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Thursday, August 11, 2005

Publishing while practicing (II): Time trials and Special Programs

This is the second in a series of posts on the subject of publishing while practicing. (For the first installment, which dealt with finding a Westlaw or Lexis password, click here. For further discussion on that topic at Conglomerate, click here). As many of the commenters noted in the comments to that post, a Westlaw ID is nice, but where on earth does a practitioner find the time to write a law review article?

Here, again, are some of my own thoughts and observations. (As noted in the last post, these are my own thoughts, and I welcome comments from others -- there is no one right way to go about this process.) (Also, I'll skip the obvious tips, like "discipline yourself" and "write smart" and so on).

First, you may want to piggyback off of existing material you've worked on. This may include a student note, a seminar paper, or a research project.

This is not to say that you ought to repackage your student note and try to re-publish it. But if you've already done the research on a particular issue for a note or seminar paper or other project, you can lessen some of your research time needs by doing further writing on that subject.

As a practitioner, you may also write about research you've done in practice. This could also be a useful time saver. However, there are serious potential ethical issues that you should consider before writing about your practice. (These will be addressed in my next post).

Second, you should try to put yourself into article-writing situations that require less time. For example, writing-in-practice is probably not the time to try to put together an exhaustive empirical piece with hundreds of moving parts. Similarly, don't try to write the everything-there-is-to-know article that spans 200 pages. (Not only will it not publish well, it will take you forever. Stay with shorter articles. My two published-in-practice articles ran 70 and 60 pages, respectively). Remember that you have no research assistants to help you, and not a lot of time to spare. Take on projects that you'll be able to do in a reasonable length of time. (If you have an idea for a future lots-of-moving-parts empirical piece, fine -- ultimately, you'll be an academic with more writing support, and will be able to do that one. But put that piece on hold for now and focus on something smaller).

There are two further "tricks" that you can use, one of which I used and one of which I didn't. These are working with co-authors and publishing book reviews. Both of these can cut your needed writing time.

Both options have their potential disadvantages as well. Co-authors can be great -- I had a very good experience co-writing with Dave. But I've also heard horror stories about bad co-author relationships. Also, you shouldn't expect that writing with a co-author will cut your writing time by 50%. In my experience, it's more like a 30% cut (which is still very helpful).

Remember that both co-authoring and book reviewing may open you up to questions about just how much work you did. Not that these questions can't be answered in perfectly acceptable ways, but bear in mind that your intended audience -- legal academics on an appointments committee -- knows perfectly well that these two tricks exist.

There are other options: You can write when you get free time (which happens to most practitioners every now and then, even at the big firms). You can take vacation time to go home and write. (I did this with one article).

Finally, you can take the plunge that I eventually did, and inquire about your firm's part-time policy. I worked part-time at Cravath for a time, and it was tremendously helpful for my writing.

More and more firms are implementing part-time policies. (See, e.g., articles here and here). For an aspiring academic, they can be great, offering a chance to ease the burden of law firm life and the time to write, while keeping the work and (some of) the paycheck.

You should investigate your firm's policy closely before jumping onto this particular bandwagon. There are questions such as whether you will get the same quality of work, and what the firm will expect of you. Going part-time may create issues for promotion (e.g., partnership) down the road. (Many firms explicitly state that part-time work will not affect partnership chances, but others do not make such a promise -- so do your homework and find out what your firm policy is). Of course, if you're sure that you want to eventually become an academic, then you may not worry about damaging your partnership chances. But if you're not sure that you want to leave practice, you should be very careful to research how your career at your firm may be affected by going part-time. Finally, remember that there are other downsides to part-time work -- you'll be paid less than you were before, for example.

Even with the downsides, I think that going part-time makes sense for many people in practice who wish to publish in order to move to academia. The recent widespread adoption of part-time work among firms is is a relatively recent sea change in the legal world, and it's one that aspiring academics should seize on. (Most articles seem to suggest that aspiring academics aren't going part-time in big numbers, and that the driving force behind part-time programs is attorneys who are new parents, particularly mothers.) And bear in mind that many firms' policies are evolving rapidly in this area. if your firm doesn't have a part-time program, it may make sense to (carefully) inquire about whether they've thought about starting one. Or even to start looking around for a firm that does have part-time work available.

That concludes Part II; the last post in this series, to come, will deal with ethical issues.

Posted by Kaimi Wenger on August 11, 2005 at 04:30 PM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink


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I guess I would say, don't discount the value of discipline. Or maybe another way to put it is, a regular writing schedule can go a long way toward getting an article finished. I had struggled with a piece for a fairly long time when I was trying to find large blocks of time on the weekends to write. Those large blocks always seemed to be taken up with something else. Probably tired of hearing me complain about it, my wife suggested that I work on the piece for 1 1/2 hours early in the morning every day. That schedule turned out to be the trick. I wrote from 6:00 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. through much of the spring and summer of 2003, and I was able to submit the piece in the fall season. Since many law firms don't start work very early in the morning, this is probably a schedule that would work for a lot of practitioners who are trying to build up their publishing credits.

Posted by: David Smyth | Aug 14, 2005 1:45:26 PM

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