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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Collaborative Writing

Ben Barros suggested that I blog something about the virtues of co-authorship in light of my long and successful collaboration with Gideon Parchomovsky.  I am delighted to do so, and, in fact, have co-authored this post with Gideon.  I present it with the standard caveat that I give before presenting any of our joint works: what I say here is said in both our names, and Gideon will be more than happy to receive all comments about any possible errors.

The benefits of a good collaboration are obvious, I think.  There are synergies in developing ideas together and for people who are bad self-starters (like me), the obligations of a collaboration can keep the work proceeding at a steady pace.  The problem is coordination costs, which are highly variable and depend on the partners.  In truth, I'm not sure that I can say as a rule that collaborations are worth the effort as each collaboration has its own dynamic.  I do think that coordination costs go down the more one works together with the same partner, and I can confidently add that I feel Gideon and I have been successful working together thanks to Gideon's geniality, our ability to translate heated debate into interesting claims, our having developed comfort in a common voice, and lots of good espresso and scotch (not at the same time, of course).

Posted by Avi Bell on October 31, 2006 at 08:38 AM | Permalink


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Dan - These are important questions, but I don't have all the answers. Attitudes toward co-authorships vary from school to school, and I'm not sure I can speak knowledgeably about the attitude in all places. The perception that co-authorships are problematic seems overblown to me. Co-authorships often improve the quality of one's work as well as one's output. They can also serve as important commitment devices or at least a strong source of motivation to produce. Many of the best pieces of legal scholarship in recent years have been co-authored. That said, I think it remains true, by and large, that most schools expect junior faculty members to have at least one single authored piece. I'm not sure I understand why, given publishing practices in other fields and the track record in law.

Posted by: Avi | Oct 31, 2006 10:26:40 PM

Some deans, I am told, tell new faculty that they are generally cautioned against relying on co-authored works for promotion and tenure portfolios, but that with some major solely authored publications under one's belt, they can comfortably move forward to promotion with some co-authored work in the mix. (But see my colleague Jon Klick, who writes almost always with other people and, after one year of teaching and writing, received a prestigious title at FSU.) Another potential downside to co-authored work is that without some history of solely authored pieces, and even with it, faculties may prefer that you present works that are solely authored instead of the product of joint collaboration. This might take you by surprise, so there's some use to being aware of its possibility. Avi, has this sort of stuff been a concern or is it largely obviated by the quality and quantity of the work you produce?

Posted by: Dan Markel | Oct 31, 2006 4:27:49 PM

I know my "Rank & Tenure" committee asks co-authors what part they really contributed and asks for a statement of contribution. Although I appreciate what they are trying to do, my sense is that this requirment is a failure to adapt to current realities of the marketplace and creates a silly disincentive to engage in co-authorship relationships. Some of this requirment must result from the fact that many people at my school are co-authors on treatises and casebooks -- and perhaps collaboration in these academic contexts is merely distribution of chapter-writing and chapter-updating (I have no idea if this is right since I don't do this kind of work) so it is easier to claim authorship over particular chapters. This, of course, facilitates outside and inside evaluation.

I've done a few co-authored things that are not of this form and have no idea what to tell Rank & Tenure. Of course there are sections I wrote the first draft of and sections I didn't. But it would be an absurd over simplification to play this game.

Do others have such requirments? How do you handle them?

Posted by: Ethan Leib | Oct 31, 2006 10:32:17 AM

Thanks for opening the topic. A couple of reactions. Are collaborative projects more common in some branches of legal scholarship (e.g., law & econ., behavioral l & e, CLS, etc.) than in others? Are collaborative projects more common in some types of outputs (e.g., law review articles, peer reviewed articles, treatises, books)? Are collaborative projects more common among some law faculties? To the extent that intuition or casual empiricism reveal any differences along any of these lines, what, if anything, does that illuminate about collaborative work?

I'm also generally curious about the way law faculties treat collaborative work from a tenure & promotion perspective. Is a collaboration treated as 1/2 of a solo-authored work? Is first-authored work more "valuable" than second authorship? Do faculties make an effort to determine whether a particular co-author did the heavy lifting behind a piece?

Posted by: Geoff | Oct 31, 2006 10:02:31 AM

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