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Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Law Professor Olympics

Umm, hello?  Is this thing on?  Ahem.  Hi.  I'm delighted to be back at PrawfsBlawg for another month of prawfblawgging.  The first thing I wanted to talk about is an idea that recently came to me as a way of solving one of the strange problems of the law professor world.  Like many who have commented here and elsewhere in the blogosphere, I often find myself surprised that law professors don't seem happier--not just that they aren't somewhat more happy about their lives and careers but rather that they don't come to the office every day singing and dancing.  With the money they pay us and the freedom we have and the students we get to teach, it seems like every day in the law school should be a lot more like that musical where all the songs are by ABBA.

(incidentally, I do sometimes come to work singing and dancing, though the songs are more likely to be Smiths tunes than anything by ABBA)

One of the diagnoses for this state of affairs--and this is hardly an original observation either--is that law professors tend to be incredibly competitive people who no longer have any outlet for their competitiveness.  Yes, there's always the chance of visiting at a higher ranked school (though not for me), or having one's article on blah blah blah be accepted by the Whatever Law Review, but for the most part our days go by without any chance to compete directly with our peers.  This leaves us empty and confused and unlikely to come to work singing Mamma Mia.

A possible solution after the break.

What we really need in the legal academy is a Law Professor Olympics, sort of a "lumberjack games" for law professors where we can all get together for four days or a week or something during the summer and compete on all sorts of skills that we use everyday in our work but never get a chance to exercise in direct competition with our peers.  The key here would be coming up with the right events.  Some are obvious, like the "best question in a workshop" event where each school nominates its best question asker and in a series of preliminary rounds these question askers compete against each other to ask the most elegant, most insightful, most deliriously delicious question of some random paper presenter (judged by a panel of 3 or 10 other profs who award points to each question asker on squares of paper like in ice skating in the old days), and then the winners move on until the final round on the last day of the Olympics in which the greatest of the great question askers compete against each other while everyone looks on and cheers for their favorite question asker (perhaps this takes place in an auditorium, or a football stadium, depending on how popular the event becomes).

But we need some non-obvious events as well, and here's my first suggestion.  Do you ever arrive in your classroom and find that the previous professor teaching in there has either not erased the blackboard or whiteboard or has erased it so poorly that it's pretty much like the person has never before seen an eraser and could use a short tutorial in eraser-using?  There are all these random scrawlings on the board--a partial case name, a giant "B" with an arrow that goes to a couple of dollar signs, a big "SCALIA" with a bunch of question marks next to it, etc. etc.  Have you ever wondered if you could yourself just pick up a piece of chalk and use those notes on the board to give your own lecture on whatever the topic of the notes is?  It would sort of be like improv comedy except with the notes being the suggestions from the audience and without the comedy part.  To be really good at this, you would need to be a great teacher and a great improviser, and also have an incredibly broad knowledge of the law, since who knows what class you might be coming in after--secured transactions, animal law, a seminar or the Seventh Amendment, whatever.  I think this would make for a great competition for law professors.  Someone teaches a real class in secured transactions, animal law, the Seventh Amendment or whatever, makes a half-assed effort to erase the board, and then leaves.  Competitors take turns trying to give fifteen minute lectures using the remaining scrawlings and are judged by a panel of their peers.  Again, the competition starts off in preliminary rounds early in the week and proceeds to the final round at the end, right before the closing ceremony and the Dionysian kegger that finishes off the week at the host school's dean's house.

Other event suggestions?

Posted by Jay Wexler on December 1, 2009 at 10:08 AM in Jay Wexler | Permalink


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Jay, what about athletic events? Perhaps a parking lot dash, from one's parking space to the front door, in which the senior profs would have an advantage in terms of their starting line but the younger profs would compensate for it in vim and raw ambition.

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Dec 1, 2009 10:21:09 AM

Wait, you get parking spaces down there? Damn. Why why why can't I ever get what I want?

Posted by: Jay Wexler | Dec 1, 2009 10:27:03 AM

Perhaps some sort of timed contest for forming a cabal to remove the dean? The prof would be presented with a randomly selected group of strangers, one of whom will be labeled "dean" and the rest labeled "faculty colleagues." The prof must: 1) persuade the faculty colleagues within a designated time frame that they are oppressed; 2) convince them that the "dean," despite wielding little obvious power over their everyday lives, is the source of their oppression; and 3) carry out a successful no-confidence vote against the "dean."

Posted by: rob vischer | Dec 1, 2009 11:38:15 AM

Fascinating post - I'm curious, is it generally accepted that prawfs are generally very competitive folks?

Posted by: Mark D. White | Dec 1, 2009 1:38:47 PM

I propose mandatory playing of ABBA in law schools other than mine.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Dec 1, 2009 1:49:34 PM

As long as they can win themselves some cheap trays, I'm all for it.

Posted by: Jennifer | Dec 1, 2009 2:39:53 PM

LOL at Orin.

Posted by: Matthew Reid Krell | Dec 1, 2009 3:22:27 PM

Orin, is it ABBA specifically that you object to? Or is this really a general opposition to palindromes?

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Dec 1, 2009 4:08:16 PM

Actually, I can think of few faculty meetings that wouldn't be improved by a few ABBA tunes.

Posted by: Laura Heymann | Dec 1, 2009 6:04:13 PM


I also object to solos. So I guess it's really just a general opposition to all musical palindromes.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Dec 1, 2009 6:57:08 PM


Just musical palindromes? So you have no problem with this:

A man, a plan, a canal - Panama.

Posted by: Mark D. White | Dec 1, 2009 7:15:19 PM

I would pay good money to see an event like this. I think all the law schools should group together as the countries, and have law school vs. law school.

Posted by: Disability Insurance | Dec 2, 2009 2:29:19 PM

Jay, I've been in your class when you did the chalkboard improv - it's no fair suggesting events you've already mastered.

Posted by: Jon | Dec 2, 2009 9:23:14 PM

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