Monday, February 19, 2007


The other day I received a blogosphere welcome from Jim Chen, Dean of Law at University of Louisville. Lest you think I routinely have friends in high places, I first made an "Internet connection" with Professor Chen through his blog, Jurisdynamics.

I don't remember exactly how I stumbled across his site, but I've found it to be incredibly insightful and thought-provoking on, among other things, the law as it relates to disasters. The site is actually about "the interplay between legal responses to exogenous change and the law's own endogenous capacity for adaptation."


That sounds pretty heavy, but my interpretation (and I hope Dean Chen or his colleagues will correct me if I'm wrong) is that Jurisdynamics deals with the law's application towards, and evolution around, a rapidly changing and complicated society. Since we can't expect any single judge, lawyer, or lawmaker to be an expert on the many developments in technology, computers, communications, complex nonlinear systems, medicine and healthcare, even sociology and mathematics, we need to make sure that the legal system can be flexible enough to accomodate new situations. After all, at the risk of getting classically philosophical, what is the purpose of law, if not to serve the good of common society?

So Jurisdynamics is nothing if not interdisciplinary. But it's also fairly down-to-earth. You won't see (many) obscure Latin phrases, high-falutin' references to so-and-so court cases, and such. It's about ideas; it's about practical concerns. It's not concerned with impressing anyone; it is concerned with exploring issues.

And though I've never personally met the man, I get the impression that Jim Chen is much the same. Go to the site and peruse his CV: Fulbright Scholar; Harvard Law School; clerk for Justice Clarence Thomas; visiting professor in France, Germany, and Slovakia; 91 published papers or chapters; and now, dean of a law school. I stand in awe of this man's accomplishments in his field. But look at the papers he's written: the titles are full of witty cultural references: "A Vision Softly Creeping," "Come Back to the Nickel and Five," "Midnight in the Courtroom of Good and Evil," and my favorite, "The Sound of Legal Thunder: The Chaotic Consequences of Crushing Constitutional Butterflies." (Five points to the first reader who correctly identifies that last reference!) And I get the impression he has great respect for the English language, not as a crude tool for hammering out papers, but as an art form, as an elegant vehicle for complex thoughts.

I see Dean Chen and his CV and his intellectual curiosity and breaking boundaries, and I can't but help to admire him. That is what I aspire to, professionally speaking. That is one reason I want you to check out his blog. (Note: I say "his" blog, but in giving credit where it is due, I want to point out that Jursidynamics is not a solo effort, but rather the collaborative work of an exceptional cohort of scholars.)

The other reason? If you have any interest in Katrina, the failed response, and the stumbling recovery, you need to keep up with his site. It won't go into every breaking news item--just the important ones, and how the law can either help or hinder current and future efforts.


brockton said...

How's this for a coincidence - I took a class from Chen. Totally brilliant and a super guy all around. I didn't know he'd changed schools. Congratulations, Dean Chen!

DavidA said...

Ray Bradbury wrote "A Sound of Thunder" which is a sci-fi short story about the Butterfly Effect (small changes in initial conditions lead to large unpredictable changes)

Dr Scott said...

Excellent, davida!
Here are your five points:
. . . . .

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