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Cyberlaw Scholar Lessig Heads East

Lessig_Icon_bigger Was it a flood of curious readers or a malicious attack that brought down Larry Lessig's blog Friday afternoon? He was hacked, he explained on Twitter, and it could not have happened at a less auspicious time. Lessig had just posted the biggest news of his already larger-than-life scholarly career: He is leaving Stanford Law School to return to Harvard Law School. (Jonathan Zittrain published a copy of Lessig's post and Harvard had its own announcement.)

The renowned cyberlaw and IP scholar taught at both Harvard and the University of Chicago Law School before joining Stanford's faculty in 2000. When he returns to Harvard next summer, he will join the faculty and become director of the university's Edmond J. Safra Foundation Center for Ethics. That role fits well with his announcement last year that he was shifting his academic focus from free culture to what he called "corruption": "To focus on the many institutions in public life that depend upon trust to succeed, but which are jeopardizing that trust through an improper dependence on money." (Think medical researchers receiving drug company money.)

Still, Lessig writes that his decision to leave Stanford involved "a complicated mix of excitement and sadness." He praised Stanford as "an extraordinary law school" with students who are "brilliant, yet balanced" and a faculty that is "brilliant, yet surprisingly humble." He was also reluctant to leave California, given the allure of San Francisco's social and political environment and the region's enormous beauty.

But in the end, it was impossible for me to be committed to the project while turning down this opportunity. It is not just the institution, nor the (partial) freedom from teaching. It is the chance to frame a large-scale project devoted to a large, important and complex problem. Once we saw it like this, my wife and I decided that returning to this old home was the right thing to do. And so in June, we will pack up the car for a cross country trek, back to Harvard.

Harvard's recruitment of Lessig is another feather in the cap for Dean Elena Kagan. As we noted here in October, the school has been in a process of "reinventing" itself as more vital and nimble, and faculty hiring has been the most visible evidence of that, with the school bringing in a wave of high-profile scholars. In Harvard's announcement Friday, Kagan called Lessig "one of the most brilliant and important legal scholars of our time."

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on December 15, 2008 at 12:04 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

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