Is Law a Force for Good, or a Source of Trouble?

Publication Date


Streaming Media


One of the great Chicago Ideas of the last hundred years is the insight, or warning, that lawmaking can be captured by selfish players. It would be nice if law always made the planet a better place, but in fact law can ruin lives and civilizations. A well-run legal system can improve the world it governs, but a very similar system can instead do more harm than good. In turn, people develop political tastes and impressions about the proper role of law. Some are quick to want legal solutions to problems, while others are inclined to be suspicious of new law or more law. A central aim of a good law school education is to learn to distinguish between legal rules and methods that are likely to do good and those more likely to be costly, annoying, or even disastrous.

Law often does good work by knowing when to constrain (or empower) private actors. This inaugural (2017-18) “Chicago’s Best Ideas” luncheon, will begin with unremarkable ways that law controls overreaching private enterprises. It then moves to harder questions, like the conflict between taxi companies and Uber, or the performance of private universities (or healthcare systems) as compared to public one. The goal is to develop a sophisticated understanding of law’s capacity to do good, and to raise one of the most important questions for new lawyers—how do we assess law itself?

Lecture Date

January 1, 2017