to see
that ideas matter-you can take a national problem, put smart
people and their students to work on it, and you can actually
produce good ideas for the nation to consider.
Law School celebrates its centennial in 2002-2003. Where do
you see the school going in the next 100 years?
centennial is a great opportunity to look forward to the next
100 years and beyond. It's very easy to get consumed with the
present. There are always current issues to work on and work
out-diversity in hiring; the clinical programs; there's the
$10,000 bill for that conference over there, where's that money
going to come from?-and these can be very consuming.
the way we got here is that there were people 50 or 100 years
ago who had the vision to think about not only where the next
$10,000 was coming from, but also what buildings were going
to go up and what buildings weren't, what the University was
going to focus on and what it wasn't. The centennial is a good
time to think about this.
will happen at the Law School and in legal education quite generally
over the next hundred years depends in large part on trends
in higher education. Law schools have become true postgraduate
institutions, mini-universities where law is taught with doses
of psychology, economics, philosophy, history, statistics, and
much more. The more students specialize as undergraduates, the
more this trend will continue, and law schools will train citizens
for many roles.
But an alternative is that the law schools will specialize,
and our students will learn a great deal about tax or about
intellectual property to the exclusion of much else.
the time being, law schools are stretched between these models,
offering advanced work in specialties even as they introduce
their students and journal readers to fundamental insights in
the social sciences and humanities by way of interesting applications
to law. We are keeping our options open, so to speak, and having
fun doing so.
which direction do you see Chicago eventually heading?
both very exciting. We're in a great, diverse city, so the role
of specialization does not disadvantage us. And we're in a great
university, so the interdisciplinary character is also an advantage
for us. I think we're really in good shape whichever way legal
education goes. For my lifetime it will probably be both, and
then at some point there will be a marked move one way or the
say this is a fun process. Are you going to make law school
law school is fun. It's fun for the faculty, and it should be
fun for the students. But there's tension in the process, and
I think some of the tension can be reduced even while stimulating
people intellectually. But, yes, it should be fun. Students
should think of law school as the three best years of their
lives, and we should make that a reality. -C.S.