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Sunday, December 06, 2009

Why I Love My Job

In the critically-acclaimed 1993 documentary The War Room, directors D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus chronicle Bill Clinton’s successful 1992 presidential campaign. The War Room follows Clinton campaign operatives James Carville, George Stephanopoulos, Paul Begala and others as they engineer one of the most surprising presidential victories in modern American political history, shepherding then-Arkansas Governor Clinton to victory over presidential incumbent George H.W. Bush.

Near the end of the documentary, Pennebaker and Hegedus capture for posterity a moment that is at once moving, powerful and really quite touching: Carville’s thank you speech to the campaign staff. Carville begins, his eyes welling with tears, “There is a simple doctrine. Outside of a person’s love, the most sacred thing that they [sic] can give is their [sic] labor,” adding that “anytime that you can combine labor with love, you’ve made a merger.” (The short speech is available here beginning at around 4:30.)

I hadn’t ever given serious thought to what it means to call something a labor of love until Carville put it in those terms. But even so, at the time, when I first watched the documentary during my law school years, the meaning of the phrase didn’t quite register with me, perhaps because I was a student without a job (I regard summer internships, research assistantships, or teaching assistantships as apprenticeships.) But now that I have a job as a law professor, I understand more clearly what it means to describe something as a labor of love.

It really doesn’t feel like work to do what we do as law professors. At least not to me. Here I am, on a lovely Sunday afternoon, having just returned from church, and I am enjoying the time I'm spending at my desk writing a lecture for my introductory course on constitutional law next semester. 

Granted, as a first-year law professor, I have yet to grade my first set of exams, so perhaps I will feel differently in a couple of weeks when I am inundated in stacks of exams. But I am willing to bet that I will feel the same way as I do now about just how lucky I am to be in this profession.

It’s hard to believe that we can make a living, a pretty good living, discussing and reading and writing about things that interest us. All in a university setting populated by artists, athletes, scientists, just to name a few, all of whom love what they do and whose enthusiasm only deepens our appreciation for the richness of the community in which we live.

What a great job we have, don't you agree?

Posted by Richard Albert on December 6, 2009 at 12:35 PM in Teaching Law | Permalink


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Richard's response was very restrained, but I will reiterate my intention and practice to delete snarky anonymous commentators and to ban them from the site.

Posted by: dan | Dec 6, 2009 10:31:49 PM

Very much excepting the tone, I am a little sympathetic to the anon reader's grip: I for one would really like you to write about your scholarship, which seems super cool to me. I don't always have time to read everyone's full work on SSRN, and blogging often provides a way for people to talk informally about their research - publicizing the ideas and encouraging debate.

There's nothing at all wrong with law faculty talk - I'd say it comprises a third or more of my blogging - but one problem is that it can be a little repetitive as the same topics (powerpoint or not?; how do I manage RAs; how to dress to avoid looking too young; etc. get covered again and again). Scholarship is no snowflake, of course, but it's more likely to interest long term readers.

But of course, you should write whatever you want!

Posted by: dave hoffman | Dec 6, 2009 10:07:47 PM

That was a graceful and restrained response, Richard.

As another regular reader, I'll add two comments.

(1) "What a great job we have!!!" posts always make me a little uneasy, and these days (with the market and all) even a little queasy. But that depends a lot on where they go. And the thing Richard's post focused on was not the cush life he has scored . . . but on the lecture he was preparing FOR HIS CLASS. And the pleasure he took in crafting it! On a Sunday, to boot!

Even granting that some "glorying in the professoriat" posts and conversations are unseemly . . . isn't someone who takes such pleasure in spending a weekend day preparing to communicate to students precisely what we want?

(2) Speaking only for myself, the prawfs posts I enjoy the most are not hard core substantive analysis. They're about the legal profession, the academic profession, and about current events / politics from a legal perspective. So this sort of thing (so long as it's not all that the blog posts, or that one blogger posts) is great by me.

Posted by: anonymous | Dec 6, 2009 8:45:03 PM

Regular Prawfs Reader: Thanks for reading and commenting. If by "law related," you mean something about a substantive area of law, then I'm afraid I can't help you there. You're welcome to visit my SSRN page, though! I instead intend to raise issues mostly related to teaching law and the experience of teaching, especially from the perspective of a first-year law professor. For instance, my third post was about looking young as a first-year professor. My fourth, the one above, was about why I am enjoying this job so much. My fifth post, probably early this coming week, will be about working with research assistants. And my sixth, probably on Thursday or Friday, will be about the December holidays. I invite you to read and comment on those, too.

Posted by: Richard Albert | Dec 6, 2009 8:05:55 PM

So, let's see. First, we learn that you look really young, and that this is somehow a problem for you. Second, we now now learn that you have a job that is pretty much subsidized by a huge tuition from students that have a pretty good chance of not finding a job when they graduate. Shockingly, you tell us that you love your job. Self-indulgent posts are OK, I suppose, every now and then (though I would say probably never), but how about writing something that is both of substance and, possibly (and yes, I know this is a lot to ask), law related?

Posted by: regular prawfs reader | Dec 6, 2009 6:52:29 PM

Oh, and yes, on the merits, it's the best job in the world. (Although grading is really awful, especially if you do it right.)

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Dec 6, 2009 3:09:50 PM

[The following is in response to Richard's original post, not the sicness that threatens to overshadow it.]

Must... restrain... cynicism...

Sincerely, I envy you, Richard.

Posted by: Mark D. White | Dec 6, 2009 2:37:55 PM


I think you meant "perfectly find [sic]."

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Dec 6, 2009 2:21:53 PM

I agree with the sentiment, but wonder why (if it was you who did it) you bother to put the "sic" next to the perfectly find use of "they" in the quote above. If, as a matter of personal taste, you don't like it, that's fine, but it will be a hard case to make that it's not a perfectly legitimate usage, and that supposed "rules" against it are anything more than matters of personal taste. For a simple example (only a start, really) of what's wrong with putting "sic" there, see here:
(I'm sorry to take this threat off-course immediately, but the elevation of matters of personal predilection into supposed rules is pet peeve of mine. If the "sics" were not yours, I apologize.)

Posted by: Matt | Dec 6, 2009 12:59:50 PM

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