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Thursday, June 26, 2014

"Experiential" Scholarship?

Is there such a thing as "experiential" scholarship?  I asked this question to some of my colleagues during a recent lunch.  I asked because there has been much debate on experiential learning and what that might look like in a law class, and there has also been much debate on what relevant scholarship looks like.  I was curious if others thought there was any correlation.

After a great discussion with my colleagues, the answer (like all good law school answers) is, "it depends."  The discussion boiled down to three observations:

1.  The Target Audience - For legal scholarship to have an impact, legal scholars should keep in mind why they are writing a piece and who should read it (obviously this goes beyond, "I need to publish so I will come up with a sexy title to capture the attention of law review students").  The target audience could be practitioners, judges, policymakers, and/or academics.  If scholarship is, or even can be, correlated to making students practice-ready, then it seems like the first three audiences would be the primary targets since they are actively in practice.

2.  The Platform Problem - While academic audiences might be inclined to browse through law review articles, the others - judges, practitioners, and policymakers - are less and less likely to do so.  If my target audience extends beyond academics, a lot of issues arise.  What platform do I use to reach them?  For example, if I want my scholarship to be read by practitioners, where do I publish?  The ABA sections all have different periodicals that are published throughout the year.  But what about the other audiences - what platform does one use to reach judges?  And, of course, articles for non-law reviews would be much shorter than traditional articles.  Does that mean forego the traditional law review and go straight to these other platforms (if one can be found)?  I don't think so.  Instead, that question leads to the third observation.

3.  Expertise and Marketing - To become an expert in a certain area undoubtedly requires a lot of research and thought.  Such in-depth work is reflected in traditional law review articles.  Once a legal scholar becomes an expert, then the key is to market it to the target audience.  Write a law review article with the target audience in mind.  Once you've mastered the area, actively seek out publication opportunities that will actually reach the audience you want - write a short piece in the area for an ABA publication, turn it into an op ed, try to present at conferences where your target audience attends, become involved in drafting legislation, blog on relevant sites ... bottom line, take your expertise and, for lack of a better word, market it so that it has the practical impact desired.  Perhaps this is what a lot of legal scholars already do, but I must admit I haven't done it well.  Upon reflection, I think my failure to proactively market my scholarship to non-academics (most of my pieces target judges and policymakers) stems from the fact that, until recently, I was on the tenure track and it was unclear to me whether the effort and time it takes to reach out to such audiences would count as scholarship.  Should it?  And, more on point, would marketing scholarship to non-academic audiences help us think of ways to teach experientially or help make our students more practice-ready?

Posted by Naomi Goodno on June 26, 2014 at 06:02 PM in Blogging, Life of Law Schools, Scholarship in the Courts, Teaching Law, Weblogs | Permalink


Thanks, Eric, for the thoughtful comments. I agree with you that all of us in the legal community (scholars and practitioners) need to rethink how best to advance the law with our scholarship and written work, and how to work together to do it.

Posted by: Naomi Goodno | Jul 15, 2014 1:52:35 PM

Some very interesting thoughts, Professor Goodno. I would humbly suggest one more observation for consideration: 4) What is the objective of the scholarship? While professors, particularly those on the tenure track, may be focused on publication for professional development, and practitioners, particularly those in private practice, focused on business development through "educational marketing", should we not all be focused first and foremost on scholarship intended to improve the practice of the law and the public's confidence in the legal system? Maybe it is time we reconsider the accepted platforms for peer-reviewed scholarship, and whether traditional platforms, such as law reviews, are deserving of such laud in a world of self-publication, with blogs and open comment sections such as this.

If we accept the premise that the objective of scholarship is to move the law forward for the benefit of the bench, the bar, and the pubic at large, can anyone say that the scholarship produced, for example, in SCOTUSBlog is of any less value than the scholarship published in any one of the hundreds of law review publications? I might suggest that scholarship such as that produced by SCOTUSBlog is the essence of experiential scholarship: legal commentary that examines the experience of participants in the legal process when policy collides with statutory, regulatory and case law in the real world, and we are left to consider whether changes should be made that may improve the practice of law and delivery of justice for our civil society.

Posted by: Eric Mandel | Jul 3, 2014 12:29:50 AM

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