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Friday, April 15, 2016

How Can I Increase In-Person Scholarly Interaction with Limited Resources? (Jr. Law Prawfs FAQ)

In her meta response to this Junior Law Prawfs FAQ series, my colleague Deborah Merritt suggested, among other things, that we should "[r]educe the number of scholarly presentations that require travel."  She further explained:

Workshops and conferences are terrific ways to promote scholarly exchange, but we have more than is prudent. These sessions are expensive for schools to host, and frequent faculty travel disrupts class schedules. And let’s not forget the major effect that air travel has on global warming. We could cut scholarly travel modestly, replacing some of it with online interactions. We could prune, moreover, in a way that preserves junior and diverse voices.

Like Howard, I agree with some of Debby's proposals, including encouraging both shorter and online forms of scholarship and balancing our scholarly modes. But I'm just not convinced that the benefits of this less-travel-for-conference proposal justify their costs. In fact, I see in-person scholarly interaction (especially with the senior scholars) as a vital part of developing a voice in one's field. 

But, as Debby notes, we live in a world of (perhaps increasingly) limited resources, so such in-person interactions may be becoming less common and more precious. In response to this post I'd love to hear more about how others have leveraged existing resources to create meaningful, in-person scholarly dialogue.

To get us started, here are ten best practices I've seen in my first few years here:

(1) Faculty Workshops: For those schools that still maintain a faculty workshop series with outside presenters, one best practice that I love about my law school is that pretenure scholars are given the opportunity each year to choose one of the outside presenters and are encouraged to select someone senior in their field who they would like to get to know better. This is a terrific opportunity for junior scholars to interact with others in their field, and the folks I've brought in have remained strong mentors in my scholarly development.

(2) Summer Faculty Workshops: Last year we experimented with a new form of summer faculty workshop where pretenure professors invited other junior scholars in their field to present their scholarship during a lightning-round faculty workshop. The junior scholars paid their own way, and our law school covered a dinner the night before and the lunch at the faculty workshop. To limit the number of events, we had three presenters at each of two workshops, who received 20-25 minutes total to present and get feedback. These lightning rounds were very productive, as was the ability for all of the juniors here to interact with three juniors from outside the law school.

(3) Junior Faculty Workshops: Established long before I arrived here, the law school supports a monthly junior faculty workshop series, where we get to present scholarship internally. In addition to having a smaller environment that may encourage a different type of discussion (and with more junior peers, which may take some pressure off some to present earlier and/or crazier ideas), it is also an easy way to have additional in-person scholarly interactions without the cost (in terms of lunch, if that is provided, and faculty time) of the full-faculty workshop.

(4) Inter-School Exchange Workshops: We have a number of exchange agreements with other Ohio schools, where they send one scholar to our faculty workshop each year and we send one their way. This reduces costs significantly -- allowing us to have more opportunities to present elsewhere as well as more opportunities to interact with scholars outside of our school here.

(5) State/Regional Conferences: For many years now we have had the Ohio Legal Scholars Conference twice a year, in which junior scholars at law schools from across the state pay their own way to drive to one school for a one-day event. The costs on the host institution are relatively low (lunch and facilities), and this provides a great opportunity to interact with others in the field and in the state. Indiana-Bloomington also hosts an annual Big Ten Juniors Conference that is absolutely amazing. I love that it's in August, near the end of the summer research cycle but before classes begin. I attended a "new ideas" conference at the beginning of last summer that U Kentucky hosts each year, and that was a terrific event as well.

(6) Law Review Symposium: When Chevron deference turned thirty, my colleague Peter Shane suggested that we organize a birthday party and pitch it to a law review. This is a lot of work to do solo, especially pretenure, but not as heavy a lift if you have a partner in crime. The Fordham Law Review agreed to take the symposium (final written product here).  This experience remains for me one of the most meaningful from the perspective of developing as a scholar. Law reviews are always looking for symposium topics, and law reviews typically have funding to help pull off the event. It obviously helps to have a participant at the law review's institution.

