Category: Law School (Scholarship)

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Does Scholarship Really Have an Impact? The Article that Revolutionized Privacy Law

Does scholarship really have an impact? For a long time, naysayers have attacked scholarship, especially scholarship about law. U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts once remarked: “Pick up a copy of any law review that you see, and the first article is likely to be, you know, the influence of Immanuel Kant on evidentiary approaches in 18th Century Bulgaria, or something.” He noted that when the academy addresses legal issues at “a particularly abstract, philosophical level . . . they shouldn’t expect that it would be of any particular help or even interest to the members of the practice of the bar or judges.” Judge Harry Edwards also has attacked legal scholarship as largely irrelevant.

Critics are quick to point out that much legal scholarship is not cited much — and many articles are never even cited by anyone other than the authors themselves in subsequent works.

But I think that a lot can be learned from the story of one of the most influential law articles of all. That article was Samuel D. Warren & Louis D. Brandeis, The Right to Privacy, 4 Harvard Law Review 193 (1890).

Brandeis Right to Privacy 02

Warren and Brandeis discussed how journalism was becoming more sensationalistic: “Gossip is no longer the resource of the idle and of the vicious, but has become a trade, which is pursued with industry as well as effrontery.” And they expressed concern about a new technology they called “instantaneous photograph[y.]” — the new smaller and cheaper cameras being marketed by the Eastman Kodak Company that made it possible for candid photos to be taken.

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Why Do Peer Review?

poor-review-and-peer-review(Cross-posted at Prawfs, where I’m visiting this month.)

A recent post by Steve Bainbridge raises a nice issue: how should we think about peer review? Traditional peer-edited legal journals have established procedures (JELS pays honoraria and blinds; JLS pays but doesn’t; JLEO has fantastic peer comments, etc).But in the last five years, most of the top student-edited journals have moved to some kind of peer system – and many of us are now routinely asked, after a student-led process, to review for publication That peer review is never paid, and very often professors are asked to review for journals that have never accepted them. *cough. Yale Law Journal I love and hate you. cough*  That can frustrate even non-curmudgeons.  Why do it?

  1. For institutional credit. I’m aware of no school that gives formal credit for these student-edited peer reviews. Are you? If so, what does it look like?
  2. For Law Review credit. One explanation I’ve heard for doing a review for, say, Harvard Law Review, is to motivate them to feel  that they owe you at least a rejection on your own work, instead of a magnificent silence. In my experience, there’s some truth in this: doing peer review gives you the email of an AE, and credit with that person. I routinely have succeeded at being at least read by a journal I’d just done peer review with. I haven’t yet moved from a read to an acceptance.  But I did get a personalized email from HLR once.  It mentioned that they had an unusual number of great articles that cycle, which meant that they couldn’t publish even good work like mine.  I thought that was nifty! Of course, the credit isn’t  merely transactional: being a peer reviewer means you are an “expert” in the field, which should provide your article some kind of halo effect. Of course, this feeling is a quickly depreciating asset, and never rolls over from year-to-year. Use it or lose it!
  3. For the love of the game: For those of us who think that student journals should move exclusively to double-blind review, with faculty participation is a veto, participating is a price we should gladly pay. The problem is that the system isn’t perfectly constructed. Law journals should insist that peer comments will be conveyed to authors – this makes the comments much less likely to be petty (“cite me!”) and more likely to be constructive.

Bainbridge argues against mixed peer review systems, but none of his objections strike me as particularly relevant if the process is “student-screen, peer-veto.” That is how I understand the system to work at SLR, YLJ and HLR. I don’t know about Chicago – I would’ve thought their selection involves a maximizing formula and ended with a number.

Any resemblance to current members of the SELS council is purely coincidental.
Any resemblance to current members of the SELS council is purely coincidental.
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“Mighty In Their Day:” Reflections on the 9th Annual Empirical Legal Studies Conference

In Tolkein’s legendarium, the 9 rings of power were given to mortal men as a means of their corruption.

