pageok
pageok
pageok
Thoughts on Steven M. Teles, "The Rise of the Conservative Legal Movement":
I recently finished Steven M. Teles's new book, "The Rise of the Conservative Legal Movement," and I thought the VC audience might be interested in hearing about it. The book is a work of political science that looks at the major institutions within the conservative legal movement and tries to explain what makes them successful — or, in some cases, why they are not as successful as planned. You can read the introduction here, and see the Table of Contents here.

  The book's starting premise is that 30 years ago, when all of the major legal institutions were left/liberal, conservative and libertarian activists set about trying to create conservative/libertarian institutions to counter them. The book focuses heavily on what Teles sees as the leading institutions that have resulted, such as The Federalist Society, the Institute for Justice, the Center for Individual Rights, law school centers of law & economics (many funded by Olin), and George Mason University Law School. Teles' interest is in how these organizations got off the ground, what makes them successful, and what role they play. Much of the book is drawn from interviews with the founders and directors of these various institutions; Teles also draws a great deal from access he was given to their historical files.

  I found several parts of the book quite interesting, but the most interesting to me were the parts on the Federalist Society (p135-180) and George Mason University Law School (p207-219). On the Federalist Society, Teles argues persuasively that the key to its influence is in hosting a "big tent" that is open to a wide range of conservative and libertarian ideas. As Teles tells it, the Federalist Society is influential because provides a way for dispersed conservative and libertarian law students and lawyers to identify each other, get to know each other, and to establish an intellectual identity apart from the left/liberal views that tend to dominate the law schools. Teles also argues that the key to the Society's role is that it hosts debates rather than takes positions; this enables a wide range of different views to feel at home, while also focusing attention on the long-term development of ideas.

  The coverage of George Mason University Law School was fascinating in part because I knew little of the school's unusual history. Teles explains that the new George Mason University in Virginia had started a law school (in 1979) by picking up a low-ranked local law school in DC. In an effort to create a stronger law school, the University later hired law and economics scholar Henry Manne to be the new Dean of the school and gave him unusual powers to create the law school he wanted. As Teles tells it, the law school became Henry Manne's project to build a law school entirely around a libertarian vision based heavily on law and economics:
Henry Manne's project of building George Mason University law School (GMUSL) represented a very different approach to influencing the legal academy — building an alternative institution from the bottom up rather than influencing the legal academy from the top down. While the Olin programs [of law and economics at elite schools] represented a "Fabian" strategy of slowly burrowing into mainstream institutions, GMUSL followed a "Gramscian" approach of creating a parallel institution where more libertarian professors could hone their ideas without the compromises associated with elite institutions. [p.207]
  Teles contends that this experiment is moderately successful so far, although to some extent the jury is still out. On one hand, the law school has stayed largely true to its original vision, and it has made "impressive achievements" with its faculty and the U.S. News Rankings. On the the other hand, Teles contends that it's too early to say if Mason will establish itself fully as a counter to liberal institutions (and especially, more elite ones). I gather three of my co-bloggers will have some thoughts on that.

  I don't expect this book to become a best-seller; it's a serious work of political science, not a pop history. And of course the arguments Teles makes are certainly open to debate -- I'd be particularly interested in hearing from my Mason-based co-bloggers on whether they thought the coverage of Mason was accurate and/or fair. But on the whole I think this is a pretty interesting read for those who either are a part of or are just generally interested in the particular institutions that Teles is describing.
DavidBernstein (mail):
I'll be interested to read this. If PUP was on the ball publicity-wise, I'd have a copy already!
2.15.2008 12:33am
OrinKerr:
David,

The book was just published two weeks ago; I'll e-mail you the contact to request a review copy.
2.15.2008 12:46am
Ted Frank (www):
Steven Teles will be speaking about his book at AEI March 24, with Jack Balkin and Michael Greve commenting.
2.15.2008 8:28am
Happyshooter:
Do you know the difference between a serious work of political science and a pop history?

