Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Why Not Law and Psychology?

In partial response to Simon’s comments, it is probably true that psychology is a disfavored discipline in law compared to economics, and even to certain other social sciences such as sociology. On the other hand, the harder question than “why not more psychology in law classes” may be “why not more social sciences in law teaching, when there is so much in legal scholarship”? Interdisciplinary legal scholarship has been growing in prominence for years, and it’s probably long past time to recognize that it has become part of the mainstream. But why don’t we see that much of it in the classroom? In other words, why do law students and the practicing bar not see law and psychology, or socio-legal studies, or legal anthropology, as “real” law, but as abstract, “academic” matters?

Part of the problem is that the social sciences are treated instrumentally by practitioners. Psychology is not a “real” discipline with real knowledge, but something you pay an expert witness for. Lawyers are forced by the nature of their professional practice to view the social sciences skeptically, and not to take them seriously.

Economics is different, of course, for several reasons. Legal anthropologists don’t get appointed to the federal judiciary; legal economists do. That in itself gives economics a weight and influence that other social sciences do not have. Also, I suspect that psychology and sociology, at least as applied in the courts, tend to come out on the plaintiff’s side, while economics tends to favor corporate interests and the heavily insured.

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