Do great professors make great litigators?

The New York Times’s recent coverage of lAffair Larry Tribe:

Mr. Tribe, 73, has been retained to represent Peabody Energy, the nation’s largest coal company, in its legal quest to block an Environmental Protection Agency regulation that would cut carbon dioxide emissions from the nation’s coal-fired power plants — the heart of Mr. Obama’s climate change agenda.

To many Democrats and professors at Harvard, Mr. Tribe is a traitor. “The administration’s climate rule is far from perfect, but sweeping assertions of unconstitutionality are baseless,” Jody Freeman, director of the environmental law program at Harvard Law School, and Richard Lazarus, an expert in environmental law who has argued over a dozen cases before the Supreme Court, wrote in a rebuttal to Mr. Tribe’s brief on the Harvard Law School website. “Were Professor Tribe’s name not attached to them, no one would take them seriously.”

I’ll admit the “bunch of Harvard professors are mad at other Harvard professor” narrative doesn’t move the needle for me. (The underlying legal issues are both important and interesting, but that’s not what got this story in the paper of record).

Here’s an interesting (non-rhetorical) question: do great law professors make great litigators? Or to put it another way, is there a direct relationship between great “law professor skills” and great “litigator skills”? If so, I suspect the correlation is strongest at the Supreme Court level (where the EPA issue may eventually be headed). But even there my quick mental list of the top Supreme Court litigators of the last decade includes fewer Profs than I’d expect.

To be sure, Larry Tribe, who has at least three dozen Supreme Court arguments under his belt, is both an influential law professor and one of the most accomplished constitutional lawyers in the country. But he may be closer to the exception than the rule.

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