Professor Brian Leiter is mad as hell, and he’s not going to take it anymore.
Professor Leiter, you see, is a blogger. Because he’s pretty well-known in the legal realm (mostly for his law school rankings), he gets mail. And one of his recent posts on “thinking like a lawyer” spurred this feisty little note from a reader:
You’re a “Law and ______” Professor, not a lawyer. How would you know how to ‘think like a lawyer’?
Leiter’s response was to send a decidedly punchy email back to the reader that labels him “insolent,” “impertinent[,] and juvenile.” Leiter then went a step further and evidently copied the entire email exchange to the partners of the young reader’s firm, all while questioning whether the reader was a lawyer himself. (“I’m not a lawyer? No you!”) Leiter’s response post then piles on with the insults, calling the reader “insolent,” “unprofessional,” “malicious,” and “stupid[.]” And in the process, Leiter declares that he’s ”going to be posting a bit more about some alleged legal professionals whose on-line conduct deserves to be aired in public.” Yowsa.
Leiter’s response puts me in the interesting position of agreeing with Professor David Bernstein. Bernstein notes that Leiter has something of a history of using inflammatory language of his own. How then can Leiter take offense?
But I think there are better reasons to say that Leiter went too far, here. At the risk of drawing Leiter’s ire, I’d like to briefly note them.
First, bloggers should expect some degree of criticism. I think it’s fair to ask for civility. But I don’t think it’s fair to react to a relatively tame–if rather snarky–email with a response that was intended to do affirmative harm to the writer’s career. When people attack things that Susan and I write, we ignore it or delete it. Nothing more is needed.
Second, and perhaps more importantly, I find it odd indeed that Leiter never responds to the inartfully-worded question. The point raised by the reader was a simple one: “How do you know how to think like a lawyer, when you haven’t practiced as a lawyer?” (Leiter apparently practiced only briefly, for a few months at a large law firm.) And Leiter responds:
“Thinking like a lawyer” refers to a style of reasoning and analysis that is exemplified in the law section of appellate briefs and in judicial opinions; I assume you must be familiar with both genres. It encompasses, for example, the use of analogical reasoning to distinguish precedents or propose extensions or developments of existing doctrine, but also involves techniques of statutory and constitutional construction, the use of arguments from authority, facility with the law/fact distinctions, and so on. Again, merely looking at the chapter headings of Schauer’s book Thinking Like a Lawyer would illuminate this apparently opaque topic for you. Alternatively, you might read Edward Levi’s classic book An Introduction to Legal Reasoning; Mr. Levi was the former Dean of my Law School, as well as former Attorney General of the United States.
Judging from Leiter’s answer, he thinks that he knows how think like a lawyer because he read a book. (Ok, two books.) Isn’t that troubling? Isn’t the young reader then raising a fair point, asking whether the credentials and rhetoric employed by law professors really mean much? Couldn’t Leiter have engaged that point without the insults?
I guess not.
I find that inability disappointing coming from a well-educated scholar like Leiter. And I hope he will not deem me “insolent” for saying so.