The Law and Economics and Critical Legal Studies Movements in American Law

  • Gary Minda
Part of the Recent Economic Thought Series book series (RETH, volume 19)


One of the most striking new developments in American legal thought has been the almost simultaneous emergence of two new intellectual “movements” in law-law and economics, and critical legal studies. The title, law and economics, as used in this chapter describes the work of legal-economic scholars who appeared on the academic scene in the early 1970s located primarily at the University of Chicago. There they developed a “new” methodology for doing economic analysis of law. What is new about law and economics is that its practitioners apply concepts developed in the theory of microeconomics, and in a branch of microeconomics called welfare economics, to systematically describe, reformulate, and critique nearly every aspect of law and the legal system. A central claim of the new law and economics is that the entire legal system can be analyzed and reformed through the application of a relatively small number of fundamental economic concepts [1].


Supra Note Legal Scholar Legal Thought Legal Realist Critical Legal Study 
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  1. 1.
    By far the most influential work seeking to demonstrate the idea that economic analysis can be instrumentally applied to law “across the board” is Posner, Richard A., Economic Analysis of Law (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1986).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Critical legal studies emerged as an identifiable movement in American law with the foundation of the Conference on Critical Legal Studies in 1977. For a social history of the critical legal studies movement see Schlegal, John H., “Notes Toward an Intimate, Opinionated and Affectionate History of the Conference on Critical Legal Studies,” Stanford Law Review, Vol. 36, Nos. 1 & 2 (January 1984), pp. 391–411. For psycho-social history commenting on the “state of the movement,” see Kennedy, Duncan, “Psycho-Social CLS: A Comment on the Cardozo Symposium,” Cardozo Law Review, Vol. 6 (1984–85), pp. 1013–1031. The intellectual component of CLS is described in Unger, Roberto M., “The Critical Legal Studies Movement,” Harvard Law Review, Vol. 96, No. 3 (January 1983), pp. 563–675. For a bibliography of CLS scholarship see Kennedy, Duncan, and Klare, Karle E., “A Bibliography of Critical Legal Studies,” Yale Law Journal, Vol. 94 (1984–85), pp. 461–463.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Law and economics and critical legal studies are richly diverse intellectual movements involving a multitude of individual views, methodologies, “schools,” and diverse theoretical traditions. For a recent attempt to describe the different views of the two movements in a preliminary way see, Fiss, Owen M., “The Death of the Law?,” Cornell Law Review, Vol. 72, No. 1 (November, 1986), pp. 1–16; Minow, Martha L., “Law Turning Outward,” Telos, Vol. 73 (Fall, 1987), pp. 79–100; Kornhauser, Lewis A., “The Great Image of Authority,” Stanford Law Review, Vol. 36, Nos. 1 & 2 (January 1984), pp. 349–389. See also, Posner, Richard A., “The Decline of Law as an Autonomous Discipline: 1962–1987,” Harvard Law Review, Vol. 100, No. 4 (February 1987), pp. 761–780.Google Scholar
  4. 3.a
    The law and economics movement is frequently identified with the Chicago school of economics which is associated with the work of conservative economists trained or working at the University of Chicago. Practitioners of the Chicago school tend to view law and the legal system as merely a supplement to the market, a necessary but minor vehicle for perfecting market-like solutions. See Minda, Gary, “The Lawyer-Economist at Chicago: Richard A. Posner and the Economic Analysis of Law,” Ohio State Law Journal, Vol. 39 (1978), pp. 439–475. See also Ackerman, Bruce A., “Symposium of Law and Economics-Foreward: Talking and Trading,” Columbia Law Review, Vol. 85, No. 5 (June 1985), pp. 899–904. There are, however, other “schools” within law and economics that exhibit different perspectives. The New Haven school, of Yale University, for instance, has attracted liberal practitioners who adopt the common methodology of the Chicago school but believe that there is a larger need for state intervention in order to cure problems involving market failure. See Fiss, supra note 3. What is common about the Chicago and New Haven schools, however, is that both can be seen to be working within the liberal tradition of economics. Attempts to describe the general themes and vision of the law and economics movement have also been more successful in that these scholars seem to agree on a common methodology.Google Scholar
  5. 3.b
    Critical legal studies is even harder to pin down since practitioners of this movement do not appear to share a common methodology, but are united instead by their political and social alliances. The intellectual basis for this movement includes a number of diverse theoretical traditions. The common thread within this movement which distinguishes itself from law and economics is that CLS explicitly adopts methodologies and approaches which are characteristically nonliberal in their origin and orientation. For a description of the views expressed within the CLS movement see Fitzpatrick, Peter, and Hunt, Allen (eds.), Critical Legal Studies (New York: Basil Blackwell, 1987).Google Scholar
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  28. 24.a
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  29. 25.
    The two movements also project vastly different views about the nature and purpose of legal scholarship. CLS members, for example, have claimed that traditional legal scholarship has helped create and legitimate a world that tolerates wide discrepancies in wealth, class and social position. See Kennedy, Duncan, “Cost-Reduction Theory as Legitimatation,” Yale Law Journal Vol. 90 (1981), p. 1275. These scholars seeks to develop a new form of radical legal scholarship which is committed to a form of theory that shares a dialectical relation with radical practice. The objective of such work is to transform the prevailing legal consciousness of traditional scholars. Law and economic scholars, on the other hand, are much more traditional in their views about scholarship. These scholars argue that legal scholarship should be more like the natural sciences-that legal scholarship should concentrate on formulating and then testing falisifiable, law-like generalizations about social life. See generally, Tushnet, supra note 15, pp. 1211–1223.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1989

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  • Gary Minda

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