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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Are Young Law Scholars Too Old?

If you’re at all like me, you have a tendency to subscribe enthusiastically to listserves and distribution lists. I like to tell myself that, if I had more time, I really would read all of the BNA, SSRN, etc., emails I get each day, or each week, in my e-mail box. But the truth is that there are relatively few that I read consistently.

One distribution list that I consume like candy is SSRN’s “Young Scholars Law Abstracts,” edited by Robin Wilson (Maryland) and David Hyman (Illinois). Young Scholars Law Abstracts is both informative about the direction of legal scholarship (in that junior faculty at least aim to write about new and interesting topics) and a great source of what passes for “gossip” in the legal academy (whose work is getting placed in what journals). The list is of course misnamed (as is the headline of this blog post), in that it consists of abstracts of works by junior scholars, who may not be “young” as people but are young as scholars. Young Scholars publishes

abstracts of both working papers and accepted papers on any subject relating to law written by individuals who have been in teaching for seven years or less. . . . For purposes of calculating "seven years or less" of teaching, fellowships, adjunct positions, and lectureships do not count against the total.

This is but one of a couple of notable forums for junior legal scholars to obtain feedback on and attention for their work. Two other (national) opportunities are the Yale-Stanford Junior Faculty Forum and the AALS Paper Contest. The Yale-Stanford Forum is open to

twelve scholars (with one to seven years in teaching and who are not yet tenured) . . . chosen on a blind basis from among those submitting papers to present.
Similarly, the AALS contest was open to scholars in the first seven years of teaching. Until this year. Now, only scholars who
as of July 1, 2006, have been educators for five or fewer years are eligible to submit papers.
Why the sudden change? The AALS described the change as one “made to emphasize the goal of recognizing scholarship produced by Junior Faculty.” Will the Yale-Stanford forum, and the Hyman-Wilson distribution list follow suit and reduce the number of years-in-post they consider “Young” or “junior”? Should they? When exactly does one stop being a “junior” scholar?

What constitutes a “junior” scholar has been in flux for years. With the rise of J.D./Ph.D. candidates (in the ‘80s?), an increasing number of new legal scholars are both more experienced teachers and scholars than in previous generations. The latest contributor to the aging of the junior faculty is the emergence of numerous 2+ year long Visiting Assistant Professorships (and their rising importance in securing a tenure-track post). Moreover, very few candidates these days are credible without at least a student note and a law review article (or substantially completed work in progress). With new scholars coming in both more seasoned and better prepared to make a contribution to the debate, it is understandable that the AALS would move to reduce the time horizon during which it considers one “junior.”

Dan Markel would like me to introduce myself, something that is always a bit uncomfortable for me, but if you’ve read this far, I suppose you deserve an explanation of who’s writing this. I’m an Assistant Professor at the University of Toledo, currently in my third year of teaching. I teach torts, corporations, antitrust and sports law, write on a variety of topics (mostly in the area of business associations), and have been blogging at for most of this year at the Sports Law Blog. I’m looking forward spending to the next few weeks to sharing some of my thoughts on non-sports topics, mainly dealing with this business of law teaching and legal scholarship.

Posted by Geoffrey Rapp on November 22, 2006 at 09:40 AM | Permalink


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Geoffrey -- I'm more inclined, as someone who just started year 8 of law teaching, to think that Young Scholars are too young. I feel like I am getting "Logan's Run"-ed! =-)

Posted by: Rick Garnett | Nov 22, 2006 1:05:36 PM

I assume the AALS change was consistent with a shift in tenure tracks from 7 years to 5 years (or shorter at some elite schools). Typically, a person stops being a junior scholar (even if they are "young" in every other sense of the word) when they get tenure. Because of the nature of tenure standards, at that point they theoretically don't need to be propped up on a national stage at the AALS meeting because their work already has received some national recognition.

Posted by: Anon | Nov 22, 2006 12:12:01 PM

We currently have no plans to change the criteria for inclusion in the Young Scholars Law Abstracts. So, even if the AALS Paper Contest turns you away after five years, you'll still have a home at SSRN Young Scholars Law Abstracts for another two years.

Posted by: David Hyman | Nov 22, 2006 11:39:03 AM

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