Friday, July 20, 2012

$10,000 Reward for Anyone who "Built it Alone"

I am pretty upset with Obama and his "you did not built it" comment. Sure, people are taking it out of context and making a big deal but uttering that sound bite was like fumbling the ball at the worst time. And, it was not a fumble after a vicicous hit. No he was just running in the open field and lost his concentration and dropped the ball. Whether it will be run back for the game winning touchdown remains to be seen but, if it is, he alone is the goat.

Just to test those who are offended because they "build their business on their own" I am offering a  "blow hard" reward to anyone who can demonstrate that the Obama statement does not apply to them. I guess this is an offer to small business owners but it could be to anyone who thinks they earned what ever they have without assistance. A non exhaustive list of the things you would have to prove are:

1. You did not attend a public school or recieve any scholarships.
2. You have not purchased for your business any items that were produced by a firm that employed people who attended public schools.
3. You have not employed people who attended public schools or whose parents did.
4. You have not used, for money earning purposes, public roads, sidewalks, libraries nor  have any of your employees or the people from whom you have made purchases.
5. Your parents did not pay for your education.
6. No one ever told you something you did not already know without being paid the full value of that information by you.
7. You have not purchased any items the quality of which is assured by any kind of goverment regulation. This includes engaging the services of anyone who the state has deemed qualified as a result of passing one type of exam or another.
8. No worker you hired was ever paid less than the revenue to which their efforts gave rise.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Yale Tries to Lock Up Law Professor Market With Yet Another Brand

It has long been known that one way to buy your way into law teaching, other than receiving a JD from a elite school,  is to buy a  LLM or a SJD from a comparable school. In fact, the highly ranked law schools offering those programs aggressively promote their graduates as potential law teachers. But now Yale is prepared to go one better. Yes, a Ph.D. for those who want to be law professors. OK, so what happened to the LLM and the SJD?  My guess is that this is just a move to differentiate the product and the substance will not be that much different.

On the other hand, it could be very different. There are some things a law professor might be able to learn in a program specifically designed to prepare him or her for law teaching that might be left out of another program. Here are some courses that are likely to be offered:

LAW 200: Conserving and Promoting the Brand

At the end of this process, you will possess the Yale brand. Protect your investment. This course concentrates on preserving the Yale image. For example, should you have a vanity license tag? How about a sweat shirt?  How can you mention you went to Yale and make it seem natural? How to ensure your children are admitted to Yale. How to make sure Yale grads are at the top of the list of people your future school will hire.

LAW: 300 Networking

The successful law professor networks. This means forming connections to people you do not know but who may be of use to you. Topics include: how to only network with those who can help you, how not to network with people who would like help,  compliments to offer when approaching a potential network partner, remember what people look like, remembering names, name dropping, etc.

LAW 400 Confercating

A successful law professor never pays for a vacation. Instead they go to conferences. This course stresses how to create a conference, how to get invited to a conference, how to classify expenses to ensure reimbursement. A significant part of the course is field work in which conference venues around the world will be visited.

LAW 500 Ingratiating Behavior

This is cross listed as Butt-Kissing. Whose butt should you kiss? And when? This is a skills course. You must learn to stroke the egos of those who can help you but not in a manner that is obvious. In addition to class there is a 2 hour lab.

LAW 600 Planning Your Teaching Schedule

Your research demands long stretches of time unencumbered by pesky students. All classes should meet from 11-12 AM on Wednesday.  Teaching on Friday interferes with Confercationing. Monday classes are not held at all at any reputable law school but if they are held you are entitled to  claim it was a plot to impede your productivity.

LAW 700 Testing and Grading

One word here:  Don't worry. In this course you will learn about delegating the entire process to others. Key areas are: How to download multiple choice exams from other sources, how to give the exam to your secretary to grade, and how to avoid students who have questions about the exam.

LAW 800 Getting What You Want

It is always better to get what you want in any manner other than by asking. Subject matter includes: Waiting to see if you can free ride on the requests of others, making pleas based  in what is fair, claiming that not doing it your way is punishment, volunteering to do what you want to do instead of asking. For example, "I volunteer to travel to Rome."

Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Season of Confercationing

I have not read anyone who captures the conniving by academics to vacation on someone else's dime better than David Lodge.  I do not recall the book title but in one he has a character doing the grand tour of Europe by linking conferences together. That is probably not uncommon. I think some academics only vacation when its paid for by their school or, at the very least, they can write it off. Let's call it Confercationing.

