New Book Explores New Legal Realism and Wisconsin’s Law-in-Action Tradition

Book Cover: Modern Legal RealismFrom UW Law School News:

Wisconsin’s roots in the law-in-action tradition run deep, and the new Research Handbook on Modern Legal Realism could help that philosophy branch out at other law schools.

Edward Elgar Publishing approached Beth Mertz, the John and Rylla Bosshard Professor Emerita, to edit the ambitious, 544-page project. She recruited co-editors Heinz Klug, Evjue-Bascom Professor of Law at UW, and Shauhin Talesh, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine.

Photo: Beth Mertz
Beth Mertz
Photo: Heinz Klug
Heinz Klug

What UW calls “law in action” — how law is applied in the real world — is closely intertwined with legal realism, the interdisciplinary, empirical study of law. Social scientists are the ones leading most law and society research today, and the book was written as an appeal to lawyers and law professors, Klug says. “While legal realism was very successful early on and the law and society movement was an outgrowth of legal realism, the rest of legal society went back to studying the doctrine,” he explains. “But that is not producing a deep understanding of what the law does. Law isn’t just interpreting words on paper — there’s a lot more going on. If you want to produce students who have a deep understanding of how we can transform the law and change the law and make it more just, you have to look at how law functions in the world.”

“This was a movement that started around the turn of the millennium, and it came out of Wisconsin Law School,” Mertz explains. “The reason it got started was that law and economics as a movement had really taken over the law schools in a lot of ways, and it was time for an answer to that. Wisconsin Law has always been a leader in the law and society movement. The whole idea was to take the Madison tradition and the tradition of law and society, and not have one discipline win but have all the disciplines work together to understand law.”

For more information about the book, including a table of contents, see Edward Elgar Publishing.