History

Founded in 1961, the Center for the Study of Law and Society was created to foster interdisciplinary research about legal institutions, legal processes, legal change, and the social consequences of law.  CSLS was the first university-based center for sociolegal research, and it played a significant role in establishing sociolegal research as a distinct academic discipline.  Many of the founding scholars of the law and society movement were among CSLS’s earliest affiliated scholars.  Under the initial leadership of Professor Philip Selznick, the Center succeeded in creating a multidisciplinary milieu in which UC Berkeley faculty and graduate students from many schools and departments interact, along with visiting sociolegal scholars from Europe and other universities in the United States.  Over the years, the Center has been directed by Philip Selznick, Sheldon Messinger, Jerome Skolnick, Harry Scheiber, Malcolm Feeley, Robert Kagan, Lauren Edelman, Calvin Morrill, and Jonathan Simon. The current director is Catherine Albiston. 

In the late 1970s, Center scholars initiated two new academic degree granting programs at UC Berkeley.  The doctoral program in Jurisprudence and Social Policy Program was the first Ph.D. program housed in a law school but also integrated with the university graduate division.  It remains the leading interdisciplinary Ph.D. program in sociolegal studies, sending the vast majority of its graduates into tenure track teaching jobs in the disciplines and in law schools across the world.  The liberal arts oriented undergraduate Legal Studies Program is the only undergraduate sociolegal studies program in the United States that is staffed and administered by a school of law.  These two academic programs work closely with the Center and continue to share affiliated faculty in multiple disciplines both within the law school and across the wider UC Berkeley campus. 

The Center has long been a choice destination for sociolegal scholars from around the world who seek a period of residence at an American university. On the occasion of Philip Selznick’s nomination for a Clark Kerr Award for Leadership in Higher Education in 1996, leading historian and sociolegal scholar Lawrence Friedman of Stanford University, described the Center’s pivotal role: “The Center for the Study of Law and Society …… is the most significant center in the country — and probably in the world — for study and research on the relationship between legal systems and their social systems. It has been an enormous asset to Berkeley; and a magnet for scholars all over the world. There is probably no significant international scholar in this field who has not been at the Center, spent time at the Center, participated in the work of the Center, or passed through the Center; who has drawn from it, learned from it.  Its international influence has been incalculable.”

CSLS established UC Berkeley’s reputation as a leading academic center for interdisciplinary research on the law and society for scholars from around the world. As it moves into its seventh decade, the Center continues to provide a vibrant, unparalleled home for the multidisciplinary study of law and society.