The pop history is interesting to read; and the serious work is written by either:

1. A jr faculty or post grad student who writes dry as hell and is carefully throwing props to anyone in the field who could affect the career while at the same time pimping those same profs theories and staying well the heck away from whatever might piss off the [black or hispanic or womyn's] studies department; or

2. A sr faculty who writes dry as hell and is carefully defending his career long theories and staying well the heck away from whatever might piss off the [black or hispanic or womyn's] studies department.
2.15.2008 8:51am
Clever Handle:
I am a 1E at GMU, and (obviously) have not read this book (but might put it on my ever-growing summer reading list). However, I can offer my experience. I am a slightly older student w/ another graduate degree and competitive LSAT scores/GPA etc. I selected GMU specifically for its intellectual environment and turned down acceptance at two higher-ranked schools. I don't know what the stats are, but from talking to other students this is not entirely unusual. Even as someone with a 'strong background' I am struggling as an evening student to compete against my well-prepared and thoughtful peers. Seems to me that GMU is indeed competing successfully against the elite institutions.
2.15.2008 9:55am
Houston Lawyer:
Back in 1983, when we started the Federalist Society chapter at Texas, it was an a true oasis. About 20 of us, most of whom had never met before, met and first discussed such things as the periodicals we read that were sympathetic to our point of view. It was very pleasing to see a packed auditorium show up to see the debates we hosted. No other organization on campus even came close to generating so much student interest.
2.15.2008 10:11am
ClosetLibertarian (mail):
I really liked Mason's openness to libertarian ideas. And while it is more conservative than most (all?) other law school, there are certainly several liberal (in the modern sense) faculty as well. Chuck Robb is one example that comes to mind as well as some of the sub par writing faculty (Mason has the emphasis on writing correct but still fails on the execution). I also was accepted to a few higher ranked schools but chose Mason partly because of the openness to conservative ideas and partly because I could keep my day job if I wanted. Another (higher ranked) school emphasized its connections to Democratic leaders and leftist "clinics".
2.15.2008 10:48am
Mr. Liberal:

I selected GMU specifically for its intellectual environment and turned down acceptance at two higher-ranked schools.


If you only turned down acceptance at only two higher ranking schools, you probably really aren't that competitive. That you find your experience at GMU law to be subjectively challenging or that you think your peers are smart probably does not say much. It doesn't seem to me that you are very much out of their league.

Exactly what are the two higher ranked law schools that you turned down? Were either of them even top 20?
2.15.2008 11:27am
Mark Field (mail):

The book's starting premise is that 30 years ago, when all of the major legal institutions were left/liberal, conservative and libertarian activists set about trying to create conservative/libertarian institutions to counter them.


Statements like this cause me to have flash-backs to Rashomon.
2.15.2008 11:32am
GMUSL '07 Alum (mail):
Mr. Liberal,

Since the student in question is an Evening Student, is it really that hard to figure out what the other 2 schools are? In fact, it seems blindingly obvious.
2.15.2008 11:44am
OrinKerr:
Mr. Liberal,

Get up on the wrong side of the bed this morning?
2.15.2008 11:53am
Glenn W. Bowen (mail):

that you think your peers are smart probably does not say much


Maybe; but he's saying something.
2.15.2008 12:05pm
Aultimer:
Serious question - how many and what kind of students use ideology (or whatever you want to call conservatism) as a major school selection criteria?

As a Northern Virginia resident, the relevant schools on my list were, in order, Gtown, GW and GMU, and I'm strongly libertarian. Reputation of the school and my intended area of study outweighed every concern other than geography, including cost. Heck, I would have gone to the Domino's U. or Fallwell U. law school if it was in DC and top 20 and happily pretended to agree with the wingnut ideology stuff.
2.15.2008 1:10pm
Sean M:
I am a William &Mary 1L and while I do not regret my choice, I did have a hard time choosing between GMU and W&M. I have no doubt I would have been happy there.
2.15.2008 1:27pm
nooner:
Mr. Liberal: Some people make the choice to go to law school in Washington, D.C. For those who make that choice, there are only two schools ranked above George Mason: Georgetown (at #14), and George Washington (at #22).

