Saturday, September 16, 2006
The Coolest Professor in the Legal Academy
Orly's post is a nice occasion to engage in a little anointing. (Extra points for those who immediately think of that epic poetic line, "Anoint my head/Anointy-nointy.") I am prepared to state definitively, for the time being, that the coolest professor in the legal academy today is one Alex B. Long, of the Oklahoma City University School of Law. I grant that winning this title is a little like winning the prize for tallest Munchkin, but we ought to take our bragging rights where we can.
Professor Long wins the prize on the basis of his recent draft article, [Insert Song Lyrics Here]: The Uses and Misuses of Popular Music Lyrics in Legal Writing. (Hat tip: VC.) The abstract describes the piece as suggesting that "the music we, the legal profession as a whole, write about may say something about who we are as a profession." It conducts a study of cites to popular musicians in law journals, and discusses both the predictable and the more creative ways in which legal writers cite music lyrics.
But all this highfalutin stuff is somewhat beside the point, which is that this is a very entertaining and, yes, cool article. Let me count the ways: 1) It cites, among others, GBV, Lester Bangs, the Specials, Manilow, Paul Westerberg, Mike Watt, Robbie Fulks, Waylon, Hank, and Uncle Tupelo. 2) It points out that "[f]or the first half of R.E.M.'s career, no one could understand what Michael Stipe was even talking about." 3) Its methodology is blissfully unscientific, a fact that Long justifies by saying, in effect, that's rock 'n' roll. (For instance, he justifies failing to search for cites to the band Yes by saying that it would have been too hard, and anyway, "I don't really like Yes.") 4) He almost mocks, by name, an adjunct professor at Case for dedicating an article to Billy Joel, figuring that "he was just asking for abuse by doing so." He refrains only because it turns out the guy produced some righteous music in a former life. Plus, "it's not like he quoted Phil Collins or anything." 5) In noting that the top ten list of musical artists cited in law journals (e.g., Dylan, the Beatles, Springsteen, Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell) "essentially reads like a Who's Who of baby boomer favorites, Long makes a superb case, of great (self-) interest to us new and would-be law profs, for the return of mandatory retirement rules. (We can always get rid of those rules later, mind you.)
Excellent stuff. Three comments. First, I can't help but note that despite Long's justified knock at the touch of grey in the list of the most cited artists, most of the musicians he cites, cool as they are, threaten to date him too. No Shins? No Mastodon? But I wouldn't be too hard on him. After all, as he says, "I live in Oklahoma." Second, I wonder whether, by being so cool, and visibly so, Prof. Long actually invites the classic indie-rock rejoinder that in doing so, he has now sold out and actually is uncool. Third: the Rush thing. I get it, I get it. It's understandable that he thinks, and says, that "Rush sucks." I won't bring down the hipsters' wrath by defending Geddy Lee here. But for Canadian drummers like me, Long's words approach sacrilege. Is Rush unhip? You betcha. Uncool? Ditto. But the "s"-word -- that's just wrong, dude.
Of course, I welcome any commenters who want to make a case for dethroning Prof. Long and anointing someone else as the coolest living law professor. I think we can all agree that professors at the top five or ten schools are pretty well disqualified, and serious points off for anyone who even thinks of mentioning Charles Nesson. Extra points, on the other hand, for anyone who makes his or her case by mocking Alex Long along the way. Double extra points for anyone who chooses to mock Prof. Long and who actually works with him at OKC. And triple extra points for anyone who chooses to mock Prof. Long and who actually is Prof. Long. Although self-mockery would itself be cool, and so would tend to nullify Prof. Long's efforts to dethrone himself on the grounds that such efforts are self-refuting. So perhaps he should just be disqualified too.
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We seem to be on the same wavelength today about music (see my post directly below). As far as coolest Prof, why not nominate Orly? Imet her (briefly) at LSA and she seemed really cool.
Posted by: Miriam Cherry | Sep 16, 2006 5:42:12 PM
No one gets a pass for living in Oklahoma. Plenty of cool bands from there, including most famously the Flaming Lips and Leon Russell. Leon's a boomer, no doubt, but a weird one who was on the margins of '70s country-rock and is always worth a name-check; and few bands had the hip quotient of the Lips in the '90s. Talent as diverse as Woody Guthrie and Reba are from there as well. These days, the next big rock or hiphop sound is as likely to come out of there as from anywhere. if Omaha can do it, why not OKC?
Posted by: Mark Fenster | Sep 16, 2006 6:02:28 PM
Michael Stipe stopped being unintelligible after R.E.M.'s first full-length album.
Posted by: Eric Muller | Sep 16, 2006 8:13:23 PM
I just want to thank you for mentioning the immortal words of John Lillison, England's greatest one-armed poet, who in 1894 became the first person killed in a car accident.
Posted by: Orin Kerr | Sep 16, 2006 8:56:19 PM
Umm...the choice is clear. Paul Butler blows away the competition.
Posted by: David Schraub | Sep 16, 2006 9:10:08 PM
On utterly nonmusical criteria, I nominate Kathleen Sullivan.
1. She knew everyone on the first day of class before we sat down. Nearly two decades later, she still does.
2. She has excelled at everything a law professor could ever want to do -- write books, run law schools, win cases -- except sit as a judge. In due course, I hope that oversight is corrected.
3. Extension of point 2: Most law professors have no contact with the life most of their students will lead. Kathleen Sullivan has not only practiced law; she's among the best who ever did.
