Conversation with John Marshall Student and Legal Scholar, Jake Crabbs

Photo courtesy: Jake Crabbs.
Photo courtesy: Jake Crabbs.

Jake Crabbs presented a paper at the Braniff Graduate School of the University of Dallas on January 30th, 2016. The title of his paper was The Poetics of American Common Law. Jake sat down with the Decisive Utterance to discuss the subject of his scholarship and his experience with presenting his paper. Below is an account of that conversation, which has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Decisive Utterance: What is the 2016 Braniff Conference in the Liberal Arts and how did you learn about the opportunity to present a paper there?

Jake Crabbs: The Braniff Conference in the Liberal Arts is an opportunity to present papers at the graduate school’s annual conference on a specific area of the liberal arts. The theme of this year’s conference was Philosophy and Poetry. I have some friends who are working on their PhD’s at Braniff and one of them posted a call for papers on his Facebook wall. I wrote him and let him know that I was interested in submitting a paper. He connected me with the selection committee who asked me to submit an abstract. They accepted my abstract and I wrote my paper around it.

DU: The Poetics of American Common Law is an interesting title. What do you believe is the connection between the law and poetry?

JC: It’s simple really. Common law is better suited to express eternal truths then statutes. This is because the common law definitions are traditionally more poetic. The poets of antiquity aimed to express eternal truths about the relationship between human beings and nature, and human beings and one another.

Aristotle distinguished between particular and general laws, or laws of the city and laws for all. The former addresses the particular values of a society and the latter are rules which are common to all societies. Like prohibitions against matricide, something that is repugnant to all people, everywhere.
General laws get at universal truths of human behavior. According to John Locke, when human beings act rationally, they act according to natural laws. These natural laws can be under- stood as universal truths about human beings and their place in the world. As long as the government doesn’t interfere with the rights of its citizens to behave rationally, it is acting in accordance with this notion of natural law. Common law definitions recognize this tension between reason and universal truths and are therefore poetic in the classical sense of the word.

DU: What was covered in your presentation and how was it received?

JC: I mostly talked about my thesis and answered questions from the audience. I was able to deliver it off the cuff and it was very well received. The audience was engaged and I was able to get quite a few laughs as well.

DU: Do you feel like your legal training prepared you to deliver a presentation at a conference of this kind?

JC: I do. Most of the other presenters were PhD students. They were presenting works in progress. They were more or less just putting ideas out there and not all of their presentations hit the mark. I feel like the positive response my presentation received was owed in part to the fact that I’m trained in the art of argument. This helped me focus what I had to say and allowed me to read the reactions of the crowd and feed off their energy. It was a lot of fun.

DU: Would you recommend other John Marshall students submit papers and attend conferences when possible?

JC: Yes. I found it to be a really good experience. It’s low pressure way to do some legal scholarship. These types of experiences can broaden your horizons and put you in touch with some very smart and interesting people. I would definitely recommend other students submit papers and attend conferences when the opportunity arises. It doesn’t hurt that it looks great on your resume as well.

By Michael Reed


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