Here's a page with the stats on the law schools inside the D.C. Beltway:
http://members.aol.com/alicebeard/thoughts/stats.html
2.15.2008 1:40pm
Zywicki (mail):
Happyshooter:
Steve interviewed me in connection with the book and I gave him comments on a couple of the chapters. One thing I can say for sure is that this is NOT a dry book! The sections I have read are quite well-written and insightful.
2.15.2008 1:42pm
John M. Perkins (mail):
Manne chose a communist model rather than a socialist model?
2.15.2008 2:32pm
Clever Handle:
Other posters have accurately identified the two schools about which I was speaking. No big deal. Obviously Mr. Liberal, I cannot get into say, Harvard, otherwise I would be way too smart to be a conservative! ;)

My point was only that it is fairly typical for law students to matriculate at the highest ranked school (or 'best name') at which they are accepted--as Aultimer illustrates. It seems to me unique that there are at least some GMU students who do not do that.
2.15.2008 2:35pm
John M. Perkins (mail):
I'd argue that it's not uncommon for students to attend a lower ranked school. Since a major factor in ranking is which schools a student attends over another, then it follows that it is "fairly typical for law students to matriculate at the highest ranked school..."

But there a many other factors. I've known many students who have selected Wake Forest over Duke and Oklahoma City over University of Oklahoma because of better trial practice programs, and I've known many students who have selected Mercer over Emory because of the better writing program.

While selecting the Hecht Company* (George Mason) because of law and economics may be special for the student, and yes, all students are special, the fact that a student or many students chose a lower ranked school for its approach is not very special.


* At age 15, my driver's training classes were in the employee breakroom of the Hecht Company, which was later converted, escalator and all, into George Mason School of Law.
2.15.2008 3:20pm
no1special:
Mr. Liberal wakes up on the wrong side of the bed every morning, Orin.

"Chuck Robb is one example that comes to mind as well as some of the sub par writing faculty . . . "

Heh. One of the legal research and writing profs at Mason was the only faculty member who ever responded negatively to learning where I worked at the time. (I'm not going to say where that was, but it's an organization that tends to be popular with conservatives and libertarians.) For a moment it looked like she might faint. It was priceless.
2.15.2008 3:55pm
GMUSL '07 Alum (mail):
Also, Mr. Liberal, even without the in-state tuition (which can make it a no-brainer), the tuition differential is something that a student can't ignore.
2.15.2008 8:53pm
JohnR(VA) (mail):
I worked for years with lawyers of all stripes in D.C. in the Federal government and in trade associations. I was a lobbyist throughout (congressional relations, OK?) and found myself, a guy with only a liberal arts degree, doing legal work a lot of the time. My experience was that most of the time I was better at what had to be done than the lawyers who were available.

So what's all the yakking about law school rankings? Either you've got it or you don't. As MIT proves over and over, a soaring IQ does not necesarily translate into career success. What counts is the ability to write, the ability to communicate, and a decent sense of how to relate to people. (Proof: When I was at the Federal Reserve, the top staff economist, Chuck Partee, did not have a doctorate.)

On the other hand, I did use Covington &Burling heavily on a very important legislative campaign, and C&B's contribution was decisive.
2.16.2008 11:51am
Mr. Liberal:

Get up on the wrong side of the bed this morning?


Yes. But three out of four sides are the wrong side. The only correct side is against a wall.

I am incredibly unlucky.
2.16.2008 1:16pm
Mr. Liberal:
Choosing GMU over Georgetown is foolish. If you care about your career, that is.

I am not saying that is the way it should be. But, its true.
2.16.2008 1:19pm
no1special:
That depends a great deal on what kind of career you hope to have.
2.16.2008 3:29pm
Curt Fischer:

As MIT proves over and over, a soaring IQ does not necesarily translate into career success.


How exactly does MIT prove that soaring IQs may not lead to successful careers? At least, why does MIT prove it better than any other school (or gas station!) that has blindingly smart people who've achieved little career success???
2.16.2008 4:56pm