The Secret Life of (Law Professor Proceedings) Editors

secretlife.jpgWoe unto you who is asked by a senior, big-whig colleague, who has the ability to make or break your career, to “assist” them and edit the proceedings of a conference or symposium. Are you doomed to reading practitioner pieces that have never seen the light of the blue book? Must you stare for years upon years on undisturbed piles of copy that have not yet seen the editor’s pen?

No, Bodie and Hirsch, you need not my whiny friends. The answer to such a quandry is organization and yes, many, many doe-eyed research assistants. Here’s my story of how I won the Battle of Who Could Care Less.

Imagine my surprise when I was asked to become a research fellow at a prestigious institution’s labor and employment law institute. Wow, little ‘ol Mississippian me had finally arrived in the hallowed halls of academia. The only catch was that I needed to present a paper at a forthcoming conference at said school. Why, I’d love to.

And one more thing: when the conference is over, you are in charge of editing the twenty-some papers of the participants and producing a 700-page or so book for the institute. Deal? Sure, and can I also be your Yoko Ono after this and follow you around wherever you go?


So how do you make the best of this potentially tedious process? First, you need to get your esteemed authors to sign a copyright release. Sounds easy, no? Almost nine months later, I am still trying to collect the last one. The big issue is whether they will be able to publish their piece elsewhere. Suggestion: tell them to take the copyright form and change it so it fits their purposes. Then hold your breath and hope the publisher doesn’t notice or doesn’t care.

Second, you’ll need to put in some effort (and many annoying reminder emails) to get them to turn their finished pieces in on a timely basis (meaning within two to three months of the deadline). For the academic authors from whom you have solicited already published law review pieces this is not much of a problem. Yes, there is a bizarre format that has to be followed for this book, with contradictory formatting in notes 2 and 3 of the Style Manual, but such is life.

On the other hand, trying to get a paper in any decent sort of shape from a real-live, practicing attorney, well you can just forget about it. They’re solving the problems of the world and don’t have time for us academic, ivory-tower types. Yes, these practitioners are very intelligent people who you would think that you could ask simple things of such as: Can you please follow this Style Manual and write the piece in prose form? Prose form, says Author A, does that mean you want my very best CLE outline? No, I say, please give this to one of your three hundred, needy summer associates at your firm who are already earning more money that I ever will and make them earn at least some of that ridiculous sum of money. Summer Associate A says: Would an outline be OK? No, I say. And I get an outline of this superstar attorney’s latest CLE magnus opus anyhow and ding-dong Summer Associate A gets an offer after considering such imponderable questions on Lat’s Above the Law as Should Lawyers Date Other Lawyers?

Once you get all the copyright forms signed and what we will call the “finished” pieces, this is where you must embrace the art of delegation and develop a good working relationship with a large number of eager (read “not jaded yet”) research assistants. After approaching said students, and getting by the awkward, “You are again?,” explain to them the marvels of [fill-in-blank] law that they will learn as a grasshopper sitting at your feet. And then treat them like Mr. Miyagi (though don’t make them wash your car). And keep reminding them that out of this process they will earn the coveted ability to call you “Master” and list you as a “mentor” on their resume.

And that is what I did (minus the crying, pleading, screaming, and threats). And miraculously, this killer group of three law students got these 21 articles into shape over the months, and now a 675-page volume on the ins and outs of workplace retaliation and whistle blowing law is ready to go to the publisher. And to think, they might have even learned something educational out of all this.

Follow these tips, Proceeding Editors of the future, and you may also avoid General Boredom and Major Apathy in the battle of who could care less.

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