February 4, 1999
Vol. 18 No. 9

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    Speakers at law symposium to ‘revisit formalism’

    By Jennifer Vanasco
    News Office

    Should law be interpreted by the letter or by the spirit? This is the question that will be asked when the University of Chicago Law Review presents the symposium “Formalism Revisited” Friday, Feb. 5, and Saturday, Feb. 6, in Room V of the Law School.

    “The University has always played a big role in the debate over how formally the law should be interpreted,” said Britton Guerrina, the editor in chief of the Law Review. “For instance, when Soia Mentschikoff and Karl Llewellyn (former faculty members) wrote the Uniform Commercial Code, they believed people in business wanted a flexible set of rules that modeled how businesspeople conduct their relations. However, recent research by some of the professors coming to the symposium challenges this logic and suggests that businesspeople really prefer clear, ‘formal’ rules to govern their relations.”

    What will be interesting about this symposium, added Teal Luthy, an articles editor of the Law Review, is that it will tackle a theoretical question by focusing on a practical perspective. “We hear a constant refrain from the public about how there’s too much tricky lawyering––people get upset when something happens or doesn’t happen because of a ‘legal technicality,’ or when careful legal language is used in court. But this symposium will ask, ‘Is there something about legal technicalities that shouldn’t be dismissed so easily?’ There may be situations in which it is a valuable thing to have a clear set of rules governing how we interpret laws, contracts or other documents.”

    The opening address will be given at 4:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 5, by Lawrence Friedman, the Marion Rice Kirkwood professor of law at Stanford Law School. Closing remarks will be given at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 6, by Frank Michelman, the Robert Walmsley university professor at Harvard Law School.

    Symposium speakers will include Law School faculty members Lisa Bernstein, Professor in Law; Richard Epstein, James Parker Hall Distinguished Service Professor in Law; Saul Levmore, William B. Graham Professor in Law; Cass Sunstein, Karl N. Llewellyn Distinguished Service Professor in Jurisprudence; Adrian Vermeule, Assistant Professor in Law; and David Weisbach, Associate Professor in Law. Other panelists will come from law schools nationwide, including Harvard, Yale and Michigan.

    The symposium is free and open to the public. For a complete schedule, call the Law Review at (773) 702-9492.