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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Why Such a Disparity in Academic Conferences?

Yair's post below, Why Doesn't Anyone Care About Tax Law, reminded me of a question that's perplexed me: why are there so many academic conferences in some fields (e.g., corporate law) but so few in others (e.g., employment law)?

I know of several interesting conferences that were about (or had a substantial component of) corporate law this past year, e.g., Lewis & Clark's behavioral economics & corporate law conference in the fall; U. Maryland's recent conference on criminal corporate law; and broader conferences such as ALEA, which featured a tremendous amount of corporate law.  I'm sure there were lots more that I don't know because I'm not a corporate law guy.  Similarly, constitutional law has a great many conferences, some devoted to specific subjects like religion, others even devoted to individual Justices (e.g., the Justice Stevens conference at Fordham).  In contrast, there was no such embarrassment of riches in academic employment law conferences this past year, setting aside token employment panels at AALS and Law & Society.  I'm only in year two of professoring, so it's possible I'm just not sufficiently in the loop, but I've asked around, and I don't think there's some massive wealth of employment law conferences I'm missing.

I suppose I'm posing two questions: (1) Are there other fields that, like employment, seem to get shortchanged on the conference circuit? (2) Any hypotheses as to why?

Posted by Scott on May 10, 2006 at 01:41 PM in Legal Theory, Life of Law Schools | Permalink


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I just wanted to jump in and add an international perspective to the conversation about the disparity conferences /interest in various areas of law.

Recently, I have been looking into the comparative development of restitution law and scholarship in the common law world. The differences are quite stark.
In the UK, and the commonwealth more generally, restitution law scholarship is the hot ticket item. It is basically the equivalent of "constitutional theory" in the US landscape, and a staggering numbers of books, articles conferences, (even a Restitution Law Review) have been devoted to this topic. Restitution is the one of the cornerstones of Oxford's prestigious BCL degree, a near requirement for an academic appointment in the commonwealth (and more popular than a Yale/Harvard LLM/JSD). Here in the States, many are not even sure what exactly restitution is, (and are even less aware of its constituent sub-doctrines) and do not think it is worthy of more than a few cases in a 1L contracts course-- if that. Commonwealth private law scholars are baffled at the apparent indifference on US academics to the ALI's Restatement of Restitution project, and I think it safe to say that more scholarship on the American law of restitution has been produced by non-US based scholars US based writers. (A leading book on US law, The Law and Ethics of Restitution, is written by an Israeli scholar and published by an English press)

It is not only the topic that they are interested in but, even more interestingly, the prevailing scholarly method. Commonwealth private law scholarship in general, and restitution in particular, is conceptualist and doctrinally analytic, in a way that would surprise most post-realist US writers ( I certainly was surprised). Much of the enterprise is about rationalizing various (and rather old and settled ) portions of the common law's arcania: not only quasi contracts but subrogation, tracing, constructive and remedial trusts; things that go under the title of "Equity" in the commonwealth. This scholarship contrasts quite sharply with what US scholars call restitution; slavery & holocaust reparations, or in a different tone, state lawsuits against tobacco companies, and sometimes ERISA.

Just a final tidbit: a recent graduate of an English law school told me that a student that wants to distinguish himself as a rising star will excel in the (mandatory) course of "Equity and Trusts." Needless to say, this would hardly get you anywhere in a US law school.

Posted by: Chaim Saiman | May 12, 2006 2:48:13 PM

Hi guys. It is certainly within our ability to propose a mid-year AALS employment/employment discrimination meeting, but there needs to be a core group who is willing to push that agenda and hard. Assuming we now have 3 who are board, maybe this is something we can recruit people on, pick a topic, and have a meeting in 2008 (I think 2007 has already been chosen).

As far as placing scholarship, I can only speak from my own experience. I would say that I have had about equal success with labor law, empployment discrimination, and employment law (public-oriented) scholarship. I haven't noticed a specific bias against such scholarship, but maybe others will chime in and let us know if that is their sense as well.

Posted by: Paul M. Secunda | May 10, 2006 4:11:20 PM

For an interesting, if not exactly uplifting, take on this (in a quick 10 pages), check out:

Cynthia Estlund, "Reflections on the Declining Prestige of American Labor Law Scholarship," 23 Comparative Labor Law and Policy Journal 789 (2002).

Posted by: Joseph Slater | May 10, 2006 3:43:52 PM

Joe, I think you're right that schools are expanding emp and decreasing labor. I guess it's my limited perspective as a relative newbie: I'm not seeing the dramatic change, just the current state of "hm, weird that not ALL schools have all three courses -- emp law, emp disc, & labor."

Related to this discussion as well as the topic of my post: Is your impression that it's harder to place labor law scholarship than employment law scholarship? Relatedly, my uninformed sense is that employment law is less sexy to law review editors than employment discrimination.

Posted by: Scott Moss | May 10, 2006 3:30:58 PM

I had the impression that schools were offering more employment law and more employment discrimination, but less labor law. But I could be wrong.

Also, within the labor law world, academia has been very slow to embrace public sector labor law (either in scholarship or class offerings), despite the fact that an even-increasing part of the practice of labor law is in the public sector (40% of all union members in the U.S. are public workers). And of course I don't just say that because public sector labor law is my main area of scholarship ...

Posted by: Joseph Slater | May 10, 2006 3:25:01 PM

Joe, I just realized that I inartfully glossed over the labor-vs-employment distinction, but I think that's because academia has as well. Employment law (as distinct from emp disc or labor law) has been growing substantially as a legal field -- but not all schools yet have an "employment law" course. Instead, some have (a) just labor law and employment discrim courses, or (b) an "employment law & employment discrimination" combined course, which to my mind doesn't let one do justice to either topic. So I think there definitely has been a lag in law schools' accpetance of employment law as a significant field of study.

Posted by: Scott Moss | May 10, 2006 2:57:49 PM

Well, that's pretty hilarious: one of the few academic events on labor/employment was about... why there aren't more academic evenis in labor/employment. It definitely is interesting that the boom in labor/employment litigation (between 10 and 16% of federal litigation, I believe, depending on what you count) has not yet led to a corresponding increase in academic focus.

Is it possible we'll see such an increase in academic focus eventually -- that the eventual shift in focus is simply lagging the shift in the "real world"?

Posted by: Scott Moss | May 10, 2006 2:54:47 PM

I think I'm right that there hasn't been an AALS "mid-year" meeting on Labor Law, Employment Law, or Employment Discrimination in the period that I've been teaching, which started in 1999. We should definitely have one.

As to the "why," there was a AALS panel a few years ago on Labor Law as an unfashionable field; proceedings were published, I believe, in the Employee Rights & Employment Policy Journal. It's interesting reading. But Employment Discrimination seems to be a fashionable field, and Employment Law is at least an important one.

I'm hoping that the Workplace Prof. blog is an encouraging sign.

Posted by: Joseph Slater | May 10, 2006 2:43:06 PM

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