Category: Law School


Why You Should Teach Information Privacy Law

privacy2b.jpgSince now is the time that many new law professors are being hired, I thought I’d re-post an earlier post about teaching information privacy law. When new law professors are hired, there is often a lot of flexibility in what courses they can teach. While the law school will typically want a newly-hired professor to teach one or two “core” courses (first year courses or required courses), other courses are often highly negotiable. So if you want to teach a particular course, sometimes all you have to do is ask for it.

My goal is to get more new professors to think about teaching information privacy law. (I have a casebook in the field, so this is really a thinly-disguised self-plug.)

Information privacy law remains a fairly young field, and it has yet to take hold as a course taught consistently in most law schools. I’m hoping to change all that. So if you’re interested in exploring issues involving information technology, criminal procedure, or free speech, here are a few reasons why you should consider adding information privacy law to your course mix:

1. It’s new and fresh. Lots of media attention on privacy law issues these days. Students are very interested in the topic.

2. Lively cases and fascinating issues abound. There’s barely a dull moment in the course. Every topic is interesting; there is no rule against perpetuities to cover!

3. It’s a way to teach fascinating First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, and other constitutional law issues. Often, those wanting to teach in these areas have to wait in line until the course is “released” by professors who already teach it. Getting the First Amendment course, for example, is about as easy as unseating an incumbent in Congress. Information privacy law lets you teach really interesting First Amendment issues and there’s usually not a long succession line to teaching an information privacy law course. Moreover, many law schools already have somebody teaching cyberlaw, and information privacy law covers some incredibly interesting law and information technology issues.

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Teaching disturbing law

A friend of mine who is a relatively new professor is teaching some material that includes cases relating to sexual harrassment law. She is mulling over how best to present the material, and she asked me:

I was just reading again over some of the cases assigned to the students. One of the cases in particular reports graphic and disturbing acts (gang rapes, etc.) and language (repeated use of the word “fuck”) as part of the factual summary and the discussion of the issues. It occurred to me that I might warn the students about the potentially offensive language and graphic description of sexual acts. What do you think? Should I say anything?

My own reaction is mixed. On the one hand, part of me says that it’s fine to just assign the material as is. I can see various reasons for a hard-line approach. Law students are grownups, and I’m not sure that professors should treat them in an overly paternalistic manner. Also, it is hard to teach a class on a subject like sexual harrassment (or criminal law, perhaps) without discussing some disturbing things. Finally, I don’t think that a law graduate is prepared to act as an attorney in the field unless she can deal with disturbing fact patterns. This assignment is not gratuitous; these are the reported facts in reported cases.

On the other hand, there are also very good reasons not to be a hard-liner, and I think it’s necessary to be sensitive to potential concerns. Some of the students in any class may be victims of rape or abuse; they may have loved ones who have suffered through these ordeals; or they may simply be sensitive to the topic. I think the professor has to be sensitive to those concerns, and handle the material with care. (I’ve seen professors who did not handle such material with care, and the result was often disastrous).

As far as whether of not she should highlight the issue (my friend’s specific concern), I am again of two minds. On the one hand, perhaps the sensitive students would appreciate a warning. On the other hand, for many students, highlighting the issue could have the opposite effect, drawing more attention to lurid details than they deserve. I told her that in my opinion, I would lean towards a short warning myself (given the potential concerns of the more sensitive students), but that I thought she would also be fine if she didn’t warn, as long as she treated the material carefully.

However, I have absolutely zero experience in this area — there are not too many lurid details in Wills and Securities Regulation — and I feel a bit worried that my response to my friend left out important considerations. I’d like to hear what our readers think, if any wish to weigh in in the comments.

UPDATE: Paul Secunda posted on the same question, and has received a number of great suggestions and comments from his readers. Anyone interested in the topic should check out the thread over at Workplace Prof Blog.


Compilation of Posts on Academic Blogging

Ian Best, a 3L at Ohio State University Law School, has compiled a very comprehensive and helpful repository of blog posts about academic blogging.

An interesting fact about Ian’s blog — he writes:

I’m getting law school credit for blogging. And as far as I know, I’m the first law student to do so.