Sometimes the Conferences are held by actual organizations. I have been to both Geneva and Amsterdam in connection with one such organization but I do not want to be too hard on that organization since it was international and strives to rotate the meetings.

Some Conferences are just people who decide, "Hey lets have a conference." I was casting around for an example of the "Let's have conference so we can have out trips paid for" and I found a humdinger. I am not going to name names because I'll bet this is representative of hundreds of others.

To have a really good Confercation you need to have an organization with members in foreign lands so you can go there or, if there is no organization, it needs to about international something or other. This is especially true if all those Confercationing are from one school. But if they are all from one School it is, by necessity, small but has a big title. For example, the Conference on International Judicial Systems which I made up but, if it exists, would mean that 10 or 15 people from a school and their buds could go to a difference country each year -- not including any of the "Stans" or anywhere too hot, too cold,  too far from a fancy hotel, beach, or mountains or too inexpensive. You really have to watch that last one. Too inexpensive means no one will show up.

The conference I actually found was thousands and thousand of miles from the school hosting it and it was necessary for 13 members of the same faculty or some pals to go along. It was of the international variety although some participants seemed to have no connection with international anything except subsidized travel.

When you are confercationing you do not want waste too much time on the actual conference and you sure do not want anyone to prepare anything very scholarly to present. So, a day and half will do it and, lets see, sessions on "directions," "prospects," and "considerations" are all important as is an opening and closing session. Six people per hour and a half means not having to say much especially if the audience gets to ask questions. And, no need to schedule any time between sessions as that would mean they might actually go the full hour an a half and require each person from thousands and thousand of miles away to speak for a full 15 minutes.

Damn! I gotta go. My plane leaves shortly for the Greek Islands where the Comparative Contract Law Conference, which I organized, will be held. To economize I only invited myself but I promise to present my paper "Comparative Implied Obligations to Street Entertainers" to someone. I'll have plenty of time on the plane to scribble down my remarks which will last 10 minutes, max.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Law Professor's GPS

I finally have a car with a talking GPS.I have many complaints about it.  Mostly it is culturally insensitive. For example, the speaker might say, "turn left in 400 yards." Suppose, though, I were a country boy. Wouldn't it be better for her to say, "Bubba, when you get on down the road aways, hang a left." Or, if I had the low self-esteem model I want to hear after a turn, "Excellent" or "you are such a good driver." In fact, just periodically she could say, "I am still here and you are doing fine." There are so many variations. If Valley Girls is still relevant concept how about, "like really! how about making a right turn." For the hippie, "Duuuuude, if you want to a right turn in 400 yards would be like groovy. I'm just sayin."

 The biggest problem is that law professors cannot possible understand what she means. I want something a bit more Socratic:"Which direction do you think you should turn" and then, "Ok, but suppose your destination is on other side of town?" And then, "But why would you want to go there in the first place.And, then, "so what is the answer? turn left or right?

 Or she could do what many law professor do when a student gives exactly the wrong answer in class, "Yes, that is wonderful and thoughtful turn but think about the possibility that we could improve that analysis by considering two right turns." Or for the law professor who is even more sensitive it would be "Please consider making a right turn but first 'how does that make you feel?'"

 If you are law prof with a strong sense of entitlement her lack of indirection and sensitivity to status must be quite upsetting.  For example, what is this with "prepare to make a right turn in 400 yards" or "make a right turn now." Does she know to whom she is speaking? Does she even know that "to whom" is used correctly in the previous sentence. Frankly, I think apologies may be in order. The one I dislike the most is "make a U-turn." The implication is that I have made a mistake. That, we know, is not possible. Why doesn't she say, "I am pretty sure you are going the right way but just to placate my anal propensities would you consider turning around?" Or better yet, "Professor, you have made an excellent turn but I have some concerns about reconciling that turn with the destination you entered."  Or even better than that, "You are right, I am wrong, St. Augustine is west of Gainesville. Please forgive me."

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Anthropological Notes 5: Michigan Law Review Cite Count Project (Is this serious)

As some readers know Michigan Law Review has published an article on the most cited law reviews articles. Before I go on to the frightful possibility that anyone takes it seriously, I need to make a few points. First, I'd be happy to be on the list. Second, the authors on the list are certainly not responsible for creating the list. Finally the  assessment of SSRN is the best I have seen and the Michigan authors' discussion of why their numbers could be off is first rate.

