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Friday, November 04, 2011

Writing Agenda: How Many Fields?

A couple of days ago, Franita Tolson posted over on The Faculty Lounge some great thoughts for junior scholars considering writing in multiple scholarly areas.  On the one hand, there are good reasons to stick to one area of scholarship as a junior prof; that first project in a second area may be hard to get off the ground and with limited time it might be more effective just to stick to one's primary area.  On the flip side, writing in two areas puts you in conversation with more thoughtful people and I suspect many of us have some projects in a secondary area of interest that we're just itching to put some time into.

I've been struggling a bit with this dilemma myself of late.  I spend most of my time writing about commercial law meets religious practice (e.g. religious arbitration, religious contracts), and had decided to follow all that up with a broader paper on litigating religious claims.  But one of my colleagues (Trey Childress) encouraged me to write a paper for the annual symposium of the American Society of Law's International Legal Theory Interest Group.  This year's topic is Legal Positivism in International Legal Theory: Hart’s Legacy, and many of the questions will surround the Hart's own take on law and sovereignty.  The topic pushed me to write outside my primary research area - I don't currently teach international law or jurisprudence - but addressing the possibility of non-state law in the international context has done wonders for my thinking more broadly about the role of religious law within the state.  

Given Franita's thoughtful post, I thought I might suggest that for those of you thinking of venturing out to write in another scholarly area, finding that topic that touches, but doesn't quite overlap, with your primary area might prove super-rewarding. 

Posted by Michael Helfand on November 4, 2011 at 01:51 AM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink

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I think that this is wonderful advice. I also think that if you teach in a related area, it will allow you to incorporate new doctrine into your scholarship more seamlessly as well.

Posted by: Franita Tolson | Nov 4, 2011 7:58:29 PM

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