Wednesday, August 06, 2014
SEALS v. AALS
At the Law Deans on Legal Education Blog, Richard Gershon (Mississippi) compares SEALS and AALS as conferences, identifying the pros and cons of each. Speaking as someone who regularly attends SEALS and has not attended AALS in seven years (mostly because of timing), I agree with pretty much everything he says. I do think his criticism about lost networking opportunities at SEALS because of its length are overstated--many people stay the full week (on their own dime, obviously) and many stay at least four days.
SEALS always has had the air of a boondoggle--professors and their kids playing at a beach resort for a week while purporting to be at an academic conference. But most folks balance time with family and time in the conference. There are some great panels and discussions every year and many of them are as well-attended as AALS panels I've seen (there were about 50 people at a panel on Bickel last year). In reality, people do not go to these conferences for the panels, anyway. So the real difference between SEALS and AALS may be this: When people skip SEALS panels on Amelia Island in August, they do it to play golf or jump in the pool; when they skip AALS panels in New Orleans in January, they do it to get drinks and good food. Make of that what you will.
It seems to me that the comparative questions you pose are less significant than the mutual ones. Given that each mixes business with pleasure, are we sure the cost of either can really be justified? I have always felt that jokes about skipping panels rang hollow, even more so now that tuition is so high. And mere attendance, or active participation, doesn't seal the deal. Fifty attendees at a Bickel presentation, when much could be gained by just reading Bickel and the huge secondary literature, and when few of the 50 attendees will use the information from the panel in publishable work, is not much of a defense at all . . . nor is having a number of papers or panelists if it doesn't produce higher quality publishable work.
Assuming attendance at one or the other is financially supported by a law school, what measures can be adopted to better ensure the money is well spent? Your blog might be a useful place for schools to exchange best practices.
Posted by: Anon | Aug 6, 2014 12:37:06 PM
I've been to SEALS only twice, in large part because the boondoggle nature of it the first time made me uncomfortable about going back. It was too many law professors on a school-funded vacation. (Law school scam folks looking for a target-- SEALS is a rich one.) With that said, my sense is that in recent years SEALS has become a much more serious academic conference. There was much more academic substance the second time I went (in 2011, I think) as compared to the first time (2004, or thereabouts).
Posted by: Orin Kerr | Aug 6, 2014 1:44:31 PM
Orin: My experience about seriousness from the first time I went in 2005 (following my 2d year teaching) to now is consistent with yours. There also is a lot more content, meaning more people attending and more people doing stuff; academic seriousness naturally follows. Certain recurring programs--new scholars workshops, subject-matter discussion groups, prospective law prof workshops--have added to that. Also, schools are not paying for people to stay the full week, which added to the boondoggle perception--to the extent it's a vacation, it isn't school-funded.
Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Aug 6, 2014 3:32:10 PM