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What Do Lawyers Contribute to Law and Economics?

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The law-and-economics movement has transformed the analysis of private law in the United States and, increasingly, around the world. As the field developed from 1970 to the early 2000s, scholars have developed countless insights about the operation and effects of law and legal institutions. Throughout this period, the discipline of law-and-economics has benefited from a partnership among trained economists and academic lawyers. Yet the tools that are used derive primarily from economics and not law. A logical question thus demands attention: what role do academic lawyers play in law-and-economics scholarship? In this Essay, we offer an interpretive theory of the practice of law-and-economics scholarship over the past 50 years that recognizes the distinct methodological tools of the academic lawyer. We claim that, in addition to the legal resources they provide to the economic analyst, academic lawyers have cognizable analytical skills, developed through their involvement in law as an applied discipline and their mastery of the common lawʼs analogical method of argument. We draw on the idea of analogical argument to explain some of the differences in the ways that economists and lawyers analyze some of the building blocks of our economy, including the relationship between formal and informal modes of enforcement and the reasons why inefficient boilerplate terms persist in certain standardized contracts. By enriching the standard economic model with insights from other disciplines and clarifying the connections among these disciplines, the lawyer provides skills that are critically important for advancing normative claims.