Some of the nation’s most respected scholars in the field of contract law gathered at a “festschrift” symposium last weekend to celebrate the exceptional contributions of Stanford Law School Professor Richard Craswell to academia and share original research inspired by his insights.
“This is what we do when we want to honor a Hall of Famer. We get together and write papers,” explained M. Elizabeth Magill, the Richard E. Lang Professor of Law and dean of the law school, during the celebratory dinner on Friday in Paul Brest Hall at Stanford Law School. The event was co-sponsored by the law school and the Stanford Law Review.
The evening started on a light note with an original serenade in honor of Craswell’s quirky habit of setting his observations about contract law to different types of music, ranging from sea chanties and drinking songs to themes from classic musicals and westerns. Seven colleagues sang “I’ll Be Suing You” to the tune of “I’ll Be Seeing You,” accompanied by flute and guitar – with footnotes appended to lyrics shown on a big screen. Stanford Law School colleague and chorister Professor Alison Morantz later lauded Craswell as “the Cole Porter of legal academia with no significant rivals.” Morantz conceived the idea of the festschrift and handled the arrangements with help from Professor Barbara Fried.
Currently the William F. Baxter – Visa International Professor of Law, Richard Craswell is a leading scholar of the economics and jurisprudence of contract law. Since arriving at Stanford Law School in 1998, and in prior professorships at the University of Chicago Law School and University of Southern California Law Center, as well as six years as an attorney with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, he has achieved recognition as an expert in all aspects of commercial law, including commercial paper and secured credit, as well as antitrust and consumer protection law.
The symposium, titled “Who Knows? Law in an Information Society,” was the largest one in recent years presented by the Stanford Law Review (SLR), according to SLR President Michael Mestitz (JD ’15). He said virtually everyone who was invited agreed to come. As a result, 25 leading scholars in law and economics, contracts, commercial law, antitrust law and related topics attended the discussions and presentations.
Five new papers presented at the symposium will appear in the June issue of the Stanford Law Review. They are:
- “The Rule of Probabilities” by Ian Ayres of Yale Law School and Barry Nalebuff of Yale School of Management
- “Information and the Aim of Adjudication: Truth or Consequences?” by Louis Kaplow of Harvard Law School
- “Regulating for Rationality” by Alan Schwartz of Yale Law School
- “Debiasing Through Law and the First Amendment” by Christine Jolls of Yale Law School
- “What Do People Know (and Think They Know) About Contract Formation?” by Tess Wilkinson-Ryan of the University of Pennsylvania Law School and David A. Hoffman of Temple University Beasley School of Law
Craswell’s generous spirit
A recurring theme throughout the festschrift was Craswell’s generosity in critiquing colleagues’ scholarship with their best interests at heart. “It’s as if he crosses over from his intellectual terrain to your island and spends time there,” explained Morantz, praising his “almost uncanny” ability to “offer insights as an insider.”
Noting that she first met Craswell at the University of Chicago Law School when she was on the entry-level job market, Magill said that during a private meeting with him to discuss her paper, “he was inside my head” and “showed a level of empathy for my intellectual framework that was exceptional.” She said she felt “cheated” because she was new to law teaching and “I thought that all law professors were like that.” At the dinner she told Craswell, “You are the best of what we can possibly be as colleagues and scholars.”
Margaret Jane Radin, a professor of law at University of Michigan Law School, recalled that when she and Craswell were colleagues at the University of Southern California, he never said anything injudicious or lost his temper, never angled for a good recommendation or a prize, and even left his contracts notes for the newcomer. “He’s this wonderful human being and he acts like he doesn’t know that,” she marveled.
Larry Kramer, former dean of the law school and current president of the Hewlett Foundation said Craswell is “the definition of class“ and was exceptional because “anything you needed done he would do and he would do well and thoroughly.”
Associate Dean and Law Professor George Triantis focused on Craswell’s academic contributions, declaring, “There are different types of intellectual giants. Some cast long shadows in the field, while others shine sunlight that helps the rest of us find our way and find the paths to make our own contributions. My personal gratitude to Dick lies here, and I know that many others can report similar experiences.”
Triantis credited Craswell with helping to keep the field of contract law dynamic. He said Craswell’s classic work, “Contract Law, Default Rules and the Philosophy of Promising,”published in 1989, “may have produced the greatest impact in our field by clarifying and mapping for us the understanding of philosophical and economic perspectives on contract enforcement.” He commended Craswell’s “Against Fuller and Perdue” paper in 2000 as leading the field away from a dead end and opening up a bright, new framework for thinking about damages.
Triantis also cited Craswell’s generous and open-minded response to Eric Posner’s 2003 paper arguing that economic analysis had failed contract law. Acknowledging how complicated the field was, Craswell heralded “attempts to come to grips with what are, in my view the questions that really matter. As I see it, shedding any light at all on those questions is a useful contribution, whether or not we are able to produce a complete and definitive answer.”
“A lively and productive academic field needs bomb throwers,” Triantis said. “But we also need people who come in, clear the rubble or crumbling structures, and show us the way to construct a sharper and more useful understanding of complex questions that really matter, in contracts and elsewhere.” He concluded, “As a most esteemed, charitable colleague to all of us, Dick, you have and will continue to be a source of intellectual rigor and light.”
Craswell was characteristically modest when he spoke briefly at the end of the evening. Citing Lou Gehrig’s famous retirement speech in which he focused on his good fortune, Craswell thanked his colleagues and said simply, “When it comes to the luck department, I really have been lucky.”