“Those who used the Nine Rings became mighty in their day, kings, sorcerers, and warriors of old. They obtained glory and great wealth, yet it turned to their undoing. They had, as it seemed, unending life, yet life became unendurable to them. They could walk, if they would, unseen by all eyes in this world beneath the sun, and they could see things in worlds invisible to mortal men; but too often they beheld only the phantoms and delusions of Sauron. And one by one, sooner or later, according to their native strength and to the good or evil of their wills in the beginning, they fell under the thraldom of the ring that they bore and of the domination of the One which was Sauron’s. And they became forever invisible save to him that wore the Ruling Ring, and they entered into the realm of shadows. The Nazgûl were they, the Ringwraiths, the Úlairi, the Enemy’s most terrible servants; darkness went with them, and they cried with the voices of death. — The Silmarillion, Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age, 346.

The fate of those holding one of the Nine struck me as a useful starting off point for my review of the Ninth Empirical Legal Studies Conference. [For previous installments in my CELS recap series, see CELS III,IV, V, and VI, VII, VIII.1, VIII.2]  The ring-of-power story is apt for several reasons.  ELS is waxing — we’ve obtained “glory and great [relative] wealth,” yet our methods are often described as inscrutable, as we see “things in worlds invisible to mortal men.” One well-known law blogger and sci-fi geek repeatedly has claimed that we behold only Sauron.  Ultimately, there’s a fairly decent argument, based on this year’s conference, that our thraldom — to machine learning — is nigh.  But putting aside the obvious parallels between the world’s leading legal empiricists and Angmar, the witch-king, there’s a far more pressing reason to use the 9 rings as a hook. Multiple sources told me that they found last year’s two-part recap to be “boring” or at best “workmanlike,” asking for more “made-up anecdotes” to spice it up.  So, off we go to Berkeley.

To start, let’s acknowledge the obvious. The West Coast is terribly distant from the home schools of most of the conference’s attendees. (I can’t prove that with data, but I thought this was exactly the kind of unsourced gossip that my readers wanted to see here.)  That was especially true for roughly 200 attendees from the Max Planck institute & the entire faculty of every Israeli law school.  The weather rendered the long trip tolerable, but only just.  Why not bend to reason and just hold a future conference in Germany or in Tel Aviv? Certainly, the conference is now decidedly more international in scope than it was only a few years back.  Was this the result of a maturing discipline, rapidly falling domestic travel budgets, or some unknown missing variable?  Other than the location, which they couldn’t help and probably were proud of, as West Coasters tend to be, the organizers (Anne Joseph O’Connell and Eric Talley) were magnificent and deserve credit for pulling off an enormous project without a hitch.

I arrived in time for both plenaries the first day. In a session on The Future of Big Data and Social Science, I learned that it’s much easier to do social science research when pesky IRBs don’t stand in your way. Though, given recent events, maybe IRBs only get in your way if you bother to tell them you are working on manipulating the political process with your purloined state seals.  In Evidence on Income and Wealth Inequality, Emannuel Saez pitched the utility of very high marginal tax rates as the (only?) solution to persistent and rising inequality. When pushed to articulate whether and how inequality was a social evil, he not surprisingly responded with a market-based argument: i.e., his co-author’s book sales demonstrated the issue’s political salience, and, consequently, the question’s irrelevance.  I thought this was a rather chippy answer, though at the end you have to give it to him.  It may be the least read popular book of the last fifty years, but that’s a ways better than the least read unpopular book!

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“Be careful of those that meet you at the train…”

Every now and then, a fortune cookie dispenses with advice that is so spot-on you just have to keep the little sliver of paper tucked away.  Here is my fortune cookie keeper of all time:

“Be careful of those that meet you at the train for they know where they want you to go…”

It was 2007 and I had just accepted my first job teaching.   And the faculty at the time was in a bit of turmoil.  The dean had recently resigned and it was unknown who the future dean would be.  As a visitor setting foot on campus I was a bit blurry eyed and knee deep in figuring out how to teach, be productive and all the things you do to start yourself off right.  Many of the faculty who remain very good friends today reached out to me to be reassuring about the the stability of the faculty etc….  But one person reached out to me to tell me who on the faculty not to trust.  What was particularly interesting was they named names!  This person was actually one of the first people to reach out to me when I arrived.  So when about six months later I read this fortune cookie sliver, I took the waitress’s pen and wrote their name on the back.

