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Thursday, July 12, 2007

"How not to 'retire and teach'"

A few days ago, Jeff Lipshaw mentioned his essay, "Memo to Lawyers:  How Not to 'Retire and Teach.'"  Here is the abstract:

Many long-time practitioners muse about what it might be like to retire and teach, not realizing there is no more galvanizing phrase to their counterparts who have long toiled in the academy, nor one less likely to enhance the prospects of the unfortunate seasoned applicant who utters the phrase. I intend this essay not for law professors (though it may either amuse or irritate them), but for those in the practice who aspire, after all these years, to return to the academy. With a good deal of humility acquired along the way, I offer some realistic advice to job seekers, concluding that wistful phrase is precisely the opposite of the true sine qua non of success: demonstrating the capability of, and commitment to, being a productive scholar.

Here are the concluding two paragraphs:

As I write this, I am exactly one week short of my fifty-third birthday, and I still steel myself for the most difficult thing for me: getting feedback that conflicts with the illusion that I am a perfect person. One of the wonderful things, I would guess, about retiring, particularly for us Type-As, is that we would no longer have to deal with that sinking feeling in the pit of our stomach when the negative evaluations come. And they will. Students will spot that you are a rookie teacher, despite your real-world experience, and reflect it in your evaluations. You will receive fifty rejections from law reviews for each article you place. You will be ignored in the recruiting process by the vast majority of law schools. And that is the exciting part. You will work long, hard hours slogging through class prep, sitting in faculty meetings, serving on committees, and worst of all, grading.  At this point in one's life, who needs it?

The answer is: not a retiree. The work is too hard and too personal.  You must create a track record of a commitment to writing and a commitment, whether by taking a visitorship or otherwise, to earning the respect, if not the comradeship, of those who followed the road you chose not to take many years ago. But if you have a burning need to write something important, if you have the gumption to insert yourself into a world where every person’s qualifications will seem superior to your own, if you have an ego that is sufficient resilient to rebound from repeated rejections, and the time and financial resources to prove that being a law professor is the most important thing you could do: the rest of your career stretches ahead of you.

Having just had my traditional July "boy, it must be nice to be able to take the summer off" conversation with my friend across the street, who rolls his eyes when I remind him, again, that I'm "writing", Jeff's essay rang particularly true.

Posted by Rick Garnett on July 12, 2007 at 11:33 AM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink

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Through sometime co-blogger Jeff Lipshaw, Prof. Garnett expresses his frustration with practitioners who talk about how nice it would be to "retire and teach." At least in Garnett's summary, Lipshaw seems to have confused teaching with scholarship. The... [Read More]

Tracked on Jul 12, 2007 9:46:09 PM

Comments

One day, some professor will strangle that person at a Rosh Hashana dinner, and I will totally understand that doing so amounted to self-defense.

Posted by: anonymous | Jul 12, 2007 5:47:40 PM

I endure these same remarks and rolled eyes, so I empathize (although I'm not sanctioning the assault response). In addition to research and writing requirements, there are often administrative duties in the summer as well. But this is not my point. I think that Rick's posting prompts discussion on another issue, namely the centrality of research to academics. This issue has implications for hiring, retention, and promotion. I dont want to get back into the appropriateness of Ph.D.s in the legal academy, but I do want to argue for the relative the importance of research and writing as it seems to have come under attack on some blogs.

In the law school context, if we take some commenters' suggestions that research and writing are not very useful endeavors and that we should focus almost entirely on teaching and training lawyers, then I am led to ask this - without the research and publishing responsibilities can we really justify a two course a semester teaching load? Probably not, I think - more like a 4-5 course a semester load would be more appropriate. And ... if we are going to have a 4-5 course per semester teaching load are such jobs going to be in as much demand? Be honest with yourself here. Are people going to leave lucrative (but yes, demanding) positions in law to teach 4-5 classes a semester for far lower pay? That's probably more of a time expenditure than you think when you consider new preps that may not be in your area of previous practice. Maybe there will still be a demand, but maybe not. A few more semi-related issues on this general topic:

-- It seems that if we are interested in giving students a marketable degree (in law or otherwise), then the academic reputation of the institution is highly relevant - and, beyond the admittedly sluggish nature of school ratings, such reputations (both nationally and provincially) often turn on who is conducting the best scholarship. Aren't scholarship, teaching, training, and placement all intertwined to a large degree?
-- When we are talking about having legal experience, what are we really talking about? It appears to me that most (but certainly not all) law profs with some years of legal experience have that experience in big law firms or rather specialized practices (e.g. prestige entities like ACLU, US Atty, etc.). Unless you're teaching in the top 20 or so schools, it is likely that the vast majority of your students won't be placing in such jobs; more likely they will be going to small law firms, state and local government jobs, and solo practice. I'm not saying that the practice experiences listed above aren't generally relevant, but it does seem that there could be somewhat of a disconnect between the profs' experience and the careers of the majority of their students. Is such experience differentially helpful to the bottom 90% of students in your school who won't place in such positions? Just a thought.
-- Is training lawyers the only goal of law teaching? Don't people go to law school for a number of reasons? In recounting people I know from my law school days, a good number (but certainly not a majority) do not practice law now. I recognize that there is the possibility of a selection effect (i.e. you hang out with people with similar career goals), but it's not as if I went to a professor producing institution like Yale (although it would be really awesome if I had). In essence, who are the relevant "clients" for law schools and how do we (long term) further their interests? Doesn't research further those interests? Perhaps not as directly as in the hard sciences, but it seems to me that it makes an important contribution. Do relevant clients differ across schools?

Posted by: Jeff Yates | Jul 13, 2007 11:29:26 AM

Some law profs work extremely hard in the summer and during the year, but once you have tenure, you don't have too. I suspect that many don't, or spend their time doing work for "outside remuneration." Certainly they work less than the average poor soul toiling away in a law firm. If you don't believe me, look here at the hours for law teachers vs. lawyers. http://www.bls.gov/opub/cwc/tables/cm20051121ar01t1.htm

Law teachers work fewer hours per year than any other job on the list except other types of teachers and pilots. They make more per hour than virtually any other group, including lawyers, except pilots.

Disclaimer: Just trying to put this debate in perspective, not implying there aren't hard working profs.

Posted by: anon | Aug 9, 2007 8:25:11 PM

Some law profs work extremely hard in the summer and during the year, but once you have tenure, you don't have too. I suspect that many don't, or spend their time doing work for "outside remuneration." Certainly they work less than the average poor soul toiling away in a law firm. If you don't believe me, look here at the hours for law teachers vs. lawyers. http://www.bls.gov/opub/cwc/tables/cm20051121ar01t1.htm

Law teachers work fewer hours per year than any other job on the list except other types of teachers and pilots. They make more per hour than virtually any other group, including lawyers, except pilots.

Disclaimer: Just trying to put this debate in perspective, not implying there aren't hard working profs.

Posted by: anon | Aug 9, 2007 8:25:49 PM

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