Fordham Law

Come gather 'round legal scholars, for a conference on Dylan

Fordham in Texas Lawyer, March 28, 2011

Media Source

by Karen Sloan

Bob Dylan: Folk icon, civil rights advocate, inspiration for legal scholarship.

Law professors, law students, judges and lawyers will convene at Fordham University School of Law early next month for a two-day conference examining Bob Dylan and the law.

The event, which is co-sponsored by Fordham and Touro College Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center, will focus on different legal issues discussed in Dylan's songs and the influence his music has had on lawyers and society.

"Dylan was an important cultural figure, primarily in the '60s, and a fair amount of what he did dealt with criminal justice and equal justice themes," said Fordham law professor Bruce Green, who organized the conference with Touro professor Samuel Levine.

The conference might sound like an excuse for law types to get together and discuss a rock 'n' roll legend, but Dylan's music has more than just a passing relevance to the law, Levine said.

A 2006 study by University of Tennessee College of Law professor Alex Long found that Dylan is the most frequently cited musician by legal writers. Judges, academics and lawyers cite his lyrics more than twice as much as the runner-up — the Beatles.

Long will be a panelist for the conference kickoff on April 4, which is an evening session examining the Dylan songs "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll" and "Hurricane." "Hurricane" chronicles the true-life plight of boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, who was found guilty of murdering three people in 1966. His conviction was overturned after Dylan's song was released because of faulty evidence. "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll" is about the 1960s murder of a black barmaid in Baltimore at the hands of wealthy white man, who spent a mere six months in jail for the crime.

The first panel discussion will be moderated by Fordham law graduate and WFUV radio deejay Corny O'Connell, and will feature a performance of several Dylan songs by folk duo The Kennedys.

Green and Levine said they've gotten a few raised eyebrows after telling colleagues about the Dylan-centric conference, but many others have been enthusiastic about the unconventional academic gathering.

"We do want to have some fun, but we've always perceived of this as a serious academic conference," Levine said. "Quite a few prominent scholars have coalesced around this topic."

The second day of the conference will primarily consist of academics and judges presenting papers on Dylan and the law. For example Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom partner David Zornow will present "Dylan's Judgment on Judges: Are Power, Greed and Corruptible Seed All That There Is?" University of Kentucky College of Law professor Alison Connelly will present "Dylan as the Complete Trial Lawyer: Using Hurricane Carter to Teach Trial Skills." These papers an others will be published in the Fordham Urban Law Journal.

This will be the first legal conference to focus on the music of Bob Dylan, but it's not the first to examine the legal themes raised by a particular musician. Widener University School of Law hosted a conference on the law and Bruce Springsteen in 2005.

"If this turns out to be interesting, maybe people will continue down this path and do other artists," Green said.

Neil Young, anyone?