AALL Spectrum Blog

  • Bookmark and Share

The AALL Spectrum® blog is published by the American Association of Law Libraries. Submissions from AALL members and other members of the legal community are highly encouraged. Opinions and editorial views expressed are those of the authors and do not represent the official position of AALL. AALL does not assume any responsibility for statements advanced by contributors. Previously, the AALL Spectrum Blog was located at aallspectrum.wordpress.com.

The AALL Spectrum blog is no longer published. Previous posts are archived on this page.
3/20/2013 5:18:36 PM

Book Review: The Mind and Method of the Legal Academic

Smits, Jan M. The Mind and Method of the Legal Academic. Northampton, Mass.: Edward Elgar, 2012. 192p. $110. ISBN: 978-0-85793-654-7.

Law schools have dual and sometimes competing identities. They are striving to both provide professional training to would-be attorneys and produce legal scholarship. Managing this tension between these roles as professional schools and scholarly institutions is a major challenge for legal education. Smits, a law professor in the Netherlands, argues for an independent academic identity for law, or legal science. Smits sees law's claim as an independent academic discipline being challenged.

Smits tries to explain what makes law distinctive a field of academic study. He concludes that law seeks to answer the question, "what ought we to do legally?" Legal studies are inherently normative, and definitive answers are impossible without knowing the jurisdictional and factual context. This means that seeking definite answers about "what the law is" (analogous to what Americans call black-letter law) is less legal scholarship than trade craft.

Smits' question also reflects his view on the nature of law. He rejects both theories of natural law (law exists independently of humans and society) and positive law (law is constructed by society). He views law as the product of natural selection. As traits persist or disappear in species, depending on how well they adapt to the environment, so legal solutions to problems will be adopted or rejected, depending on how well they fit with the circumstances in various jurisdictions.

In Smits's view, legal academics should seek not to find definitive answers to legal questions, but rather articulate and analyze all relevant arguments for deciding how people should behave legally. This open-ended inquiry invites all types of research methods, so no particular methodology should be regarded as intrinsically better than another. Good legal scholarship should be creative and challenge conventional wisdom. While Smits thinks interdisciplinary research should be encouraged, he is concerned that law is limiting itself by focusing on empirical research methods; theoretical and doctrinal methods are also worthwhile.

A professor at Maastricht University, The Netherlands, Smits is mostly thinking of the European legal academy, which is different in some respects from the American legal education system. Law can be studied at the undergraduate level, and research programs are evaluated at both the national and super-national (European Union) levels. American law schools are mentioned a few times, mainly as contrasting examples.

The book has some relevance to American law schools, though, and provides an articulate argument for the value of legal scholarship. Given the pressure on law schools to produce more "practice-ready" graduates, Smits's view of law schools as more of academic institutions than professional training centers will be in the minority for some time.

Overall, the book will fit well in academic collections on legal scholarship or European legal education. Page count should not be a decisive factor for collection development, but at $110 for less than two hundred pages, the book is too expensive for what it offers. The book is not essential for any collection, but it is worth watching for at a lower price.

Benjamin J. Keele, Research and Instructional Services Librarian, Ruth Lilly Law Library, Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law

Posted By Benjamin Keele at 3/20/2013 5:18:36 PM  0 Comments
TOPICS: book reviews
3/18/2013 1:01:16 AM

Book Review: A Legal Framework for Emerging Business Models: Dynamic Networks as Collaborative Contracts

Book Review: A Legal Framework for Emerging Business Models: Dynamic Networks as Collaborative Contracts. Weitzenboeck, Emily M. Edward Elgar, 2012. Hardcover, ISBN: 978-1-78100-465-4. $145. 363 pages.

The first chapter of Emily M. Weitzenboeck’s treatise A Legal Framework for Emerging Business Models: Dynamic Networks as Collaborative Contracts lays the framework for the chapters that follow, describing dynamic networks, explaining organizational evolution trends, and defining the related terminology. I’d say this is the most important part of the book, as these terms and overall concepts are going to be unfamiliar to most U.S. law students, professors, and practitioners without some serious background in theoretical business studies, with an emphasis on technology and a specific interest in international business.

