What are good ideas for legal dissertations

"Summa is then for the very bright minds"

Jörg Biesler: There has been great excitement about Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg's dissertation since the Bremen law professor Andreas Fischer-Lescano found out that parts of it are quoted but not marked as quotations. And a sporting competition has arisen among the media to always find new jobs that Minister zu Guttenberg copied from newspapers, foreign lectures or specialist literature. At the same time, there are voices who find Guttenberg's dissertation fundamentally overrated. The top grade summa cum laude, said Andreas Fischer-Lescano, the work by no means deserved it. This raises the question of how legal dissertations should actually be assessed and what the practice of writing them looks like. The Cologne lawyer Professor Hanns Prütting is on the phone. Good day, Mr. Prütting!

Hanns Prütting: Good day, Mr. Biesler!

Biesler: Your Cologne law faculty is one of the largest in Germany, with more than 100 dissertations being supervised each year. How do you actually arrive at a judgment, a grade, i.e. on what basis is the assessment made, whether it is cum laude, magna cum laude or summa cum laude, which is the highest grade?

Prütting: I myself evaluate a doctoral thesis in several steps. So, if I have a paper on my desk for evaluation, I would first look at the formalities, is it outwardly okay, what is the structure, what is the bibliography, is the literature processing comprehensive, or if important or special works are missing. This outer framework of a work creates a certain first impression of the quality. The decisive question would then of course be this: Does such a work contain its own ideas, is the working method such that it is an in-depth argumentation? These would then be things that would be decisive for the evaluation. Perhaps - in the case of legal papers at least - one would have to say that it is typical for us to process foreign material. A legal doctoral thesis is never a piece of work that gets by without quoting other works, on the contrary, it is actually the essence of such a thesis that one processes legal literature that has been available up to now. And a - to come back to the grade - a considerable weight now determines whether the previous status is processed in this way and then further considered that the reader has the impression that this is enlightening, that leads to what has been done so far is written out, sums it up well or not.

Biesler: That means, I will now summarize again by interpreting, and you can then say whether it was a summa-cum-laude summary or I only get cum laude: It is quite normal in legal dissertations that the level of knowledge is summarized, but that sometimes there is nothing more than summarizing what others have already written, and for that you could get a cum laude.

Prütting: That's right.

Biesler: And the summa is then, so to speak, for the very bright minds who do a lot more, develop their own ideas, which the evaluating professors may actually consider interesting ideas. What percentage of them in Cologne are summa cum laude from your dissertations?

Prütting: According to my estimate, summa cum laude papers are awarded about ten percent of the time.

Biesler: Can you deny such grades at all, so you can say that this work here definitely doesn't deserve summa cum laude? It's always a mixed bag that is decided there.

Prütting: Denying the grade is extremely delicate because such a grade is an overall impression of both examiners, i.e. both reviewers in the written and oral performance. If you want to seriously question the grade, you would have to come to a very blatant deviation. I'm sure if I have a piece of work in front of me and the first reviewer would say, or it is graded summa cum laude, and I read it through and I think it is weak cum laude or maybe even rite - rite is still among them - So if there were such a blatant difference, I would trust myself to say, yes, I consider this note to be incorrect. But when there is extensive and hard-working work - and you are hearing about a work of 475 pages here - that somehow also has certain thoughts of its own, since the assertion is made that is incorrectly valued, seems to me a very bold assertion.

Biesler: Obviously, we are also dealing with a case where internet search engines play a certain role, at least now in discovering the places that are borrowed, I put it cautiously. Do you have the impression that Google and the Internet have changed the way you write scientific papers as a whole?

Prütting: Not fundamental, not fundamental. I am not so naive as to see that the number of such small matches in individual cases, in a paragraph or the like, which, by the way, has always existed in my opinion, is not discovered more easily today by Google, but the The type of scientific work has not really changed as a result, because the decisive points are not copying other texts according to the motto, this and that has existed so far, but the decisive factor is whether you really develop new, not yet existing ideas, whether you have a little imagination that goes beyond the state of the art. And there I don't see where you want to copy.

Biesler: Professor Hanns Prüttung, head of the Institute for Procedural Law at the University of Cologne. We recorded the conversation shortly before the broadcast.