Legal Schools of Thought – Taxonomy or Folksonomy

Elmer Masters

I was having a very interesting discussion with Elmer Masters about how law faculty categorize what they do and how they think during the creation of legal education and scholarship. One high-level categorization system could be the "school of thought" that is being promulgated within the lecture, article or case commentary or analysis.

As a non-lawyer, I am only dimly aware of the concrete categories, but as a developer of social software pertaining to legal education, I am in need of understanding much more about what these categories are and how concrete they are.

A google search on "legal schools of thought" brings up some semi-familiar terms – even to me…

  • the Chicago school
  • feminist jurisprudence (via Wex which is looking more and more interesting every day!)
  • critical legal studies (via Wikipedia)
  • legal positivism
  • natural law
  • legal process
  • law and economics

…and this was from looking only at the summaries that Google provides on the first two pages of search results. I realize that I am scratching the surface here because while I do want these top level categories of ‘schools of thought; I am actually more interested in ‘schools of thought’ that are even more narrowly construed – down to specific legal subject areas or doctrines within specific topics of those subject areas.

It is at this point that I realize I am encountering exactly what 1Ls encounter as they seek the black and white and find only shades of grey and that some of these shades of grey have been around long enough to attract a name – a small school of thought (thoughtlette?).

I wonder if law faculty (or lawyers and judges for that matter) have generalized agreement on the boundaries of these schools of thought. As I think of my own profession – computer science – I realize … of course they do … but it would be rather difficult to find in one place all the mini-schools of thought in all of the different computer-related fields. It must be so in law as well.

So this is the mini-research project I have assigned myself. Find and list all of the major legal schools of thought (Wex and Wikipedia have bolstered my optimism) and talk to faculty in specific subject areas (Torts, Copyright, Criminal law, etc, etc.) about the schools of thought that exist below the surface of these major topics.

Why do this?

The articulation of this information is useful in constructing social software that is immediately recognizably useful to law faculty and valuable to law students – that is what CALI does.

It is quite possible, however, that the best articulation will be accompished via a bottom-up process, i.e. a folksonomy that is gradually built via many small encounters with material by many individuals like That is actually a good metaphor for what I seek – a of legal schools of thought tags.

Can you assist?

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