Efficient Browsing and the Legal Workshop

cow.jpgA consortium of top law reviews has just launched a new site, the Legal Workshop. (Solum gives his thoughts here) Unlike sites such as the Harvard Law Review Forum or the Yale Pocket Part, the Legal Workshop will publish shortened, popularized versions of articles that appear in the reviews. I heard about the idea a couple of weeks ago, when Georgetown Law Journal asked that I produce a shortened version of my forth coming article in their journal for the site. It strikes me as a very good idea, regardless of whether it excites the general public (an apparent goal of the project, and one about which Solum rightly expresses skepticism). As a professor, I suspect that this format will ultimately prove more useful to me than that adopted by say the Yale Pocket Part. The reason is that it helps me solve a problem: consuming legal scholarship.

I run into two problems. First, the volume of things that I am potentially interested in vastly exceeds my ability to read it. The result is that there are lots of things that I don’t read but would like to. Indeed, given that I am a particularly slow reader, this is a bigger problem for me than for my co-bloggers, all of whom seem much better read than me. (My excuse is that I had a learning disability as a child, didn’t learn to read until I was about 12 years old, and am still very slow.) The result is that much of the scholarship I read is directly related to a something that I am writing at the time. It is simply difficult to read much else. This feeds into my second problem: namely that most of my ideas (to the extent that I have ideas) come about serendipitously. I can plan and organize research on a particular idea. It is difficult, however, for me to plan and organize research on finding an idea. For me at least, the most effective way of stumbling on to new ideas is to read randomly what interests me and then engage in intellectual day dreaming. It can be time consuming.

I think that a large part of what counts as thought is simply arbitrage. It is taking ideas from one area and applying them to a new area. This structure, however, means that often the most useful research that you do is unrelated to any research project. Another way of putting this is that new research projects develop when I am thinking and reading about something else and then find a connection. (For example, my Georgetown piece, which looks at generality and specificity in contract law grew out of an analogy I saw between contract law and Federalist No. 10.) There is thus a sense in which intellectual browsing is immensely important for research. I need a way of dabbling and dreaming efficiently.

The “problem” with something like the Pocket Part is that it rather than decreasing the cost of browsing, it simply increases my ability to analyze a particular argument in greater depth. There is a sense, however, in which I don’t really need help doing this. This is what I do when I do specific searches of the literature and amass all of the articles on a particular topic. The Harvard Law Review Forum doesn’t really make this process any easier, even if it provides a home for good material that might otherwise not be written. It’s good but it simply doesn’t do anything to reduce my browsing costs because the new material that it generates in some sense requires or assumes that I have already read the articles in the main journal. That, however, takes time. Ideally, however, the Legal Worship should increase the efficiency of my browsing. What I am hoping is that it will let me consume more ideas than I would get from either skimming SSRN abstracts (broad but shallow) or reading long-form articles (deep but time consuming). I am hoping that it will open me up to more moments of serendipity, which is what I ultimately need.

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1 Response

  1. Rick Memmen says:

    Efficient Browsing and the Legal Workshop article: I found your story of interest as it reminded me of myself, but I never put in the same context as you have.
    Penicillin was discovered by accident and many a self made millionaires had no formal education. 60% of the last 50 years in time we have had left handed presidents and roughly 90% of the worlds population is right handed.

    Often in life there is no formula rhyme or reason for foundation on a particular subject matter. The intelectual day dreaming is a slow grind, a sense of deep thinking and creativity. The serendipity I feel is a good thing. It’s how I found your article by the way. I got an email from a friend, it was a joke that included a picture of a female cow with her head stuck under a fence trying to get to some grass to eat. The moral of the story with it was,
    when we try to hard we wind up on the wrong side of the fence. And to always remember this: Not every one who shows up is there to help you. The next picture show a male cow mounting her from behind while she’s still stuck under the fence. I thought it was rather interesting and somewhat cruel that so may people who got this chain mail including women would think it’s funny that a cow is getting raped. But it was kind of funny so I am not an exception. If it was a cat it would not be as funny. If it was a women it would not even be a joke. Yet a cow produces 200,000 glasses of milk in her lifetime and she’s good for 500 pounds of beef after she’s dead. Many people in this world are never even half as productive in life as a dairy cow. Your article has a pic of a cow and thats how i came across it while looking for information on dairy cows.

    Not that I worship animals but it goes to show how people set there priorities in what they value as moral or decent. If a cow could scream like a women if would be different. Our minds react to sound over sight in more ways then we consciously are even aware of. To prove my point try writing an article and posting it. Now transform the article into a YouTube flick and you will get far more of an attention span and comments just because they can hear you.