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Friday, January 12, 2007

Faculty Reading Groups

I've heard that some faculties have small reading groups for the semester or a year, and of course, I am curious about what structures work best. Should participants give tutorials about their own projects and areas of expertise within (say) legal theory, or should the group just select works of other people to read. If the latter, should the works be classics or contemporary, and if contemporary, published or works in progress? I think the purpose of the reading group is to accumulate knowledge for those who may need brush-ups. In that sense, I think they're different than most faculty workshops for works in progress. Anyone have experience with this that she'd like to share in the comments? I think Illinois has had some of these in criminal law and policy, and I'm wondering if there are other guidelines elsewhere that you know about. Thanks.

Posted by Administrators on January 12, 2007 at 11:20 AM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink


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The semester I was at Wake Forest your own PrawfsBlawg alum Ron Wright organized an enjoyable reading group in which we decided largely ad hoc on pieces to read and discuss, including Stephen Breyer's book, and as I recall, a symposium piece in maybe the Maryland Law Review on law and economics. No work in progress stuff. That was the stuff of brown bags and lunch presentations.

Posted by: Jeff Lipshaw | Jan 12, 2007 9:27:53 PM

Mike Dorff at Southwestern started up a very enjoyable faculty reading group last year, in which I gladly participated. We have not gone the work-in-progress route, and I think such a direction is really different from a standard reading group, although it may be useful in and of itself as a separate enterprise. (And if you go that route, why limit yourselves to colleagues within the law school? Why not take advantage of the broader campus to invite colleagues from other schools to talk about developments in their field?)

In the SW group, we faced (and face) similar issues. I think there have been two conflicting currents in selecting readings: 1) readings in classic legal literature; and 2) recent cutting-edge pieces. I lean in the former direction, for reasons I've explored on this blog -- the lack of serious entry requirements for new law professors and the absence of a clearly established canon means it's possible to become a teacher and scholar without reading the classic texts, let alone discussing them in a group setting. The difficulty with the classics lies in selecting a reading that can stand on its own, and that is not so long that the group suffers from dropouts or collapses of its own weight. But, would that the legal academy were willing to admit it, such a brushup on the classics is probably necessary. Reading recent cutting-edge pieces is, of course, a great way of staying abreast of the literature. At SW we've tended to toggle between the two.

I'd also recommend a rotating facilitator for such reading groups meetings, who will take responsibility for nominating a short slate of potential readings, and then take charge of providing a list of questions (and perhaps even a summary of key points) prior to the meeting, to facilitate a useful discussion.

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Jan 12, 2007 11:33:50 AM

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