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Thursday, March 01, 2007

Co-Authoring with Students

Once a year, once every other year, I publish something with a student co-author.   My co-authored pieces have not been high-level theoretical pieces like the ones Akhil Amar writes with his future law-prof students (E.g., this piece on prosecutions of presidents with Brian Kalt,  this piece on Bakke with Neal Katyal).   These tend to be case-crunchers, typically based on some legal doctrine I've run across that annoyed me.   I'll only work with a student on an idea I came up with; if it's the student's idea and they write the first draft, there's little justification for me putting my name on it.  So Saira Rao, who recently wrote Chambermaid, a comic novel about a  federal clerkship year,  and I wrote about a loyalty oath I had to take in order to visit at NYU--clearly unconstitutional in our opinion.  Mike Blanchard and I criticized a line of cases allowing "experts" to offer opinions in criminal cases that based on their visual inspection--an eyeball evaluation--a white powder seen on the street but not seized or lost before trial, was heroin or meth or cocaine  (Since neither of us were scientists, we called Dr. Henry Lee, and got a good quote from him about how no one could tell anything just by looking.).  Last year, several students and I published a report on Jim Crow Laws still on the books in the former Confederacy; four states repealed their laws in response to the report; others decided to keep them.  Overall, this seems like a good use of my time.   It combines teaching and scholarship.  It's fun.  The students typically work very hard; they are too inexperienced to have shortcuts they are confident in, so they research the issues to death.  Unlike an attorney-co-author, the students tend to take direction without too much argument.  A publication  credentializes the students; all have landed great positions.   Co-authoring lets me write more than I could by myself--even though revising student work for publication takes time.    On the other hand, in the long run, writing a larger number of focused, doctrinal pieces diverts time and energy from more ambitious projects.   

With a couple of recent papers, I have involved students with projects at the core of my scholarly agenda.  Rick Holmes and I published a sixth amendment piece in Cornell, and Randy Wagner and I are circulating a race and law paper that has been my focus for two years.   If my best work comes in pieces co-authored with students, will my school's Peer Review Committee and others wonder if, or assume that, any meritorious qualities are from Wagner and Holmes, not Chin?  Thoughts?

Posted by Marc Miller on March 1, 2007 at 08:37 AM in Teaching Law | Permalink


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Just a thought as to the statement that many journals do not accept submissions written by students... it may have at least a little to do with the fact that journals are ranked based on the number of times the journal is cited by other journals, and there may be at least the perception, whether it actually plays out or not, that bigger-name authors may be more "citable" than student authors. It may also have something to do with the fact that, unlike in many other professions, law journals are student-edited and students are much more likely to trust the writing of a professor than a fellow student.

Posted by: AK | Mar 7, 2007 11:21:03 PM

A related question is whether it is a good idea for academic institutions, through their journals, to have policies excluding submissions from grad students. The poster above states that about half of journals will not publish submissions by students, and those that do tend to be biased against them. Does these policies make sense? In most fields, grad students with great ideas don't seem to face these same restrictions.

To the point of the original post - you are doing your students a favor since it gives them an opportunity that they would otherwise not have. I'm sure your students appreciate it, and perhaps it's even part of your job to help your students in these sorts of endeavors. Also, it could even help the legal field and society in general in some small way by giving exposure to ideas that might no get out there otherwise.

Posted by: law student | Mar 1, 2007 4:17:43 PM

Yep. Co-author with students because (1) you enjoy helping students take their writing and analytical skills to a higher level, (2) you enjoy making a palpable difference in students' job prospects and potential as future scholars, (3) you enjoy the breadth of knowledge that you acquire when the scholarship takes you afield from your usual topics of scholarship, (4) you believe the scholarship will make a positive difference in the law or legal literature, and/or (5) you really enjoy seeing your name in print.

Don't do it for tenure -- the tenure review committee will assume the student did all the work. And many of the student's prospective employers will assume you did all the work. For that reason, other things being equal, I try to help students get published in their own names solo, rather than as co-authors with me. But about half the law journals refuse to even consider an article written by an outside student, and even the journals that do consider the articles put them much lower in the pecking order than they do otherwise-similar articles by authors with "credentials" (meaning the article gets a much less prestigious placement). So, often co-authoring is the best option.

Posted by: Rick Bales | Feb 28, 2007 9:27:03 PM

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