10 questions with ‘Schools for Misrule’ author Walter Olson

Walter Olson is the author of “Schools for Misrule: Legal Academia and an Overlawyered America,” just released last week.

Olson, who is currently a senior fellow at the Cato Institute’s Center for Constitutional Studies and founder of the online blog Overlawyered.com, has been called the “intellectual guru of tort reform” by The Washington Post. He has written for The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, among many other major publications, and has appeared as a commentator on numerous television shows, most interestingly “Oprah.”

He is also the author of three other books on legal issues and the American legal system.

Olson recently agreed to answer 10 questions from The Daily Caller about his new book:

1. Why did you decide to write the book?

I’d written three books about the destructive, sometimes zany excesses of our legal system. I knew most bad trends in the law are driven by bad ideas in the law schools. But I couldn’t find a book that told the story of how and why this keeps happening.

2. You write that the ideas taught at America’s top law schools are catastrophic for America. What are some of the ideas that you think are so harmful?

Many destructive areas of litigation in the courts today can be traced to very specific ideas that came into vogue in law schools. Take “educational equity.” Most states at this point have experienced court takeovers of education funding that have undercut local control of schools and shifted power to state governments and to organized provider groups such as teachers’ unions. Then there’s environmental impact review — the paralytic style of litigation that ties project planning up in knots without actually distinguishing good projects from bad. More recently you have the slavery reparations movement, a very destructive movement indeed, which drew much of its intellectual firepower from law profs at Harvard and elsewhere. The courts swatted that one down pretty quickly, and my book tells why. But an article in the Maine Law Review proposing the revival of Indian land claims in the Northeast touched off forty years of hurtful and largely futile litigation.

Incidentally, all four of the legal movements I just named drew support from the Ford Foundation’s big decades-long program of philanthropy aimed at using law schools to change the legal system. That’s part of the story too.

3. Why do you think the number one profession in Congress is lawyer? Is that good for society?

Lawyers have been rising to the top in America since Tocqueville’s day. But only in the second half of the 20th Century, I would argue, did the profession’s intellectual leaders begin to see lawyers as society’s natural governing class. One reason this is dangerous is that — as University of Tennessee law prof Benjamin Barton shows in an excellent new book — lawyers and judges display much class solidarity in arranging rules so as to advance lawyers’ interests, favoring legal complexity that itself creates a wider call for lawyers’ services.