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Buffalo Law Review issue a tribute to Schlegel

UB Distinguished Professor John Henry Schlegel.

UB Distinguished Professor John Henry “Jack” Schlegel joined the UB law faculty in 1973.


Published February 18, 2021

“Just talking with him, even as a 1L, I knew that I had ‘brushed up against greatness.’ ”
Kevin Hartnett Jr., third-year law student and editor-in-chief
Buffalo Law Review

The newest issue of the Buffalo Law Review devotes itself to the teaching, scholarship and unique personality of the School of Law’s longest-serving active faculty member.

Serious Fun – A conference with & around Schlegel!,” the Law Review’s second issue of the academic year, collects nine original essays by colleagues and interlocutors of UB Distinguished Professor John Henry Schlegel, a foreword and a closing reflection by Schlegel himself.

Schlegel joined the UB Law faculty in 1973. Generations of students have experienced his broadly informed, yet intensely personal engagement with how law works in our society, and come away challenged to look in new ways at the law and its practice.

The issue grew out of a planned conference in Schlegel’s honor, originally scheduled for spring 2020 and now set to take place this fall, organized by David A. Westbrook, Louis A. Del Cotto Professor, and the Baldy Center for Law and Social Policy. (Typically, papers presented at a conference are then gathered for subsequent publication; the order is reversed in this case because of the coronavirus postponement. Schlegel had insisted that no papers be read at the conference, so they would have been circulated in advance anyway.)

UB Distinguished Professor John Henry Schlegel (left) and President Satish Tripathi.

UB Distinguished Professor of Law John Henry Schlegel (left) and President Satish K. Tripathi at a law school commencement ceremony.

“Serious Fun” as a theme was Schlegel’s idea. “One of the things that Jack has been talking about, and also has embodied, is a sense of intellectual playfulness,” Westbrook says. “Keeping alive a sense of play, of adventure, of possibility has been a huge contribution of Jack’s, and it’s been very important, particularly to younger faculty, who are under professional pressure to conform.”

That playfulness is evident in Schlegel’s work, with titles like “More Crabs, Still No Barrel” and “Does Duncan Kennedy Wear Briefs or Boxers?”

Not to be outdone, contributors to the Law Review issue share their own encounters with Schlegel — personal stories that serve as springboards to a serious appraisal of his life’s work. Contributors include UB colleagues James Gardner, SUNY Distinguished Professor; Alfred Konefsky, UB Distinguished Professor Emeritus; and Professor Matthew Steilen (Westbrook wrote the foreword), as well as scholars from Notre Dame, the University of Virginia, Georgetown, Stanford and Berkeley.

A light touch can’t obscure, though, Schlegel’s influence on the way we see two critical moments in the U.S. legal academy. “Jack has established a dual view of probably the most important legal movement in 20th-century legal history, American Legal Realism,” Westbrook says. “In addition, Buffalo was one of the early centers of Critical Legal Studies, and Jack was both a participant in and an observer and chronicler of that movement. Nobody has done a better job of providing both an inside and an outside view of the whole.”

Kevin Hartnett Jr., a third-year law student who is editor-in-chief of the Buffalo Law Review, inherited the Schlegel publication project from his predecessor in that role. “I was super excited about picking that up as one of our early issues,” he says, “and I thoroughly enjoyed working on this project. It’s an important project for the Law Review and the school.”

The “Serious Fun” theme, he says, was fitting, because “you could tell the authors had serious fun writing it. There are a lot of thought-provoking pieces about legal history and methods of teaching, really thoughtful scholarship written by some high-level authors. But the theme of the issue allowed the authors a little more flexibility to write about interesting topics. They cited their experiences with Professor Schlegel, told some stories, then in really crafty ways tied that into the scholarship.”

Hartnett says he never took a course from Schlegel and had only one encounter with him, back in his first year of law school. “I was leaving O’Brian and there was someone behind me, so I held the door for him, then saw it was Professor Schlegel. And that turned into a conversation that lasted from O’Brian all the way to the parking lot. It was almost as if I entered the conversation halfway through. Just talking with him, even as a 1L, I knew that I had ‘brushed up against greatness.’”