"This is an exciting time to begin a career in legal scholarship," says Richard Pildes, an undergraduate physical chemistry major who turned to law and then clerked at the Supreme Court. "The study of the nature and function of law has been deepened in recent years through exposure to the insights and techniques of a number of other disciplines. "
Pildes's wide ranging theoretical interests give him special reason to be pleased to be launching his teaching career at the University of Michigan Law School.
"This school has a willingness to move beyond the internal analysis of legal doctrine to examination of broader questions concerning law as a cultural practice and the nature of the legal method more generally," he says, noting that he was particularly impressed that 20 percent of the faculty have joint appointments in other departments.
This winter, Pildes is teaching public law to first year students, a course that has been offered at the Law School only the past two years. He notes that many law schools have begun adding courses in public law to update their curriculum.
"Much of the 20th-century development of law involves the displacement of common law with statutory law, a trend that accelerated even more rapidly in the 1960s and 70s. Today, the law that people deal with in practice - as well as the law affecting individuals in their daily lives - more often originates with legislatures or administrative agencies rather than with courts."
He describes the course "as an attempt to expose students to the materials and facts of legislative processes, to develop understanding of the implications of a realistic view of this process for other institutions, such as courts, and to raise questions about the nature and role of public law generally. The course will range from statutory interpretation, examined from the perspective of modern understandings about the practice of interpretation generally, to considerations of structural reform in democratic institutions. "
Pildes describes himself as interested in "public policy and the role of law in the development of ideas and political culture." He explains, "I hope to teach courses like constitutional law, perhaps federal courts, maybe administrative law." Potential research topics include: "legislative processes and law's simultaneous capacity for both legitimating existing institutional arrangements and for criticizing and transforming those arrangements."
Concern about social issues triggered Pildes's interest in public law - and, in fact, led him away from a promising career in science. "I'd always been torn between a career in science and a career in the humanities," he says.
As an undergraduate at Princeton, he majored in chemistry and won a couple of major chemistry prizes. After graduation, he worked briefly as a research chemist for a firm in Illinois. " But I decided," he says, "that a career in the lab would be too isolating from the kind of ongoing social concerns I had. I came to the law seeking social commitment and change."
At Harvard Law, Pildes was an editor of the Harvard Law Review. He went on to clerk for Judge Abner Mikva of the Court of Appeals, and for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. The latter experience, in particular, enhanced his excitement about the law. "Justice Marshall is one of the great figures of American political life in this century, and experiencing American history through his eyes, as well as developing the perspective on the entire court structure afforded by a year at the Supreme Court, increased my engagement with public law. "
Pildes rounded off his pre-Michigan career by working for the Boston law firm of Foley, Hoag & Eliot, where he concentrated in appellate litigation, including some pro bono litigation. "I knew I wanted to go into teaching," he says, "but I believed some practical experience would provide a better perspective and improve my capacity to train students."
Pildes describes himself as "ecstatic" about the opportunity to teach. "Law school for me was an exhilarating intellectual experience, and I hope I can communicate to students some sense of the power and importance of ideas in the law as well as some excitement about law's capacities."
-- From the University of Michigan Law School's Law Quadrangle Notes, V. 32, Iss. 02 (Winter 1988).
Pildes left Michigan Law in 2001 to join the New York University Law faculty.