Maybe I should ask my dean for course relief for blogging. Hmmm. . . .


Law School Deans Without Law Degrees

Brian Leiter’s announcement of the new Dean search at Texas noted that:

My own view is that we’d hire someone outstanding who had a PhD, but not a JD, as long as their scholarly work was connected to law and they met the other desiderata.

This is interesting. Does anyone know, off-hand, if there are any law school deans who don’t possess JDs? It would seem (at first glance) pretty unlikely except at a certain type of school because of the need to connect with practicing attorney alumni. But perhaps it is the wave of the future?


Law Review Article Submission Resources

book21a.jpgFor those submitting law review articles this spring, I thought that it would be helpful to share some useful resources for submitting articles.

Article Submission Length Restrictions

Emory Law School’s Library has a very useful chart of article length restrictions at the top 25 law reviews.

Law Review Contact Information

1. Emory Law School’s Library maintains contact information, including email addresses, for the top 25 law reviews.

2. JURIST has links to countless law review websites.

3. LexisNexis Directory of Law Reviews

Electronic Submissions

1. ExpressO provides for electronic submission to over 450 law reviews. However, a number of the top 25 law reviews still require either paper submissions or electronic submissions via their own website. For those law reviews not allowing an ExpressO electronic submission, ExpressO will print out the article and send it to these journals in hard copy. It costs extra for these submissions.

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Spring Law Review Submission Season

A friend and colleague asked me to post a question about the timing of the upcoming spring submission season. Should he wait until March to send out the first wave of submissions for an essay he will soon complete, send it in the middle of February, or at some other time? This post last year by Orin Kerr says that “late February and early March” are the prime times, but I wonder if our readers can provide more specific advice or anecdotal information about turn-over in editorial boards. I’ve also heard of some journals moving to a rolling submissions process, but I don’t know how many use that system, or even whether such a transition would be viable if most of the market continues to accept pieces primarily in February/March and August.


RateMyProfessors and Subverting Hierarchy


Back in May, Kaimi commented on Prawfs about Law students came somewhat late to the site, but my anecdotal sense is that there has been an explosion in ratings in the last six months. For most law schools in the country, multiple professors are now listed and rated. Most law school ranking sites have an anonymous student “moderator,” which would seem to suggest that RMP is trying to defend itself against defamation suits. If that’s the case, it would be fascinating to see what directions the moderators have received. From a brief review of the ratings of lots of law profs., I can’t believe that the directions are particularly restrictive. There is some nasty stuff out there.

Recently, I came across this article analyzing why undergraduates comment on and use RMP. The money paragraph:

[Students] want to provide information to others, and they also feel part of a community of posters. Primarily, students appear motivated to post ratings for teachers who are perceived as being either very good or very bad. This explains why the number of ratings per professor did not show linear correlation with the perceived quality of that person’s teaching. The data show that the only significant relationship with regard to the number of posts was that of the “hotness” rating. Professors with higher hotness ratings received more ratings on average. However, while perceived hotness seems to relate to the propensity to post ratings, this factor did not seem to affect the average quality rating as there was no significant relationship between hotness scores and overall quality scores. This suggests that perceived attractiveness of professors is related to students’ propensity to post about them, but is not sufficient to influence what is posted.

As far I can tell, the lack of correlation in this study between attractiveness and quality rankings is anamolous.

I wonder what would have happened were law students to be asked why they post on RMP. My suspicion is that law students, unlike undergraduates, are more motivated by feelings of powerlessness and a desire to sanction (with online gossip) professors who take particular advantage of the (conservative) hierarchy that the Socratic dialogue offers. As Duncan Kennedy explained in his little red book, “it is meaningful to oppose [hierarchy] by talking, by joking and refusing to laugh at jokes, through the elaboration of fantasies as well as through the elaboration of concrete plans for struggle.” That is, I bet at least some law students use RMP as a way to implicitly whittle their professors down to size.

But maybe that is giving students too much credit. It’s not clear to me whether the student who thinks that I “bounc[e] around the classroom like a leprechaun” was hoping to subvert traditional ideas of law school classroom management. Maybe s/he just didn’t like me much.