(7) Field-Specific Conferences: Imitating the longstanding and successful Federal Courts Junior Faculty Workshop and newer Civil Procedure Workshop, a number of us (coincidentally all at Big 10 schools) have launched the Administrative Law New Scholarship Rountable. The inaugural roundtable will be at Michigan State this summer; Michigan, Ohio State, and Wisconsin have committed to host the event during the next three years. The host institution agrees to pay for meals, facilities, and the travel and lodging expenses for the senior commentators, and the presenters (who were selected from a call for papers) pay their own travel and lodging. This is a terrific way to gather scholars in a field together to workshop papers and share ideas, and this format (which we copied from the Fed Courts Workshop) is pretty cost-effective. A number of other legal fields have similar events.

(8) Practitioner Events: One of the hidden secrets for administrative law scholars is the annual ABA Administrative Law Conference. The ABA Section of Administrative Law and Regulatory Practice solicits panel proposals in the spring/summer for the fall conference, and many law professors propose panels on current topics and scholarship. And many more law professors attend the conference, along with 500-1000 government and law firm attorneys. This is a terrific opportunity to bridge the theory-practice gap, and my guess is that other ABA sections have similar programming (or could have similar programming with a little nudge from professors in their field). There are of course annual conferences for the American Constitution Society and the Federalist Society, among others, that may afford additional opportunities for law professors to present their scholarship and interact with each other and other lawyers and policymakers in their field.

(9) Online Forums: Although not in-person interactions, there are a number of ways to interact online. For instance, as I mentioned last week, we just wrapped up a terrific online symposium over at Yale JREG on Peter Conti-Brown's new book on the Federal Reserve. I've participated in a number of ABA and Federalist Society teleforums on emerging issues and cases (see, e.g., here). As Richard Re documented last summer here on PrawfsBlawg, we once had a pretty vibrant discussion via Twitter about the Supreme Court's standing precedent. (I'll return to Twitter next week.) And Nancy Leong's RightsCast is worth checking out as another way for scholars to interact online about their research.

(10) Book Clubs: I couldn't compile a list of in-person opportunities to develop one's scholarship without mentioning the scholar who occupies the office next to mine: Peter Shane. I am so fortunate to have another scholar in my field at my law school. And one of the most generous scholars in my field, at that. We have many, many interactions on a weekly, if not daily, basis, but one of my favorites is our "book club" -- an idea Peter proposed shortly after I arrived. We take turns choosing a new piece of scholarship in our field to read, and then we discuss it over lunch. I've learned so much about my field, about writing scholarship, and about life during these lunches. To be sure, sometimes we spend just a few minutes on the assigned reading, and conversation quickly drifts to our own research. Not everyone is fortunate to have another scholar in their field at their school, but fortunately technology has made it more possible to have such conversations remotely.

I think I'll stop there, as I'm already over 1,000 words. These are the first ten that come immediately to mind. But I'd love to hear ideas that others have to encourage more interaction between scholars in one's field. And, as always, definitely chime in if you think I'm asking the wrong question(s).



Posted by Chris Walker on April 15, 2016 at 09:03 AM in Jr. Law Prawfs FAQ, Teaching Law | Permalink


AnonJr, thanks for the response. You raise a good point that the travel resources available makes a difference. I had heard -- perhaps incorrectly -- that the AALS requires member schools to fund trips to the annual meeting; my thinking was that, assuming it is available to everyone, it is an overlooked oportunity. But every school may do the budget for travel resources differently, and what I had heard may just be wrong. (At GW, we have no faculty travel budget; we are automatically approved to go to the AALS, but the law school requires the permission of the Dean before the law school will pay for any other travel)

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Apr 17, 2016 9:39:00 PM

I would have to disagree strongly with Orin, as much as I respect his opinion on many other matters. If you are a junior scholar with limited travel resources, you should avoid the AALS Annual Meeting entirely. If you do go to an "all in" conference, as Paul points out, SEALS is a good bet.

Posted by: anonjrprof | Apr 17, 2016 8:36:52 PM

The AALS New Voices programs at the annual meeting are also a welcome development.

Posted by: Chris Walker | Apr 15, 2016 10:28:43 PM

Whatever other problems I may have with SEALS, I will say that it does a good job of giving opportunities and spotlights to young scholars and matching them with senior people in their field. Also, junior scholars should enter papers in the Stanford-Yale Junior Scholars Workshop every time their subject matter comes up.

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Apr 15, 2016 9:47:34 PM

Pitch a panel for your field's slot at the AALS annual meeting in January.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Apr 15, 2016 5:15:51 PM

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