The Trajectory of (Corporate Law) Scholarship


While considerable attention is devoted to legal scholarship, little has been written on the process by which academic writing on law evolves. This paper departs from the existing pattern and examines five potential trajectories for legal scholarship. One is based on the idea that knowledge “accumulates” as part of “progress” towards a better understanding of the matters under study. The second is the concept of the “paradigm”, derived from work done on the history and sociology of science. The third focuses on the idea that academic endeavor concerning law yields useful ideas since market forces are at work. The fourth is a “cyclical” thesis, based on the assumption that themes legal scholars write about arise on a reoccurring basis. Finally, legal scholarship can potentially be characterized in terms of fads and fashions.

It appears that scholarly trends in law develop in a manner that is at least partially consistent with each of the five potential trajectories identified. At the same time, none captures fully the dynamics at work and indeed there is some conflict between the various paths available. The paper tests these conjectures by focusing on a particular topic, namely corporate law. The survey offered does not identify one of the five potential trajectories as being dominant. Still, each does help to explain how corporate law scholarship has developed. Correspondingly, for those who are interested in why some ideas prosper whereas other claims “burn out”, this paper offers a “test-driven” analytical framework that can be applied to discern how academic writing on law evolves over time.


Business Organizations Law | Jurisprudence | Legal Education

Date of this Version

August 2003