In my experience, the people on a faculty who you should be most leery of are those that will tell you either the people or the kinds of people you should be careful of.  What sounds as if it comes from experience and insight most often comes from places of fear, mistrust, manipulation, and insecurity.  What it can tell you, if you did not already know it, is that there are fault lines on the faculty for which a subterranean battle for the institution’s soul may be playing out.  As a young faculty member, don’t choose sides without carefully understanding what is at stake.

When you are new to a faculty, there are some traits to be “eyes wide open” on.  One is the “do not trust” this person or group of people conversation.  Most of time, when people offer this advice it is rarely for your own well-being, but rather because of their own motives.  Likewise, advice about faculty members that reduces them down to one quality or another or suggests that they are one dimensional in their views of the world (i.e., this person only cares about scholarship, so you should talk to them about your work often; or this person is only a teaching faculty member and doesn’t really care about scholarship) is rarely accurate and should be taken with equal caution.  I recall, being told at one stop “this professor doesn’t do scholarship so you shouldn’t waste your time talking to them about yours.”  As I found out, that was some of the worst advice I had received.  That person did not write, true, but they were very interested in the scholarship I was working on.   Had I not been willing to talk about my passions to this faculty member, I would have missed the chance to build a great relationship with this person — who frankly was glad that people like me were interested in writing our voice into scholarship and wanted to be supportive of that for the good of the college.

Anyone that suggests that faculty members are one dimensional and will only care about X, whether X is how you teach or what you write, means that the person dispensing with the advice doesn’t know the faculty member they are dispensing advice about well at all.  If we know anything about people — whether they are faculty members, scholars or administrators — it is that they are rarely one dimensional and regularly surprise us with the way they see the world if we open our eyes to see from time to time.

The people that make the best mentors on faculties are those that do not spend as much time worrying about who else you are taking advice from or attempting to characterize others, as they do about what you are up to and how your year or writing is shaping up.  In other words, when you find someone that is spending far more time offering comments about others on the faculty (particularly when you are new) understand that you are not their primary interest.  Their interest is to shape you to be aligned in their view of what the law school should be doing.  And most often, after you have served your purpose, they will dispense with you as well.

A final anecdote on this line — at one of my many stops (I have had four)  a colleague had the “do not trust this colleague,” conversation with me.  Fortunately I had experience in these matters and took the advice with a heavy dose of caution (of the advise dispensing colleague) and with eyes wide open. As it turned out, the person I was told not to trust was also told not to trust me by the same colleague.  Had I listened, I would have been deprived of a person who has become one of my greatest friends in the academy, but also a really great mentor.

So now, my little Chinese fortune cookie sliver, has two names written on the back, and still sits in my office today..

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The Role Law and Literature Should Play in a Law School

Some may ask what role should liberal arts style courses play in law school where we are increasingly focused on bar exams and practice ready skills.   It may take me a while to unravel that answer with the gusto and the framing it deserves.  I think anyone that regularly teaches Law and Literature has been asked some variant of this question.  The course doesn’t have the safe luxury of “well its on the bar exam,” or even the more sardonic return of “well, but of course it underlies much of legal thought and practice.”  See, e.g., Law and Econ, Law and Social Theory, and Legal History.