 But, ultimately there are many anthropological observations to make based on the list and its existence.  Let's start with one of the last and perhaps most nonsensical passage in the work: "In the end, regardless of the publication venue, all involved in publishing legal scholarship should be striving for an environment in which authorship, affiliation, and editorial responsibility are clearly marked so that readers can fully evaluate the credibility of what they are reading."  So in the end, the authors suggest, the credibility of what is written can be determined by who authored the work, their affiliation and where published. To quote a former famous tennis player "YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS."  My goodness not only do we hire on the bases of institutional authority but now we assess the credibility of what is written by the same standards. Here are a few points.

1. Authority

This type of thinking leads to something I found when recently reviewing a piece for a colleague. He wrote something like this: "It is well known that poor people have less access to dental care."  I do not doubt that this true. His citation was to a Supreme Court Justice who had said just that, without any analysis what so ever. When did a Supreme Court Justice became an authority on income and dental care? I suppose when you join the institution of the Supreme Court you are deemed to be an authority on everything. Of course that is hogwash just as is the suggestion that credibility should be assessed on who said it (not their support) and where is was published (as determined by a third year law student) and where the author teaches (as determined by a system so rigged it would make professional wrestling look legit.)

2. Why are Some Cite Counts High

A friend once told me that he found a really good article in the Buffalo Law Review but he was looking for the same general statement somewhere in the Harvard Law Review. I asked why and he said "So the editors will be impressed." The Michigan article notes that articles published  in elite journals and  written by people at elite schools are cited far more often. Thankfully, except for the quoted passage they do not otherwise say those are the best or most influential articles with respect to anything that matters. That would be like saying "We have found the 100 best articles and, oh, what a coincidence, they just happen to be in elite journals and written by people at elite schools." This would overlook the reason they are are cited. They are in the top  one-hundred in large part because of where they are published and who wrote them. Their inclusion in another article is a bit of advertising. --  the implicit message of the author doing the citing is sending is "What I am writing must be good because look where what I cited was published and by whom." In short, another word for "cited" is "used" and it means used as a means to an end and the ends is publication, regardless of quality.

3. Guess what.

 The authors do think since we are talking about law review articles it might be good idea to see how they have affected actual law.  This, however, is way too hard  especially when we can so easily count articles citing articles. The authors evidently make a stab at it with the results appearing in Table XI. I am sure this is my mistake but the pdf available from the law review web cite does not have a Table  XI that I can find. Nevertheless,  I agree that assessing impact by looking at case citations is difficult (Coase, by the way, the leading article, has 47 in 52 years according to ALLCASES in WESTLAW. That's less than one a year and if you toss out the 7th circuit opinions the total shrinks) but what they conclude is that the legal citations to the most cited articles in law reviews is "respectable." "Respectable" is not defined but I suppose that includes the whopping 4 citations in 49 years for number 15 on the list. And the 10 for number 33. And 10 more for number 19. There are 18 for number 8 on the list.  I did see some that were relatively high but I am no more sure what "relatively high" means here than the authors are of what "respectable" means. Perhaps on Table XI the numbers are higher but what does that tell us much without knowing how often other articles -- including those not in the top 100 -- were cited.   Hey, I am beginning to wonder if someone will cite the Michigan article for the proposition that the courts cite the 100 hundred at "respectable" levels. After all, it did appear in Michigan so it must be true.

4. Impact

The authors tell us they are measuring impact. Let's think about that. There is "impact" and there is "impact." If  you write something for a fancy law review and someone cites it because of who you are and where it is  published in hopes that their own article will be cited, I suppose that is impact.  But it is impact within a group that largely write for each other and have no impact outside their society. Think of 20 films directors. The make movies they exchange. Very few others see them. Periodically they rank their movies based on how often the movies are paid homage in other movies. Is that impact? And is counting the number times this happens scholarship?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Revisiting Anthropological Notes 3

What follows is a comment on Anthropological Notes 3. I am posting it because I think it is a very insightful  and partially correct criticism of the original "Anthropological Notes 3" and I wish I had thought of some of it.  I'd comment further myself but I have forgotten what irked me as much as it did. I think the commentator is right when he or she mentions "the context."  In fact, I was mocking the context because of its standards for what was to be regarded as noble and what was regarded as an appropriate reaction.  In a way, I guess that supports the thesis found in this little series of "notes." The context is an unusual and bizarre society. As an aside please do write any comments complimenting me on admitting my original blog might have been off a bit. Admissions like that are what normal people do.

