The Center for the Study of Law and Society (CSLS) was founded in 1961 to foster interdisciplinary empirical research and analysis concerning the actual behavior of legal institutions, legal processes, legal change, and the social consequences of law. 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 interacted, along with visiting sociolegal scholars from Europe and other universities in the United States.
As the first university-based center for sociolegal research, Berkeley's CSLS was also instrumental in establishing sociolegal research as a distinct academic discipline. Its affiliated scholars in the 1960s were among the "founding fathers" of the "law and society" movement. Over the years, the Center has been directed by Philip Selznick, Sheldon Messinger, Jerome Skolnick, Harry Scheiber, Malcolm Feeley, Robert Kagan, Lauren Edelman, and Calvin Morrill. The current director is Jonathan Simon.
In the late 1970s, Center scholars initiated Berkeley's Jurisprudence and Social Policy Program, the first and leading interdisciplinary Ph.D. program in sociolegal studies, as well as the Legal Studies Program, the only undergraduate teaching program in sociolegal studies in the U.S. staffed and managed by a school of law. 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. Commenting on Philip Selznick's nomination for a Clark Kerr Award for Leadership in Higher Education in 1996, Professor Lawrence Friedman of Stanford University, a leading sociolegal historian and former president of the Law and Society Association, wrote:
"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."--Lawrence Friedman.
CSLS established UC Berkeley's reputation as a leading academic center for research and writing on the "law in context." Today, it remains central to, and symbolizes to the academic world, Berkeley's commitment to and standing in that field.
Founding director Philip Selznick passed away on June 12, 2010 at the age of 91. A scholar to the end, Selznick’s final book, A Humanist Science: Values and Ideals in Social Inquiry, was published by Stanford University Press in 2008. CSLS has created the Philip Selznick Memorial Page that includes a biographical note by David Lieberman, tributes by numerous scholars, videos and transcripts of oral histories, and other useful links.
In November 2011 CSLS celebrated the Center’s 50th Anniversary with the landmark conference, attended by over 250 people, The Future of Law and Society. Director Calvin Morrill opened the Conference by paying tribute to Selznick’s foresight in establishing the Center (and closed it with the naming of the Philip Selznick Seminar Room). Former Center Directors reflected on the history and influence of the Center in a panel entitled History as Prologue. Leading scholars presented current work in panels on Law, Rights and Social Change; Law, Culture and Inequality; and Global Governance. A closing panel considered the future of law and society in the academy. Lively discussion throughout made apparent that CSLS continues to lead a vibrant and dynamic field.