Let me make a bold proclamation.  The law and literature course, perhaps more than any other, asks students to wrestle with their subjective views of the law.  It’s interesting, in a course that deals with Constitutional Law, for example, there is the finality of how the court approached the problem (whether we agree with the outcome or not).   In Law and Literature on the other hand, the course encompasses the views of the professor, the authors, and their fellow students as they encounter these views.  Sometimes worlds are created in which those concrete legal frameworks are disembodied (See, e.g., Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale).  Sometimes, the fictional worlds embrace the world as we know it, and offer stunning critique to its foundation (See, e.g., Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin). That’s not to say that other courses, (take a UCC course), is not rife with highly charged emotional queries (notwithstanding my critique, my explanation for whether the disposition of collateral equates to proceeds is a highly charged event!).  It is saying that in a time where the ABA is prompting law schools to create standards that push the law school experience towards so-called objective standards of evaluation (see revision of section 302 in the ABA standards), the role of encountering, critiquing, explaining, and understanding different subjective understandings of the law is critical.   We should not be afraid to encounter nor express our subjective views in the context of critical dialogue.

My view is that Law and Literature is a course that offers students not only the opportunity to understand themselves better but to learn to dialogue about the subjective views of law.  A few years ago, Yale Law School offered a course titled “The Book of Job and Suffering.” Unfortunately, at many law schools such a class would never be taught for fear that the subject strayed too far from what law schools are suppose to do — at least not under that title.  However such a course is precisely the kind of law and literature course we should be teaching. Isolating the critical component that suffering may play in the narrative for law students, I imagine, was a powerful experience for those students and the professor.  Powerful because they all have suffered something, I’m sure, though undoubtedly it was uneven.  Students learn to dialogue about themselves and the text in a group where each other’s respective experiences help frame and isolate the way the text moved within the group.   At one and the same time, students in a law and literature class learn about themselves, as members of a group, a class and as an individual.   This is the idea of Law and Literature that James Boyd White framed so well — the engagement of the reader with the text forcing the reader to accept or not accept the writer’s framed world. [Perhaps Boyd’s best framing of this encounter is his book This Book of Starres: Learning to Read George Herbert, in which Boyd wrestles with the text as reader primarily].

This role of teaching students about themselves is critical if not necessary to shaping who they are as counselors and advocates for their clients.  Of course they are things we should care about as shaping lawyers. But should we have to isolate them into an ABA objective or standard.   In a way, it cheapens the process to do so.

I fear that courses like Law and Literature, in which students engage in thoughtful discourse, may find themselves replaced with others that fail to live up to the promise of helping students understand themselves in a legal environment and instead only focus on the particulars of interacting in the legal environment.   There is nothing wrong with a movement in legal education that attempts to focus institutional resources to critically examine whether the law school is best preparing students for the modern legal environment.  But, that doesn’t mean that our students [or our faculty] are better off without having the dialogues and communities that law and literature help promote and shape in the law school environment.

Legal Scholarship & the University

Just a quick note to make explicit something implicit in my last post: I not only agree with Dave Hoffman’s point about the enduring value of many modes of law teaching, but also think that we could do with a lot less defensiveness about the value of legal scholarship. It is not only the case that legal theories “have fundamentally changed our thinking about the law,” as Robin West and Danielle Citron argue. There are areas of social science presently adrift either because they have not adequately incorporated key legal insights, or because attorneys and legal scholars have failed to fully engage with key controversies and ideas. And there are fields–like political economy and finance theory–now being revitalized thanks to the efforts of legal academics. Legal scholarship exists not only to help the bench and bar, but to enrich the social sciences and humanities generally.

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“If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.”

deathanddeclineAt high holiday services in my conservative Jewish synagogue, I reflected on the omnipresence of narratives of decline in my professional and religious life. Apparently, the approved sermon topic at many conservative pulpits this year was how to rescue the shrinking conservative movement.  The Pew Report’s stark figures on that decline, illustrated to the right, suggested the theme of the sermon (at least in my congregation): reaching out to new revenue sources applicants potential converts congregants.  As the rabbi stated, unless we find more congregants (and soon!) by opening the doors & working to engage new audiences, we will wither on the vine.

This sermon was explicitly delivered as a recruiting pitch, and I found it familiar.  Doesn’t the claim — “we’ve learned our lesson, we’re now going to innovate” — sound exactly like a thousand Law Dean speeches?   Here’s a summary of one, by an especially skillful and media-savvy Dean: Read More

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Contracts Casebook Survey Results

The frightful stress gripping legal education is one reason why all law professors may be interested in the newly-released results of the Washington Law Review survey of law teachers of Contracts conducted in mid-2013.