Others are cool by other definitions -- I think readily, among many others, of the lawprof who encouraged me into this business, the one who kept me from leaving after one year, the one who has literally read everything I've ever written, and those who flanked me at my wedding. And I think very highly of Alex Long, Paul Butler, and others with fresher musical taste. For my part, I remain so bedazzled by the entire Lilith Fair crowd that my tastes have never progressed past that point, which is to say I approach but don't match the Woodstock crowd in cultural obsolescence.
But for reasons that count, Kathleen Sullivan seems really, really cool.
P.S. Paul, sorry to say this to someone as cool as you, but Rush sucks. They totally suck. I'd rather be strapped to a chair as Pia Zadora covers Yoko Ono than listen to Rush.
Posted by: Jim Chen | Sep 16, 2006 10:06:11 PM
"She has excelled at everything a law professor could ever want to do -- write books, run law schools, win cases -- except sit as a judge."
And, I recall, pass the California Bar Exam on the first try.
That's not cool.
Posted by: Tostito | Sep 17, 2006 12:12:03 AM
Way below the belt, Tostito. Shame on you.
Posted by: Jim Chen | Sep 17, 2006 12:20:00 AM
Good-looking. Well-dressed. Lots of groupies. Wrote me an email apologizing for giving me a bad grade (even though I deserved it).
(P.S. Rush really does suck.)
Posted by: Ted Sampsell-Jones | Sep 17, 2006 12:33:38 AM
Jim Chen is of course right that your remarks are awfully mean. But we might just be able to salvage them yet. After all, flunking something as trivial (and idiotically-designed) as the California Bar, after distinguishing oneself so often and so well at things that matter is, well, totally, totally, totally cool. It in fact makes me want to second Jim's nomination!
Posted by: Anon | Sep 17, 2006 3:32:24 AM
It seems we all disagree on what makes a law professor "cool." Is it familiarity with pop culture? Being an interesting and nice person? Good looks? No one knows, making the inquiry a little silly.
Posted by: lawprof | Sep 17, 2006 11:08:47 AM
(1) Law professors are not cool, pretty much by any plausible definition of the word.
(2) N. Pert is a flashy drummer but Rush still sucks.
(3) I can't imagine how one could quote a Yes lyric in a serious law review article, but I would be amused to see somebody try.
(4) Although I managed to end a recent 20-page essay reviewing a book on labor history and policy with a Dylan quote, I do think we need fewer boomer-music references. But, we have the right to love, to play Bleeding Heart Show.
Posted by: Joseph Slater | Sep 17, 2006 11:46:30 AM
It has to be Larry Lessig.
Posted by: AF | Sep 17, 2006 12:00:09 PM
Joseph Slater: I suppose an article on religion in schools could credibly work in "The Teacher/The Preacher," one of the section titles from Yes's "And You And I." (It's not exactly a lyric, though.)
Posted by: CL | Sep 17, 2006 1:46:59 PM
My girlfriend's out of town, but if I can vote for both of us, we would agree that Kate Litvak leaves the coolest blog comments, which has to count for something. If only there were an RSS feed for when Litvak skewers a ludicrous blog post! Like this one!
Posted by: Ted | Sep 17, 2006 2:08:47 PM
I think I've made myself uncoolest among the uncool by titling articles after such elements of "pop" culture as "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus," and a Winston Churchill address to the House of Commons. If that's not enough, on page one of a different article I cite Bob Newhart's stand-up routine, and still laugh whenever I play it on CD or vinyl.
Posted by: Mike Dimino | Sep 17, 2006 9:34:28 PM
Mike, the self-nomination for uncoolest prawf is good business, but we'll have to start another thread on that topic...
Posted by: Dan Markel | Sep 18, 2006 12:18:53 AM
Hands down the "coolest" law prof, at least here in the northeast, has to go to Jeff Kirchmeier. Jeff doesn't think so, but he is the only prof I know of who has quoted alt. country in a law review (actually several times has quoted), which isn't bad considering he teaches at CUNY Law. Add to that Jeff practiced in a "cool" field, capital crimes litigation, before going to the acadmeny. Finally, his online "student ratings"refer to him in such terms as the "best thing about CUNY" and the "hot harry potter."
Posted by: anonymous | Sep 18, 2006 8:44:23 AM
Thanks for all the excellent comments so far. Somehow I knew this one would provoke discussion. I'm out of town, but hope to add a response or two when I get back, and well after everyone has lost interest. One quick note: the author of the piece and current title-holder, Alex Long, has reminded me that not all of his band cites are aging. In particular, I had meant to mention his cite to the New Pornographers. Sorry I missed it.
Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Sep 18, 2006 9:43:27 AM
I think Kim Roosevelt's the closest to a rock star I ever studied under - at least under normal, "cool=cool" circumstances. I guess G. Hazard is a rockstar in the more normal prawffy sense.
Posted by: Eh Nonymous | Sep 18, 2006 11:38:50 AM
I don't know...can you really be the world's coolest anything when you sanctimoniously proclaim that a reference to Pink Floyd's Another Brick in the Wall is "likely to be lost on a sizeable portion of the readers of the opinion and may, in fact, be off-putting."
Posted by: Oddness | Sep 18, 2006 1:13:02 PM
And it loses double cool points for confusing (or misspelling) "cache" with "cachet" on page 35.
Posted by: Oddness | Sep 18, 2006 1:17:37 PM
Just don't get Long started on the Gin Blossoms.
Posted by: Mark Brunell | Sep 19, 2006 11:15:06 AM
I said smooth-talking, brain washing . . .
Where's the [coolest] professor?
We need him now!
Posted by: Ed Kuepper & Chris Bailey | Sep 20, 2006 2:07:33 PM
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