Sociology of Law

Course Description: In this course we will examine the role of law in American society, particularly the relationship between legal and other institutions. The course readings will address the tensions between the law as an equalizing force versus the law as hierarchy, prompting students to ask questions like, Does law merely reflect the values and goals of society? Does it have its own force and autonomy? Does law exist primarily to serve the status quo, or does law effect social change? We will begin with an overview of the American legal structure and culture. With that background, we will then turn to classical and contemporary theoretical approaches to making sense of the law. Next we will take up a detailed examination of lawyers and the legal profession. Finally, we will look at how legal institutions help bring about social change.

Class Format and Participation:
Socratic Method: For the first half of the semester, we will be utilizing the Socratic Method, a form of question-and-answer still dominant in its various forms in the law school classroom. The effort is a cooperative one in which the teacher and students work to understand an issue more completely. The goal is to learn how to reason by analogy, to think critically about one’s own arguments and those put forth by others, and to understand the effect of the law on those subject to it. Socratic discourse requires participants to articulate, develop and defend positions that may at first be imperfectly defined intuitions.

Unlike many law professors, I will not call on students cold. I will give you a few hours to prepare emotionally for being called on by notifying you via text or email ahead of time. However, this will not be enough time to analytically prepare. I do expect, as law professors do, that everyone will prepare written responses to basic interrogatories about the articles (what were the methods, what is the theoretical background, what type of analyses did they do to answer their research question, etc.) that students can draw on during their oral presentation. When you come to class I will assume that you are fully prepared and willing to discuss the readings assigned for that day. Such preparation should facilitate greater participation even for students who are unsure about speaking in class.

The readings will consist solely of articles taken from the journal of the interdisciplinary Law and Society Association, Law and Society Review. In doing so, we will be paralleling the law school practice of learning the law by reading appellate cases, except in our case we will be reading and dissecting sociological (and sometimes other disciplines) analyses of legal phenomenon. Although these articles are sometimes lengthy, this is not a lot of reading. I have chosen this so that we may do a close reading of only one article at a time – a thorough examination of the author’s reasoning, methods, findings, and the implications of the work. It might take a little time to get used to doing this type of reading (rather than a general skimming of several topics a week), but it will, I hope, be ultimately very rewarding in helping you to think about the construction and execution of sociological arguments.

Student-Led Discussion: In the second half of the semester, two students will take turns leading class discussions on the reading for that week. Currently, I use two books:

Schleef, Managing Elites: Professional Socialization in Law and Business School (2006).
Caringella, Addressing Rape Reform in Law and Practice (2008).

Debate: At the end of the semester, teams of four members, two on each side, will be organized to present a legal-style debate at the end of the semester. Debates will address one of several current constitutional issues (e.g., drug testing, hate speech, flag burning, internet censorship, assisted suicide, cloning, same-sex marriage, “Megan’s law,” legalizing drug use, etc.) Each side will collect research to support their argument, and have five minutes to present the argument and five minutes for rebuttal. We will organize teams and discuss the debate requirements midway through the semester.

Requirements and Course Evaluation

Four five page papers 50%
Socratic Method 20%
Student-Led Discussion 10%
Class Participation 5%
Debate 15%