Available here, the results from 138 respondents consist of numerical summaries of multiple choice questions and synthesis of their written comments that I culled.  A sampling from the latter appears below.

The results are of inherent interest to those teaching Contracts and speak to broader questions of legal pedagogy of value to others, including the allocation of time in the first year, the utility of the case method of instruction, and desire for change versus the tug of tradition.

(The survey was done in connection with a symposium inspired by my recent book, Contracts in the Real World, which has also just been published, here, featuring contributions from Aditi Bagchi, Brian Bix, Larry DiMatteo, Erik Gerding, Charles Knapp, Jake Linford, and Jennifer Taub.)

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Law Reviews and Blogs

I have a somewhat different take on Adam Liptak’s critique of law reviews that was published earlier this week.  My view is that law reviews are suffering from the same problem that all print media face–they are less relevant in a world of blogs and social media.  The difference is that with respect to newspapers and magazines, those market and technological forces have caused a contraction in “old media.”  When it comes to law reviews, though, there has been no contraction because they are subsidized by the schools.

This leads me to ask the following question:  If there are fewer law students, fewer law professors, and more opportunities to publish outside of law reviews, shouldn’t there also be fewer law reviews?  Now I understand why schools have not cut funding to journals (there would be angry students and alumni), but perhaps deans and faculties ought to reexamine how many journals a school ought to support.

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In Defense of Law Reviews

Criticizing law reviews has been in fashion for quite a while, and in the New York Times there’s a new article with a similar refrain of attacks on law reviews.  In essence, the criticisms boil down to: (1) law reviews should be peer review and articles not selected by law students; (2) many law review articles aren’t cited; (3) practitioners don’t read law review articles.  We’ve heard all these before, and I’m growing very tired of these stale arguments.

Although law reviews are on odd system for publishing, I think that the model is actually not as crazy as it might seem.

1. Is the grass really greener with peer review?

For all their imperfections, students do a fairly decent job. I don’t think that articles in other academic disciplines in the social sciences are any less obscure or are cited more. Peer review is filled with cronyism and with way too much “I don’t like this article because I disagree with it” or “I don’t like this article because I’m not cited enough.”

Although law review editors can get bogged down in silly footnote citation formalities, for the most part, I’ve been pleased with my editing and have received some really excellent editing that has sometimes been more extensive than the editing I’ve received when publishing with academic book publishers.

2. Do we really want to bother with peer review?  Is it still needed in today’s age where there’s no longer a scarcity in publishing opportunities?

Peer review is a “front end” evaluation (prior to publication).  It is designed to determine which scholarship is worthy of publication.  That made sense when there was a scarcity of publishing opportunities.  We wanted good scholarship to be published because being published was something not anyone could do, and it distributed and publicized scholarship.

Today, there isn’t a scarcity of publishing opportunities.  Anyone can publish.  Most articles make it on Westlaw.  Hardly anyone reads the print journals anymore.

Peer review can readily occur on the “back end,” with professors evaluating articles post-publication.

Of course, professors will use law review placement as a proxy rather than read the article and decide its merits for themselves. But this is laziness that professors should blame themselves for. If we want to make things more fair, then professors can be more fair in how they evaluate scholarship and stop using law review placement as a proxy if it isn’t a good proxy.

One reason why professors use law review placement as a proxy is that despite a number of misplaced articles, law review placement isn’t completely random.  It’s not a perfect proxy, but for the most part, the top law reviews publish more articles I that I find to be of quality than lower ranked ones.  Not always, but I don’t need a perfect proxy in today’s age where it is so easy to search for and find scholarship.   It’s a kind of weak proxy that can sometimes be helpful, but it shouldn’t replace making one’s own evaluation.

In the end, if we don’t think law reviews do a good job evaluating scholarship, nothing is stopping us from reading it and deciding for ourselves!

3. Should we be alarmed that so few articles are cited?

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