This semester, I get to take my first sabbatical. As Larry observed, law firm sabbaticals are a thing of the past, and so lawyers might see this opportunity as yet more evidence that academics are insulated, head-in-the-clouds, wastrels. Perhaps, though it might help to see the sabbatical, like tenure, as simply a form of alternative compensation for professors, rather than a serious spur to productivity. And, like tenure, the sabbatical is a relic: while many years ago, a regular sabbatical policy was commonplace, now it’s my sense that it’s somewhat more rare.
I’ve got to say, I find the prospect of a fall with no duties other than those I set for myself more than a little terrifying. Putting aside the absence of structure, and colleagues to talk to, there’s the problem of figuring out which kinds of projects are the right size. If I pick something too big, I’m not going to finish (and thus feel pretty bad about having nothing to show for the immense privilege that the Law School and its stakeholders have extended me). If I pick something too small, well, you get the idea. So I’m looking for the sabbatical goldilocks. As I’ve learned, painfully, promising goldilocks projects in the empirical world are often (forgive me) wolves in sheep’s clothing. You start collecting data, and before you know it it’s two years later and you realize you never fully specified your research question. Yikes!
Some folks use their sabbaticals to do something entirely different, e.g., hiking the Appalachian trail (no, seriously); writing fiction; constructing toasters from scratch. I fear I’m more conformist than that. Apart from some personal business, I’ll probably be spending the fall writing more articles, coding more data, thinking about how to be a better corporations teacher, and blogging a little bit more often than I did over the summer.
I do have two larger intellectual projects that I’m going go try to fold in. The first is to read (again) the works of the Situationalist project. I’ve read several of the project’s papers – in one case, multiple times – but I still don’t think I really understand many of the claims, and, more importantly, the project’s motivation. Since there are tons of brilliant folks affiliated with the group, this obviously is a situation that I’ve got to remedy. Second, I want to read at least a large sample of the articles that Herb Kritzer identifies here as fruits of pre-1940 empirical legal studies work. One of the few abiding disadvantages to not having a PhD is is a missing sense of the intellectual history of your field. That problem is particularly acute in ELS, where (to read the dates on citations in most recent papers) nothing useful was written before 1995.
I suppose that’s it. I’m not training to climb Everest. I’m not going to reorient my scholarly path. I’m not taking on a court case (though the amici in Jones appear to be having tons of fun). I can’t imagine that I’ll pick up a new hobby. Nevertheless, I’m pretty sure I’ll be spending more hours working than I do when I’ve got classes to teach!