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Tuesday, May 09, 2017

National Impact/Expertise via Articles or Books

“Should I write a book?”  That is a question I am asked on regular occasion by junior faculty. 

It is an oddly difficult question to answer and one that I think the Prawfsblawg community might be helpful in debating.

Unquestionably, law review articles are the coin of the realm for most law professors.  Junior faculty members are told to focus on them.  Scholarly potential is judged by them.  Status (if you care about such things) is guided by placement in them. True, outside the legal academy not as many people as you would wish read them, but they are the focus of attention.

Books are secondary. Great books can change career trajectories and influence policy, but their influence is usually outside of the academy.  I don't want to minimize the importance of books because many scholars write both books and articles with equal influencing impact.  But, many times books are seen as an extra bonus, maybe not even counted for tenure review, although certainly not a negative.  Sure, as you get more senior, books can shape or define a career and as larger works they tend to offer more fully developed ideas.  But, as an untenured professor, they are a lot of work with less obvious institutional reward.

At least this is my sense of the conventional wisdom (with usual caveats that it is institution dependent and a host of other qualifiers).  And, it may even be correct in terms of promotion and tenure.  But, if you want to become a recognized expert with national impact (which is sometimes also required for tenure) I am not sure I agree with the traditional advice.  I have been teaching for 7 years (not much, I concede).  I have written 19 articles and 1 book (with the second on the way).  And, over and over it has been my book that has opened doors nationally, defined my “expertise,” and been my calling card.  Even though 14 (or 15 depending on how you count) of my articles have been on technology and criminal justice issues, my book on juries provides a legitimacy that the articles do not.

My sense is that with lawyer groups, judges, journalists, legislatures, and professional organizations, the status of “book author” opens doors more than “professor” or “scholar of well written law review articles.”  Similarly, in today's media culture, a book is a marker of expertise.  Even if you have written 120,000 words in law reviews on a subject, those insights are less visible than a 60,000 word book on the same issue.  Producers call.  Journalists ask.  Invitations arrive in the mail.

To be clear, I am not convinced anyone buys books anymore, or even reads them when they do, but the marker of “author” provides a legitimation that law review articles do not.

This influence may be true more with non-law professor audiences.  And, so for junior faculty members deciding on a book, it may well be preferable to focus on gaining the respect of one's colleagues for traditional scholarship and not on being an expert in any broader way.  Again, individual goals and institutional culture plays a role. 

But, if your goal is to get your ideas out there to the legal world and beyond and make an impact then writing books may open more doors than writing in law reviews.  Or maybe I am completely wrong, which is why Prawfsblawg is such a grand place to engage the debate.  What do you think?

Posted by Andrew Guthrie Ferguson on May 9, 2017 at 03:19 PM | Permalink

Comments

"I am not convinced anyone buys books anymore"

?

Posted by: YesterdayIKilledAMammoth | May 9, 2017 4:35:58 PM

Maybe just not my book. :(

Posted by: Andrew Ferguson | May 9, 2017 4:40:32 PM

I completely agree that writing a book will make you be perceived as more of an expert than a new number of law review articles of similar length.

Posted by: Anonprof | May 9, 2017 10:20:30 PM

Andrew, I imagine your argument depends in part on the field of legal scholarship in which a given professor engages. For criminal justice, I agree that books play an important role in public and legal discourse, and that a junior scholar might want to give some thought to thinking about how her current paper might translate into a future book project. In other disciplines, however (am thinking law and econ, although I imagine there are others), academic journals serve as the primary venue for communicating ideas and impacting the relevant scholarly community. And as for expertise, I imagine again it depends on the field and the author's intended audience.

Posted by: Miriam | May 10, 2017 9:32:37 AM

Great post, Andrew. Writing a book is one of my long-term career goals. However, I feel like my book should focus on something I'm passionate about, but that can be distinguished from my law review articles (kind of like your book on juries). Finding a relatively novel topic I know enough about to put together a compelling book proposal, and then find the time to write, seems daunting... maybe I'll figure out how to do this during my sabbatical. ;)

Posted by: Kristina Campbell | May 10, 2017 10:08:09 PM

Maybe I'm biased, as one of those jd/phd types who wrote a book before tenure and not many traditional law review articles. But it seems to me that if one is interested in having any influence, not just over lawyers and the public, but also in other disciplines that (rightly) don't have a lot of respect for the law reviews, a book is a good way to go. I also think people in the academy do read them---my book, at least, has sold at least enough to earn me a couple small royalty checks (did I mention small?) and gotten reviewed, etc.

So I don't really know where this idea that people w/in the academy, even w/in the legal academy, don't take them seriously.

Incidentally, as Miriam mentions, I'm sure that the article is more important than the book in Law & Economics, but I take it that the articles in question are typically peer reviewed articles at this point, not law review articles (... right?).

Posted by: Paul Gowder | May 11, 2017 11:28:18 PM

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Posted by: Online Degree Fast | Jun 2, 2017 7:54:04 AM

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