Are Exploding Offers So Bad?

Explosion-thumb.jpgJennifer Mnookin, at Law and Culture, has a good post about the use of exploding offers in law faculty recruiting. I agree with her fundamental points, that such offers a) aren’t very nice (though I’d take issue with her term,”outrageous”); and b) are potentially counter-productive, insofar as they may lead a candidate to accept the exploding offer but leave the school prematurely due to bad feelings.

But here’s the thing. Recruiting – professors, law clerks, engineers – is a competitive business. Despite the overall size of a given year’s hiring pool, law schools are competing over a relatively small number of canidates. And it turns out teaching candidates focus on relatively consistent features in developing their job preferences. The first and most obvious is school prestige, and the related benefits of faculty and student quality. Another important recruiting advantage, as I have suggested, is location. So what are the rest of the hoi polloi, those lower ranked or off-the-beaten-track schools, to do?

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Going Digital: The Future of Reprints?

reprints1.jpgOne of the great things about law review articles is that you can order a batch of reprints — separately-bound copies of your article that you can send out to a list of your colleagues. I have a large and growing database of various professors, policymakers, journalists, and others who receive copies of my articles — a fact that is not without some irony, since many of these people are in the information privacy law field, and I have written extensively on the problems posed by databases. Thus, ironically, I maintain a database with one of the most extensive collections of people who criticize databases.

It is common practice among law professors to send out reprints widely, as this is a way to present one’s scholarship to others in a highly-readable format. But reprints come at a considerable cost. Recently, I got the price quote for a reprint order for a soon-to-be-published article. Under the pricing scheme, I get 40 free reprints, but that’s not nearly enough for my database, which includes hundreds of people. For 200 extra reprints, it would cost about $744 and for 400 extra it would cost $1059. Wow! I nearly had a heart attack . . . and I’m not even the one paying the bill — my school picks up the tab. Anyway, if I handed a bill for over $1000 to my dean, the keys to my office might not work the next day. Plus, there’s the cost of postage, envelopes, and stationary.

So here’s my idea. I’m thinking of moving toward a system of electronic reprints. I could send out a PDF version of the final article in an email to everybody in my database. In other words, I’d shift from being a junk mailer to a spammer. . . .

In my email, I’d include the text of the letter I would have sent to accompany the reprint, attach the article in PDF format, and possibly include a link to the final version of the paper on SSRN. I’d still order some reprints — about 50 to 100 — and offer to send hard copies of the reprints to anybody who requested them. My guess is that I’d get a few people requesting the actual reprint, but most people interested in reading the article would just print it out from the attached digital version.

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Three Cheers for Law Reviews

book18a.jpgLaw reviews get little respect both within and outside the legal academy. For those unfamiliar with the system, legal academics publish their articles in law reviews, which are edited and run by law students. Law students select the articles, not professors. In contrast, journals in most other fields are peer reviewed and edited.

The conventional wisdom is that it is immensely silly and problematic to have students selecting and editing our articles. But while I have many gripes about the current system, there are actually many virtues to the law review approach that are not being stated. So I aim to be contrarian and (ironically) defend the status quo.

1. Article Selection. One argument is that a peer-edited system would be better in article selection. On the surface, it does seem quite odd and almost absurd for professors to have students do the article selection. Critics of the law review system say that students often don’t have sufficient knowledge about a field to appropriately assess the quality of articles.

But with student-selected articles, it is not as though peer assessment is vanquished. It just occurs after publication. To the extent that we use law review placement as a proxy for article quality, we’ve got ourselves to blame. I do think that there is a rough correlation in article quality and placement — the system isn’t perfect, and many mistakes are made, but I wonder whether perfection is possible or efficient. To the extent that we doubt law review placement as a proxy for quality, then we can discount it and assess articles on their own merits. In the end, I think that the objection is really about the fact that other professors (not ourselves and our friends, of course) will not appropriately assess the correlation between law review placement and article quality. In a sense, this is an argument that we don’t trust the judgment of our peers. But that shouldn’t mean we blame the law reviews — we should blame ourselves.

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