Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Two Cheers for "Law Erotica"
Stephen Bainbridge has a post on the proliferation of electronic, instead of print, versions of what is often called "law porn," although objections to the use of the word "porn" in this context have also proliferated; although it could be called "law promotional materials" easily enough, I've gone for a tongue-in-cheek compromise label in the title of this post.
I am more favorably disposed to these materials than Steve is. It depends greatly on the nature of the materials. I like materials that provide actual information of possible relevance to scholars: recent hires, recent scholarly publications, news on genuinely innovative approaches to teaching and other things that other schools might adopt as well (I see almost none of these kinds of materials!), and so on. A few schools manage to do glossy materials that are actually well-written and informative, even if they are full of self-praise: somewhat ironically given that it is usually Exhibit A in arguments against these materials, I quite enjoy NYU's annual "magazine." Its profile of Dworkin from a couple of years ago was effusive, yes, and sometimes verged on parody; but it was still interesting and well-written. I also like the "magazines" distributed by Chicago, Michigan, Toronto, and a few others. The best, in terms of its scholarly usefulness, is thebooklet produced every year by UVa, which focuses on a few faculty members each year and in each case features a short discussion of their scholarly agenda, an excerpt from a recent article, and a bibliography. Somewhere below the best are materials announcing the annual workshops and lecture series: sometimes I find a title of a work in progress that I'm interested in following up on, but most of the time the information is useless, especially since I'm not going to attend any of them anyway, and many lecture series feature bland talks by public figures.
The worst fall into three or so categories: 1) the compulsive mailers--those schools that seem to send out a new pamphlet, email, or notice card every few days (I must have gotten about 25 mailers from the University of San Francisco's law school this year); 2) the alumni magazines--"magazines" like NYU's, but targeted at alumni and other insiders rather than outsiders and yet sent to everyone in the known universe (I think Marquette's is an example); and 3) the anouncements of conferences that one isn't invited to and that are often taking place within a day of the mailing, making the information even less likely to be useful.
On the whole, unlike many, I would rather receive these materials than not receive them. That's true even if, as is generally the case, they're ridiculously fulsome, as long as they're also informative. As long as a school wants to tell me more about who it's hired and what its folks are writing, I'll be happy to read its mailers. But it would be nice if many of these schools actually seemed to give some thought to their audience when they send them out to law professors in general. I am just not interested in finding out about some nascent building campaign on the other side of the country, or about some locally well-known alumnus, or getting ten different notices from the same school when one would do, especially when the "news" contained in each mailer isn't especially impressive. And it would be great if more schools emulated Virginia's terrific booklet approach.
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Two exceptionally snide comments:
(1) I've long thought of it more like Law Penthouse -- a particular variety of porn based on airbrushed pictures, surgical modifications, and a ghost-written "letters" column. The material coming out of multiple schools within 50km of the Magnificant Mile has been paradigmatic...
(2) One must wonder whether any dean with an academic specialization in either trademark law or consumer protection law has ever been involved with any of these; I venture not. At least, I venture hopefully not!
Posted by: C.E. Petit | Nov 15, 2011 11:42:45 AM
Paul, my absolute least favorite is #3. I just feel like I got a xeroxed copy of a wedding invitation five minutes before the wedding. You aren't really inviting me to your conference that's across the country tomorrow, you just want me to be jealous that I'm not there. Then, your school will seem more prestigious in my eyes because you excluded me. Bah.
Posted by: Christine Hurt | Nov 15, 2011 3:51:15 PM
It's comforting to know that your deep concern over the cost of law porn, paid out of tuition dollars, is well spent as long as you're amused and interested by it.
Really, a second good reason for students to pay for law school.
Posted by: shg | Nov 17, 2011 12:26:53 PM