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Monday, July 03, 2006

Unsolicited Advice on How to Have a Successful LSA Experience (and other oversized conferences)

In anticipation of the Annual Law and Society Association meeting in Baltimore this week, it might be useful to offer some thoughts on making the most of the meeting. I love LSA and have been going every year since I started my graduate studies in Cambridge. But I remember that the very first time I went to the annual meeting in Budapest, I had a pretty miserable time. My expectations of the conference and my panel were not met and I felt pretty lonely and lost. Every year since then the conference has improved for me personally, as I altered my expectations, got to know many of the conference regulars, and developed some strategies for a successful meeting. So here are my Top Ten Dos and Don’ts for a Fulfilling LSA Conference:

1. Don’t try to go to every single panel slot. LSA is a huge event, with four days of a full packed schedule, with over a dozen concurrent panels in every hour of the day. In Budapest, I tried to attend all the panels and was frantic about missing out on some presentations when there were several simultaneous sessions that seemed interesting to me (and having just started my graduate program, everything seemed interesting, relevant, exciting and…cutting edge). I was inevitably disappointed and overwhelmed. Going to 7 panels per day for four days is much too much for one person to tolerate; even more so when many of the presentations are not amazing. LSA is one of those conferences that accepts any paper title that is submitted, without screening and without requiring a full paper submitted in advance. This necessarily means that there will be half/quarter/one-tenth baked presentations by all sorts of presenters (and of course, lots of excellent full baked ones). More importantly, going to every single panel takes away time from some interesting conversation that happens outside of the formal conference rooms.

2. Do hang out in the Hallway - There are so many interesting people to meet at LSA. Don’t be shy--introduce yourself at the end of a panel to the speaker or in the elevator as you cross paths with someone whose work you’ve read. Exchange business cards, watch the message board, and always wear your name tag, even in the last day, in the elevator, at the cocktail. There are three general receptions, one in every evening of the conference. There is also an international breakfast, the purpose of which is “to encourage the building of relationships between U.S. and international members and to discuss ideas and suggestions on ways LSA can best serve its international members and facilitate international scholarly activity.” Every year, there is also a highly interesting labor history tour that brings to life some of the important moments of the city in which the conference takes place. All of these special events are worth attending and the possibilities for new collegial connections are great in these relatively relaxed settings.

3. Don’t expect your own panel to be the highlight of the conference. Following the first point, lots of people figure out quickly that there is no reason to constantly attend the panel presentations. Some time slots prove better than others and there are some panels that are not so well attended. One trick is to organize a panel in advance and submit the papers together rather than submitting your abstract individually. This increases the chances of a cohesive theme of the panel. Having said this, do prepare seriously for the panel – LSA is an excellent place to share your work with people from a broad range of disciplines and methodological approaches. The fact that most panels include presenters not from your field is one of the strengths of LSA. I am chairing a panel this year, in which all the speakers have met my firm deadline of paper circulation three weeks in advance to all other panelists. The papers are of high quality and I am sure the presentations will be great. As the discussant on the panel, I will prepare written comments on each paper and I hope we will have a very productive session.

4. Do Plan Some Meetings in Advance – when you skim the conference program, think about scheduling a meeting with someone you would like to discuss your work with by emailing them in advance. They might be completely busy or there for only one day, but they might have some time and will be happy to schedule a breakfast meeting or an afternoon tea. There is also a Meeting Discussion Bulletin Board that is designed to allow scholars to network with others in their areas of interest before the meeting. Similarly, do follow up after the conference on some fruitful conversations, with an email or a reprint.

5. Don’t Use Travel as an Excuse for Not Exercising – Do Stay Fit – ok, this is a personal thing of mine, having been on the road quite a bit lately for various conferences and wanting to keep training on track. The LSA has a 5K fun run. I am planning to do it next Sunday, meeting in the lobby at 6:45 AM – so do say hello if you join! I also make it a habit of scheduling some of my meetings as walking meetings, rather than coffee/cake ones. It’s a great way to keep moving and seeing bits of the city while catching up with colleagues.

6. Do Go to the Saturday Presidential Luncheon – to me, this is usually one of the highlights of the conference. The luncheon includes a presentation by each of the prize committee chairs (book, article, grad thesis, life time achievement) of the committee’s choice and it is a wonderful opportunity to get a sense of innovative research in law and society. Following the prize announcement, the presidential address of the outgoing president of LSA is always a treat. The presidential address is published each year in the Law and Society Review, followed by commentaries by leading people in the field. I particularly recommend Joel Handler’s 1992 POSTMODERNISM, PROTEST, AND THE NEW SOCIAL MOVEMENTS, and Lauren Edelman’s 2004, RIVERS OF LAW AND CONTESTED TERRAIN: A LAW AND SOCIETY APPROACH TO ECONOMIC RATIONALITY, Presidential addresses.

7. Don’t forget about the CRNs – the Collaborative Research Networks (CRNs) are groups that have been formed to facilitate research collaboration and submission of panel/papers in a more focused way. Submitting your paper through a CRN increases the paper will not be assigned to a panel that does not really have a unifying theme. It is also a good way to connect to people in your field, as CRNs usually also organize a dinner or breakfast at the conference and a listserve that functions throughout the year.

8. Do Market Your Work, and at the Same Time Help the LSA – The LSA has a good sized book and paper display. The paper display invites each participant to bring 20 reprints/photocopies of their recent or in-progress work. Each paper is sold for $1and proceeds benefit the organization. Also at the book display, publishers set up tables and some university presses are there to find out what you are working on and what is of interest to the LSA community. And consider starting to build up a collection of the annual LSA T-shirt on sale at the conference.

9. Don’t Overlook Some Satellite Ventures of LSA - these can jumpstart your involvement at LSA and introduce you to the organization in smaller formats. If you are a graduate student, consider attending the annual Graduate Student Workshop always held on the day immediately preceding the annual meeting. I did this in my second year coming to LSA Vancouver. You need to apply in advance and you receive travel fare and some portion of accommodation costs. Every two years, the LSA also sponsors a Summer Institute for newer professors. Again, this requires advance application and the LSA covers most of the participation expenses. Last year, I participated in the Oxford Summer Institute, and this year in Baltimore, several of us are re-uniting for finishing touches on a collaborative book, edited by Brownen Morgan on Rights and Regulations, the theme of the Oxford summer institute.

10. Do Attend Some of the Professional Development Sessions – in the scheduled panel sessions there are always several offerings on professional issues of general interest. For example, this year, on Thursday, I am speaking at a roundtable on the academic job market, bringing together junior and more senior faculty to discuss their experiences on the teaching market and their first years as faculty members. And again, if you come to the roundtable, do say hello and introduce yourself if you attend the panel!

Posted by Orly Lobel on July 3, 2006 at 12:53 PM in Life of Law Schools, Orly Lobel | Permalink

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I received an email from a first timer at LSA asking about dress code --I think it is safe to say that dress is very mixed at LSA -- some very informal attire mixed with some presenters in full suits. i would recommend dressing up professionally when you are a panelist, which doesn't have to be a suit but something you would wear to a business meeting and for the rest of the conference, whatever makes you feel comftorable.

Posted by: Orly Lobel | Jul 5, 2006 1:22:03 AM

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