New York University School of Law LLM 2002; JSD 2005
Hebrew University LLB 1997; MBA 1998
Can you use math to understand law? Academic inquiry involves ethics, logic, even cultural studies. But Shmuel Leshem’s scholarship belongs to a burgeoning field in legal theory using an approach that involves taking legal assumptions and scenarios and turning them into, yes, math. Take, for example, the notion that innocent suspects benefit from making a statement after arrest. Leshem constructs this as a game-theory model: “Players” include innocent and guilty suspects; the game has two periods, arrest and trial; low-inference assumptions, such as a guilty suspect claiming innocence will be more likely to meet with contradictory evidence at trial than an innocent suspect, are assigned a statistical place holder. Pretty soon you’re looking at a highly esoteric probability equation, which in this case is:
“Law students don’t like it,” Leshem says with a chuckle. The equation is tested by a proof process similar to the inductive reasoning one uses to prove a theorem in geometry. When the logical result is translated back out of substitutions, we are faced with a math-derived conclusion that those who are innocent are more likely to be acquitted if they remain silent. If his findings seem to contradict conventional wisdom, that’s by design. “A good model must give an ah-ha moment, something that you couldn’t have thought of before,” he states.
Shmuel’s scholarship belongs to a burgeoning field in legal theory using an approach that involves taking legal assumptions and scenarios and turning them into, yes, math.
Leshem’s passion for pushing boundaries inspired him to gather degrees in business and economics as well as law to gather the skills set he needed for his work. “Practicing law was not the point for me,” he says. Though he knew he was destined for a career in academe, Leshem knew his area of expertise might create obstacles. “Because my work also involves formal modeling, I didn’t publish in law journals, so I had more of a challenge in going on the market for law schools,” he says, though he also notes, “I definitely think law schools now see value in having a couple of people on faculty who are doing work in formal modeling.” Also, as a foreign national from Israel, he entered the NYU School of Law unfamiliar with the academic job market in the United States: “It’s a complicated process, but I decided to try to stay in the US because of the encouragement I got from professors at NYU, in particular Marcel Kahan and Lewis Kornhauser,” he says. He readily accepted the help offered by the Academic Careers Program. “ACP helped me with meeting job application deadlines, writing my resume, evaluating my chances and strategizing my search,” he says. In his first year on the market, he was offered a job as an assistant professor at the University of Southern California School of Law.
“ACP helped me with meeting job application deadlines, writing my resume, evaluating my chances and strategizing my search,” Leshem says.
Leshem is chary of making statements about the real-life applicability of his work, and is quick to point out that taking his model findings as gospel in a live courtroom will not yield perfect results. What he does hope to do is build a body of research that will contribute to the growing interest in cross-disciplinary scholarship. “Academic work is an open source—everyone contributes something to this big pot,” he says. He also admits that he does the work simply for the sheer delight of it: “What drives me is the need to satisfy my curiosity, that is the engine. If you can satisfy your curiosity, then you’re going to have a happy life.”