Hi Jeffrey,

I am a fan of your blog, but I think you've got it wrong on this one. I was one of the law professors who complimented Rod Hills on his post and I did so precisely because he did something that you have repeatedly noted elites are almost constitutionally incapable of doing: demonstrate the self-awareness and sense of shame that are necessary to combat the sense of entitlement that you regularly rail against. 

I think you are correct when you write that Hills was not fishing for the kind of praise he received. Interestingly, this very fact seems to make the compliments paid to him--the very compliments you mock—even more warranted; in fact I am surprised you did not join in the complimenting. Others, many of whom think like you do, saw the genuineness of his humility and self reflection and thanked him for it. It's important to do this in a culture (that is, legal culture generally) wherein it seems the default response is to see such humility as a sign of weakness rather than to praise it as intellectually and personally brave and of great utility for systemic change. 

So I agree that Hills' post was not the Gettysburg Address but that actually helps make the point. It merely highlights the very premise driving Hills' apology and post. Given the insular nature of law professors' existence, such manifest shame is so unusual that the self-awareness he demonstrated becomes almost profound in context. Everything is relative. The commentators realized this and were thus inspired to give Hills a shout out. And I don't think the specific wording they chose to use was as inflated as you seem to think—again, given the context. The commentators were perhaps a bit more sensitive to the key considerations than you are being, which is, to your credit, not necessarily the norm. 

Monday, May 28, 2012

Anthropological Studies 4

Over on facebook I sometimes field letters addressed to the Law School Ethicist. It's a take off on the New Times Sunday Magazine column. I don't attempt to answer the questions sent to the "ethicist."  I am not qualified. I also do not make up all the questions asked. Almost all of them are based on actual incidents or are submitted to me. Recently I received this from a  close law school friend. His question in many ways captures something of the strange world of law professordom. 

Dear Jeff: Could you pass this on to the ethicist? What is the intention of the hiring process, exactly? I know that there are more than two views, but let me try to limit my question to two, since these two seem to me in tension. The first is a transparently meritocratic intention that acknowldeges a glittery resume indicating the potential for success in an academic post (success meaning advancement of various types for the new hire, the school, and its students). If the potential is realized, then so be it; if not, then it seems either the new hire squandered an opportunity or was overestimated by the hiring powers. Time for both to move on. The second is an opaquely nurturing intention where the hiring powers accept responsibility for the new hire as though the act of hiring was something they have done to (as opposed to for) the new hire. If he or she tanks, it is the fault of the hiring powers, not of the new hire. Accordingly, the promotion process is influenced by feelings of compassion manifested in utterances like "we need to bring Johnny up to speed before his next review. Let's get him some mentors!" Under the nurturing approach, the decision to hire carries an obligation to promote the new hire if at all plausible. Does the Ethicist prefer one approach to the other? Please advise.

My answer is that I personally prefer to first approach albeit administered in a helpful way. In the real world of law school hiring the second may be attractive but quickly morphs into a process that is really designed to avoid change and reinforce the power of incumbents. Nurturing has a nice sound but the goal of "nurturing" is to avoid having to admit a mistake. And nurturing, in the world of law professors, soon becomes creating an illusion about the new faculty member. Lousy scholarship is phrased and mentors scramble to make sure it is placed and then that it is positively reviewed. Someone who is slow in producing becomes "brilliant." Someone who has trouble in the classroom will have the classroom visited and the report will invariable be that he or she is a well organized and caring teacher who is actually too good for the students.  

Hiring someone does carry with it the obligation -- to the institution -- to do what is reasonable to help them succeed. But remember, they are typically adult graduates of elite law schools. What is reasonable stops well short of the hand-holding which is what typically goes on -- teaching loads are reduced, summer grants are granted,  and multiple mentors are appointed. In a very real sense it should be insulting to the new hire. What is reasonable also stops when those hiring begin to act like success or failure reflects on their own judgment and grease the skids. When they do that all they do is tenure someone and donate to them for life a position maybe a person who actually would be productive would hold. But such is this strange culture.