The Mind and Method of the Legal Academic

The Mind and Method of the Legal Academic

Jan M. Smits

Jan Smits assesses the recent turn away from doctrinal research towards a more empirical and theoretical way of legal investigation and offers a fresh perspective on what it is that legal academics should deal with and how they should do it. The book also considers the consequences which follow for the organization of the legal discipline by universities and uses this context to discuss the key questions of the internationalization of law schools, quality assessments, legal education and the research culture.


Jan M. Smits

Subjects: law - academic, comparative law, legal philosophy, legal theory, research methods in law


This book began with the observation that the aims, methods and organization of legal scholarship have received a lot of attention in the last few years. What followed can be seen as an attempt to cope with this ‘identity crisis’. This synopsis does not offer a detailed summary of that attempt but, instead, highlights four key points, which in my view are essential if we are to take legal scholarship seriously and avert the crisis that confronts legal scholars. First, a clearer vision of the tasks assigned to legal scholarship is required. Legal academics can pursue different goals but, in my view, the core of their discipline is the question, ‘What are people legally obliged to do?’ The accompanying research method is to identify and to think through arguments for and against certain solutions and to see whether these arguments can be accepted or not in the normative setting of a specific jurisdiction. Existing jurisdictions are thus seen as ‘laboratories’ in dealing with conflicting normative positions. One need not accept this specific interpretation of the task of legal science to recognize that a clearer formulation of its aim is needed. The legal discipline will otherwise remain a pariah in the company of other academic disciplines that can describe precisely what is at their core.

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