Dynamic networks are relatively recent organizational forms that include “an increased use of joint ventures, subcontracting and licensing activities,” all of which “can be assembled and reassembled in order to meet complex and changing competitive conditions” (9, quoting a cited 1986 article by Miles and Snow). They all include vertical disaggregation, brokers, market mechanisms, and full-disclosure information systems. In much-needed layman's terms, these are business arrangements in which large firms outsource major aspects of their operations to other companies, which puts them at an advantage in competitive markets with multiple organizations battling it out in the same fields.

Weitzenboeck, a Postdoctoral Scholar at the University of Oslo, Norway, in the Norwegian Research Center for Computers & Law, is obviously an expert in the field, but I found myself struggling with the abstract concepts she presented until she turned to more concrete examples with a series of case studies on dynamic networks in various European nations in Chapter 2.

Chapter 3, “The Precontractual Stage,” refers to United States law for the first time in the book, citing the Uniform Commercial Code, the Restatement of Contracts Second, and even a law review article by the venerable contracts treatise author E.A. Farnsworth, all dealing with the obligation of good faith imposed in the performance of every contract. At that point, I can say I’ve never been so relieved to read some U.S. contract law, after encountering so many unfamiliar jurisdictions and their own unique laws, to say nothing of the high-tech business-speak. The “good faith doctrine” comes up throughout the book, including as the focus of a later chapter, as a common factor in most nations’ versions of contract law.

In the end, despite its discussions of contract law, partnership law, and contractual networks, there are so few relevant United States law examples that the majority of U.S. law libraries would not refer to it much, if at all. A typical academic law library would not find much use for this title, unless the law school had an LLM program or other classes in international business law. Law firms engaged in any sort of international business dealing with contracts, especially in highly technical industries, may find it more relevant for their libraries or offices, as would universities with international business and MBA programs. European law libraries and firms would find Weitzenboeck’s book more useful as well.

Louis Rosen is a Reference Librarian and Assistant Professor of Law Library at Barry University School of Law in Orlando, Florida.

Posted By Louis Rosen at 3/18/2013 1:01:16 AM  0 Comments
3/6/2013 11:29:57 AM

Book Review: Greening Libraries

Greening Libraries, by Antonelli, M. and McCullough, M. Library Juice Press, 2012, 270 pages inclusive of author information and index. Softcover, $32, ISBN 978-1-936117-08-6.

The use of the verb “greening” in the title made me think that this book would be a how-to guide for making a library more eco-friendly. It is not. This book is a collection of essays on the subject of green libraries. Mostly, the essays consist of case studies of how specific libraries became more environmentally friendly or adopted environmental policies. Therefore, this book is something a librarian might purchase if they were looking to brainstorm possible ideas for greening rather than a book a librarian would purchase to learn how to implement a green idea.

This book is not geared specifically toward law libraries, but rather libraries of any type. Most of the authors either come from university settings or public library settings. Because of its essay structure rather than how-to orientation, this book may be better suited to an academic collection than a firm or government library collection. However, a few of the essays are good enough to be recommended for a librarian’s personal collection.

The book is divided into three parts, one on green buildings, one on green committees, services and programs, and one on green resources. In my opinion, the most useful essay from the first section is “Greening Libraries in Historic Buildings” by Aldritch, because most law librarian readers will be part of an existing building rather than facing an upcoming construction project and most of the other essays describe how to plan buildings to be green at the design stage. From section two, the most useful essay is the one that describes how East Carolina University created a green committee and the committee successes: “Tending the Garden: Growing Your Own Green Library Committee” by Andresen, Gustavson, Hisle and Reynolds. It is the third section which contains my overall favorite essay of the book. “Beyond Swag: Reflections on Libraries, Pencils, and the Limits of Green Consumerism” by Hudson is an essay that examines our practices of promoting libraries with free products such as pencils and vendor’s free products at conferences. At issue is whether giving out free “green” products can truly be considered green given that green giveaway items are less environmental destructive rather than non-environmentally destructive and that giveaways in general play into the idea that we are consumers who can easily be swayed by collecting an endless number of duplicative items.

The bottom line is that if you’re looking for a practical guide, look elsewhere. But if you’re looking for food for environmental thought, this might be a good place.

Emily Marcum is Law Librarian for the law firm of Lightfoot, Franklin & White, L.L.C. in Birmingham, Alabama.

Posted By Ashley St. John at 3/6/2013 11:29:57 AM  0 Comments
TOPICS: book reviews