Square Tables

I presented my work in progress to my colleagues at the University of Minnesota Law School at this week’s “Square Table” lunch. If you teach at a school that doesn’t have one of these series, you should start one.

Every Wednesday during the summer, faculty gather for lunch and we have a short informal presentation followed by discussion. It’s held over at the campus center rather than the Law School building to get us out of our little cave (and get some different food too). Sometimes the discussion will center on a recent major case or some aspect of teaching methods, but usually it is a true “work in progress” presentation — a constructive critical audience for the speaker to try out a new paper, even if (like mine) it still exists more in your head and in your scrawled notes than in formal drafted form. I think the event’s peculiar name just originates from the fact that the tables in the room where it occurs aren’t round, although the format is. (Actually, they are rectangular tables, but never mind.)

The advantages are numerous. For the speaker, it is a chance to get feedback from a broader group much earlier than would be appropriate in more public fora such as SSRN or most “WIP” conferences. It also served as a mid-summer deadline to get my thoughts in order, useful for one’s self-discipline. Most important, it benefits the whole faculty to have a weekly event during the otherwise unstructured summer when many of those who are not traveling or otherwise engaged gather. It’s a chance to see one another, be less isolated, build community, exchange ideas. And the lure of decent free lunch helps get that attendance up.

This is only my second summer on the faculty but the tradition doesn’t date back much longer. I know lots of schools have something similar, but maybe a little less organized. This regularly-scheduled format seems popular here.

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