Author: Rachel Godsil


Should Female Legal Academics Blog?

In Yale Pocket Part, two new essays raise the question of whether women in legal academics should spend time blogging. Only one of the essays discusses this question explicity — Rosa Brooks in her candid and thoughtful What the Internet Age Means for Female Scholars? However, for women academics deciding whether to blog, I think the other essay, Brian Leiter, Why Blogs are Bad for Legal Scholarship may also be a must read.

In her essay, Brooks describes gendered challenges to academic success. The most salient is the time many women spend engaging in caretaking and housework — to the detriment of scholarship. The fact that women are often more pressed for time than men might suggest that valuable time should not be spent blogging. (Why am I not finishing the paper I am working on right now instead of musing about blogging!?)

However, Brooks also notes that not only must legal academics write great scholarship, they also have to ensure that their scholarship is read and noticed. Typically, conferences, colloquia, and visiting semesters are the best ways to promote scholarship. More women than men are also hampered here by family obligations or working spouses who are unwilling to uproot themselves for cross-country semesters or years. So, Brooks suggests, the internet provides a convenient way to advance own’s ideas and name. Though she observes that blog culture can be hostile to women and overly testosterone driven, Brooks seems cautiously optomistic that the internet and blogging might prove quite useful to women:

I can think of several younger scholars—including some women—whose careers have clearly been helped by blogging and commenting on blogs, activities that have gotten them noticed by people who then go on to read and be impressed by their more “serious” work. It’s too soon to say, but I suspect that the Internet age may gradually help eliminate the practice of making visits a predicate of lateral faculty offers. To the extent that blogging can help people get to know a scholar’s style of thinking, why put everyone to the trouble and expense of term- and year-long visits?

Enter Brian Leiter. Leiter appears hostile to blogs as means for those not already recognized as legal superstars to promote their ideas. He says so quite explicity:

[M]y sense is that blogs have been bad for legal scholarship, leading to increased visibility for mediocre scholars and half-baked ideas and to a dumbing down of standards and judgments.

Two mechanisms still exist for counteracting these developments. First, more first-rate scholars may enter the blogosphere, and use their pre-Internet gravitas to shift the terms of discussion. Second, the shift to peer-refereed publications in the legal academy—most of the best work in law and economics and law and philosophy, for example, now appears in faculty-edited journals—will ameliorate the significance of availability cascades on non-expert mediators like students and journalists.

It seems therefore, that Leiter (and any who agree with him) will give little credence to ideas posted in the blogosphere unless an already established legal superstar (those with pre-Internet gravitas) provides an introduction or some other sort of cover. Now, I presume Leiter would respond that he is not arguing that an idea or theory is mediocre simply because it is advanced by someone not already known by the heavy weights of the legal academy. However, the challenge for those not already in the club is to find vehicles for their work to be read. Once it is read, hopefully it will be judged on its merits. If Leiter’s view is widely shared, blogs will not prove useful alternatives to conferences or visits.

So –for women deciding whether to spend precious time blogging, the big question appears to be whether Leiter’s view will prevail.


Gender and the Eve-of-Wedding Prenup

Gender wars are alive and well in the blogsphere recently. While it seems to me that more than enough cyber ink has been spilled over boobgate and the fracas over Above the Law, I do think that the role of gender in law and culture continues to be actually difficult and worth discussing. I am teaching Family Law for the first time this semester and have noticed that my students often find ideals of formal sex equality extremely unsatisfying. As an example, I offer the enforceability of the eve of wedding prenup.


Let’s imagine a couple — Catherine and Fred. Catherine is a 23 year old nurse and Fred is a 39 year old neurosurgeon. On the night before their wedding, Fred’s lawyer presents Catherine with a prenup limiting her to support payments of $200 per week with a max of $25,000 should their wedded bliss end in divorce. Catherine signs — without any legal advice. Should this be enforceable?

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Racial Politics and Eminent Domain in Brooklyn

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Two hotly contested issues — the role of race in political representation and the use of eminent domain for economic development — collided in the contest for the 11th Congressional District in Brooklyn yesterday. The 11th has been represented by an African American since Shirley Chisolm first won in 1968. The Congressional race began to receive national attention when David Yassky, a white city councilman, moved into the district to seek the seat vacated by Major Owens against three black challengers, Carl Andrews, Yvette Clarke, and Chris Owens (Major’s son) . The District is also home to the City’s controversial plan to use eminent domain to support the Forest City Ratner development in Atlantic Yards, which will include an arena designed by Gehry and 6,800 units of housing. Yassky and Clarke both supported the Atlantic Yards development — with some criticisms of scope, while Owens vocally opposed it.

Yvette Clarke won the seat with 31% of the vote to Yassky’s 26%. Andrews won 23% and Owens trailed behind with 20%. What is the message to draw from Clarke’s victory? What role did race or gender play? How significant was her support for Atlantic Yards?

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Visceral Memories

I didn’t plan on writing about 9/11 today. The media would seem to have the topic sufficiently covered. I did not personally lose a loved one on that day. But I did travel through the World Trade Center via the Path train from Brooklyn to Newark five years ago and again this morning. My husband and then-two-year-old daughter saw the second building fall down from Brooklyn’s Promenade. I was unable to go home to them that night five years ago since the City was sealed and then walked through the empty, smoldering City the next day making my way back to Brooklyn. For any in the New York area, the weather today is eerily reminiscent of five years ago — though I agree with a colleague who said that five years ago might have been even more brilliant. Perhaps for these reasons, winding my way this morning through the many World Trade Center visitors, police officers, and army officials made a powerful impression.

It goes without saying that other cities and countries have experienced — and some are still experiencing — atrocities similar to or worse than September 11. Knowing that intellectually does not eliminate my slightly sick feeling. Today’s New York Times op-ed page contains several essays from writers about terrorist strikes outside of the US– Istanbul, Nairobi, Madrid, London, Mumbai. The theme that seems to resonate in each is the need for the tragedy and loss to be remembered. I wonder whether those outside of the areas directly affected by 9/11 feel today’s anniversary deeply? Relatedly, though, what are we or should we be doing with the dread, the grief, the anxiety?


Post-Tenure Stress and Status

Thank you (I think) to Dan for this guest stint on Concurring Opinions and the generous introduction. My ambivalence (which might seem somewhat snarky) actually stems from stress, induced by the ambiguity of the task of guest-blogger on this particular blog if one is not a privacy or criminal law guru. What topics will be of interest? How does one generate reams of clever comments, inspire a vibrant cyberconversation? Should you keep writing even if you can’t find your copy of Thorstein Veblen or de Tocqueville to bolster your own petty musings? In other words, what are the rules for achieving some degree of success on Concurring Opinion?

These questions are related, in my view, to the particular nature of stress experienced by many already-tenured legal academics. This topic was raised in brief by a slightly tongue-in-cheek post on PrawfsBlawg last week, phrased as the guilt that, despite having “the best job in the world,” many law professors still consider themselves stressed. A few follow-up posts suggested that the only real stress in our job is achieving tenure – or perhaps those few rare occasions on which one looks like an idiot in front of 90 law students. I disagree – and in fact think that in some respects, this job becomes more stressful post-tenure. It all depends on how we define stress.

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