Serious Fun: A conference with & around Schlegel!

The Del Cotto Professorship, The Baldy Center for Law and Social Policy, and the Buffalo Law Review are pleased to announce publication of the symposium issue Serious Fun: A conference with & around Schlegel!  Essays focus on legal and economic history, legal scholarship, and teaching. Serious Fun is being planned. The 2021 symposium issue is here.


Organizing Sponsor: David A. Westbrook

Having Serious Fun — History/Ideas/Law

Notes by Jack Schlegel:  Most of what I have written, and in a real sense taught, has been an attempt to use history, including contemporary history, and critique as tools to understand why legal education and educators, legal theory and legal practices are so strange. In doing so, I have always been very serious, but always been having, and more than occasionally making, fun.

Where did I get this odd set of objectives? The answer is easy. Almost everything I have done as a scholar and teacher can be traced back to law school, which bored me shitless because it seemed to be not at all related to the law I had experienced from reading newspapers and magazines. I couldn’t imagine why I was supposed to care about what my teachers thought about legal doctrine, especially since they were almost all so dour when talking about what often seemed to be pillow fights. And the categories they used to organize their world were weird, though not dangerous. In contrast to what they wanted me to learn, I just wanted to know how law operated in the worlds inside and outside of its practice. To make things worse, somehow, somewhere, I had acquired this notion that learning was supposed to be fun, and no one in law school was having any fun. 

Legal Realism, which I first learned about in law school, mostly on my own, seemed to me to be a rather powerful critique of legal education and legal educators, not that I then knew what “critique” really meant — a driving though in order to seek the fundament of a practice, and though I did not then and do not now associate that intellectual activity with any particular politics. Learning about Realism reinforced my interest in how law operated in the world, as did a later exposure to realism’s heirs in the early Law and Society movement. But, what I did not understand back in law school was that my interest in Realism was the expression of my interest in history more generally as a way of understanding law’s operation in the world.

All of these things — History, Law and Society scholarship, and Critical Legal Studies — allowed me to work seriously at understanding law’s operation in the world, but ultimately all of these categories in academic life seemed too confining. So, over time, I have come to embrace the essay form because it allowed me to have fun, to mix academic categories up in ways that seemed sensible to me, but I suppose, bewildering to those who found one or the other of them sufficiently capacious. For bewildering my friends I am truly sorry, but I still smile when I remember all the fun I have had doing so. So, what I would ask is to gather together some of my friends, young and old, who are willing to try to have serious fun thinking about History/Law/Ideas in a critical essay form, in an attempt to think truly, while at the same time driving through, about anything other than legal doctrine, and maybe even about that, and surely even at my expense.

Illustration, 1904, Puck Magazine Cover, courtesy of U.S. Library of Congress; 2020 DK digital image remix for the Baldy Center.

Illustration: 1904, Puck Magazine Cover, courtesy of U.S. Library of Congress; 2020 DK digital image remix for the Baldy Center.


The current list of conference participants includes but is not limited to: Aviva Abramovskey, Samantha Barbas, Charles Barzun, Anya Bernstein, Guyora Binder, Michael Boucai, Irus Braverman, Barry Cushman, Matt Delaney, David Engel, Daniel Ernst, James Gardner, Bob Gordon, Tom Headrick, Wythe Holt, Al Katz, Fred Konefsky, Janet Lindgren, Errol Meidinger, Betty Mensch, Jack Schlegel, Matt Steilen, Christopher Tomlins, David A. Westbrook, Amy Deen Westbrook, and Edward White. (This list is subject to change)


The event, Serious Fun: A conference with & around Schlegel!, is made possible by The Baldy Center for Law and Social Policy, and David A. Westbrook, Louis A. Del Cotto Professor, UB School of Law.