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Friday, July 22, 2005

Showy Intelligence & Legal Academia

Todd Zywicki at the VC is exactly right: law schools tend to overvalue showy intelligence.  It's a shame--and certainly isn't the norm in other departments in the academy.

Disclosure:  I've benefited from this bias, not because I'm especially intelligent but because I liked to talk in class and get into arguments with people, where I seemed competent and able to hold my own.  This disposition would get me almost nowhere in political science, my Ph.D. discipline.  As long as one avoids seeming cocky and arrogant, "showy intelligence" pays dividends on the legal academic market.

Posted by Ethan Leib on July 22, 2005 at 11:51 AM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink


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Todd Zywicki, in a post Justice-to-be John Roberts' law school days, wonders about what "type" of intelligence is desirable for a would-be law professor: [Read More]

Tracked on Jul 22, 2005 11:20:47 PM


eh, internet, hard to figure people's spirits. apologies.

Posted by: Paul Gowder | Jul 22, 2005 11:21:30 PM

Mr. Gowder: It was a good-spirited joke. Sheesh, it's almost like you're looking for reasons to disagree with me.

Posted by: Mike | Jul 22, 2005 7:16:28 PM

Mike: that's not fair. What has Will Baude done to be "showy?"

Posted by: Paul Gowder | Jul 22, 2005 7:10:51 PM

Am I the only one enjoying the delicious irony of watching Will Baude's effort at showy intelligence in a post about showy intelligence?

Posted by: Mike | Jul 22, 2005 6:35:38 PM

I suppose this discussion is bounded by the lack of definition of what is "useless". One year's off-the-wall idea is, in a decade, a Supreme Court concurrence, and from there, you never know.

Posted by: Will Baude | Jul 22, 2005 5:05:07 PM

I'm sure Professor Zywicki doesn't, when he complains that scholarship is too often "novel, glib, and clever," wish that it were repetitive, dull, and uninteresting. (As Will points out, given the benefits of novelty, why not promote it?) I think, rather, that Zywicki is upset over articles whose sole value is their novelty, glibness, and cleverness. A lot of constitutional law scholarship, for example, seems written as if those are the only three values. Such work is too often disconnected from what the law is, and so concerned with novelty that it carefully must stay on this side of being ridiculous. I think that some of Zywicki's work (e.g., his Green Bag article on the 21st Amendment) is, unlike glib mere novelties, interesting and yet still useful.

I do think that Zywicki is somewhat off in his criticisms, though: The vast majority of law review articles are not novel, not glib, not clever, not interesting, and not in the least useful. I'd certainly rather see more of the articles he calls overvalued than the average law review article.

Posted by: Pragmatist | Jul 22, 2005 4:52:06 PM

I thought the kind of "showy intelligence" we were discussing here was not just about whether one jabbers on a lot in class or makes witty cracks under Socratic scrutiny but whether one writes things that are "novel, glib, and clever" as Professor Zywicki complained. What's wrong with being novel, glib, or clever?

Put differently, of course scholarship should matter in a scholarly field, and maybe "commitment". But things that are novel, glib, and clever tend to be more entertaining, more enjoyable, more persuasive, and often-- therefore-- more widely read and more influential. Given that, why shouldn't law schools encourage, inter alia, the development of novelty, glibness and cleverness?

Posted by: Will Baude | Jul 22, 2005 2:53:58 PM

That reminds me, Ethan, I wanna see your Heidegger article. Pleeeaasseee?

Posted by: Paul Gowder | Jul 22, 2005 1:50:55 PM

The best advocates aren't necessarily showy. When and if you ever work as a lawyer, Will, I think you will understand that much of the work bears almost no relation to law school. If you are lucky (and are a litigator rather than a corporate lawyer), you will get to do some interesting research--but that takes hard work and a patient disposition to be good at, not showiness. More, only the smallest percentage of law school graduates ever engage in the high level Socratic Method that is generally associated with law school and appellate argument. Most laywers slave away as cogs in larger institutions--where being deferential, respectful, efficient, and putting in long hours in front of a screen are generally the things most highly valued.

Now I'm not saying it makes sense for law school to cater to what firms most want out of law school graduates; I'm saying that if it were appropriate to have law school reward what is most rewarded in the real world of being a lawyer, showiness is probably low on the list of real (rather than fictionalized) lawyerly attributes.

I think I'm just endorsing what I take to be a relatively uncontroversial claim: in the legal academy as elsewhere in the academy, scholarship, commitment to the world of ideas, and originality should be the marks of distinction, not how well you can package or brand your intelligence.

I might add that the version of intelligence most prized in the law schools also tends to be gendered--at least that's what Yale Law Women wrote a recent report on women in legal education. My fellow YLS '03 classmates, Sari Bashi and Maryana Iskander, have been publishing a series of articles exploring this relationship (between gender and legal education) in more detail--and I recommend them.

Posted by: Ethan Leib | Jul 22, 2005 1:36:23 PM

I think the "showy" complaint about legal education was made a while ago by Marthan Nussbaum in an article on "Cookery". I grant the empirical claim, but wonder, what's wrong with that? Many laywers are training to be advocates (in courtrooms, in negotiations, in deals, in policy arguments, and elsewhere) so shouldn't law school reward some degree showiness? Those who want the purer life could get Ph.D.s.

Posted by: Will Baude | Jul 22, 2005 12:38:40 PM

Ethan, one need only review some of your publications on subjects including Marxist analyses of torts, Heidegger, supermajorities, not to mention your acknowledgements to your book, to see that there's a well of erudition (unusual for a punk your age) you draw upon aside from flashy smarts. (How's that for pimpin'?)

Posted by: Aloha | Jul 22, 2005 12:19:41 PM

I agreed with Todd's post as well, and I also think that there is a new level of "showy" that will affect law school hiring, particularly lateral hiring. Whereas before you had quiet intellectuals and showy intellectuals (people who spoke up in class, cultivated friendships with professor-recommenders, and engaged others in intellectual jousting), we now have a third category. I think of these professors as Bill Gates-types -- brainy and entreprenurial. Like the people in the other categories, these folks are wickedly smart, but with an eye for marketing and branding. So, they play the law review games (hooks, catchy titles, trading up), they network at conferences, go on book tours/workshop tours, and they even start blogs. I'm not describing these entreprenurial professors with any trace of judgment, only a trace of awe. This type of showy takes a lot of time, a lot of gumption, and a lot of savvy.

Posted by: Christine Hurt | Jul 22, 2005 12:14:34 PM

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