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Sunday, August 26, 2018

A Guide for the Perplexed - Law Professor Careers Edition

220px-Guide_for_the_Perplexed_by_MaimonidesWith sincere apologies to Maimonides, and having been a guest blogger through this year's fall article submission season, it seems like an opportune time for a short update to those classics, Memo to Lawyers: How Not to "Retire and Teach" and "Retire and Teach" Six Years On.  I wrote the former piece after getting a tenure-track law teaching job at the ripe old age of 52, reflecting on the idiosyncrasies of the hiring process, particularly for the superannuated aspirant, after having experienced the real world for most of a career. I wrote the latter piece shortly after I got tenure, reflecting mostly on what it really meant to do scholarship and teaching well.  

I now have the further experience of having participated on various career-related committees and the faculty meetings in which hiring and other career decisions get made.  (Disclaimer:  what follows are my views alone and do not represent views of my employer, any committee on which I sit, or any other member of our faculty.)  So, below the break, and for what it's worth, here are some random and personal thoughts about the role of scholarship in academic law careers and careerism, particularly for pre-tenured folks, from my particular perch at a respectable but certainly not an "elite" school.

  • Why are you writing?  Presumably it's because you like doing it and see it as a way of making a difference in the world.  But from a career advancement standpoint, you do it for one of three reasons:  to get hired, to get tenure, or to move laterally.  What I'm about to say is based on intuitions about data because the data is not readily available.  The first and the last of those career objectives are difficult; the middle one, at all but a handful of institutions, is relatively easy.  My suspicion is that the lateral market is far less important as a factor in career advancement than it might otherwise seem - again the availability heuristic at work.  The AALS reports that there are over 10,000 full-time tenured or tenure-track law professors (makes sense - about 200 schools at an average of 50 faculty members).  Maybe there are 100 lateral moves a year?  A very well-known senior law professor/scholar told me years ago not to expect to move laterally - this person had spent 17 years at a lower top 100 school before making a series of significant jumps up the food chain.  My intuition (which I could test if I didn't think it was undue navel-gazing) is that the farther you go down the rankings, the higher the percentage of faculty that have spent their entire career at the school.
  • CVs provide a gestalt.  My own experience is that I take it in as a whole and don't react to any particular item unless there is something truly exceptional about it.  For my money, the angst and mental energy I see reflected on this blog with respect to article placement is barely worth the effort.  The names of law reviews in which you've published are visceral heuristics that, in my experience, matter only when one is flipping through hundreds of FAR submissions.  Even then, it matters only to an extent and not at the level of granularity that people seem to think makes a difference.  Per the lumping of peer reputation scores I've highlighted before, if you've published in the elites it would cause me to notice, and it would probably cause me to notice if you published nowhere but specialty journals in the unranked USNWR category of law schools, but little else matters viscerally.  I don't keep a US News or Washington & Lee ranking in my head, and couldn't tell you where Tulane ranks in relation to Colorado to Temple.  And even noticing isn't the same thing as making an informed judgment that involves the subject matter of the writing, the apparent sophistication of the work (if one can tell from the title), or its originality, even if I make the judgment quickly.
  • Once you get past the visceral, here's what I think really happens.  As Paul Caron wrote in an article over ten years ago, legal scholarship has an exceedingly long tail.  Paul relied on research done by Tom Smith at San Diego.  The top half percent of articles get 18% of all citations, the top 5.2% get 50% of all citations, and the tail gets truncated quickly as 40% of all articles never get cited.  I'm assuming that there is a relationship between citation and articles even getting read.  The times you can be sure some or all of your work will be read is when you've made it through the callbacks and are into the final several people being considered for the spot, when you are being reviewed for promotion or tenure, and if and when you were ever in the final stages of the lateral process.  Generally speaking, people doing that reading aren't idiots, and know exactly how the system works.  If the piece sucks, but somehow you managed to get it through the editorial board at take-your-pick top 50 flagship, very few people who know the area in which you are writing are going to think to themselves, "Hmm, this person missed the really important work on this subject and skated over the hardest responses to the argument, but my gosh it was placed in the Big Ten Other Than Michigan Law Review, so it must be good."
  • While being perceived as a competent scholar is a but-for in the hiring, tenuring, and lateraling milieus, the make-or-break consideration is being perceived as a productive scholar.  If there is anything I find meaningful in visceral impressions, again it is the gestalt of a CV with a healthy list of publications the dates of which show consistency, all appropriately adjusted for the length of one's career.
  • In creating the gestalt, aim for one traditional law review behemoth a year.  But don’t overlook short pieces - reactions, brief essays, and so on.  The online supplements are nice for this, as are the "essay" sections of traditional law reviews.  You read a piece and have 3,000 to 5,000 words (or fewer) to say about it.  Do it!
  • With the shorter pieces, take a shot at a peer reviewed journal.  I really like the courage it shows. (Most peer reviewed journals have a word limit - usually no more than 10,000.).  It takes longer to place them, but it really is a professional affirmation.  And since it's likely that they don't count as "tenure pieces" under many schools' tenure standards, the wait doesn't matter so much.  Steel yourself, however, for what academics in other disciplines experience:  evil reviewer #2 who hates your piece, your school, and you, "revise and resubmit," and Chicago Manual of Style footnotes. 
  • My thoughts on the substance of what gets written and the relationship of that substance to career advancement - issues of cross-disciplinarity, normativity, conformity, etc. - are at pages 71-80 of Retire and Teach: Six Years On, and I won't repeat them here.
  • Network in your area.  If you read somebody’s article and like it, send the person a note with this in the subject line “Loved your piece....”.  Be a commenter on others’ work.
  • Blog.  PrawfsBlawg was founded as a forum for new (i.e. “raw”) professors.   Again, it’s a two-edged sword.  If your stuff is good, it helps.  If not, it doesn’t.  When I was unsure of a blog post, I would send it to a friend first.
  • Finally, a pet peeve. When you submit, you certainly can play the expedite game, but my personal view is that it’s inappropriate to submit to law reviews for which you would not accept an offer if it were the only one you got.  If somebody at my school were to tell me they were doing that, I would probably raise my eyebrows and look askance.

Posted by Jeff Lipshaw on August 26, 2018 at 10:42 AM in Getting a Job on the Law Teaching Market, Life of Law Schools, Lipshaw, Teaching Law | Permalink

Comments

I've published in a mix of student law reviews and peer-reviewed law journals because I teach law in a business school, and the faculty value peer review. The substantive feedback that I've received from peer-reviewed journals always has been head and shoulders above the cosmetic changes that law review editors suggest. It varies by journal, but most peer reviewers take their jobs seriously, and they push back hard against arguments and point out areas that need more development. When I look at all of the articles that I've written, the peer-reviewed articles are consistently stronger.

Posted by: anon | Aug 27, 2018 5:25:05 PM

The EIC did not like a visiting position I had a few years prior. I saw he was active in a certain movement and I think he was prejudiced and wanted to simply "F" me. The fact a prestigious US international law journals published me not only validated the paper (this journal has in house faculty that serves as a peer review) but provides to me at least a strong indication that the peer review process can be used by EICs in a bad way.

Posted by: Trump2020AND2024 | Aug 27, 2018 1:51:33 PM

Peer review ... Bigly correct my friend. I had a paper a few years back which I submitted to a UK based peer review journal. Within an hour the EIC shot back an email stating the article was not "developed" and was not worthy (he was more diplomatic c you but not much more) of publication. I subsequently had it published in a T14 international journal. What I believe happened is this

Posted by: Trump2020AND2024 | Aug 27, 2018 1:48:06 PM

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