TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Why Are Law Professors So Unhappy?

PublishLaw Prof Blawg, Why Do Law Professors Write Law Review Articles?:

Publish or perish, but is there a point to it?

Why do I write law review articles?  Other professors are starting to ask the same question of themselves.  Or more precisely, others are trying to measure who is making a “scholarly impact.”  ...

This whole quest started with another bad idea.  Publish or perish.  The whole game of academia is to publish articles so that one can get tenure, get promoted, and be on top of the world.  This means publication in student-run law reviews, preferably at the highest U.S. News and World Report ranks. ...

We know you are making the world a better place if you have a scholarly impact.  As Brian Leiter put it, “one would expect scholarly impact to be an imperfect measure of scholarly quality.  But an imperfect measure may still be an adequate measure.”  In other words, we have to measure something!

Hence, the law professor searches for meaning in the isolating world of legal scholarship.  We take to the streets to get our message out.  Some write op-eds.  Some write amicus briefs.  Some testify before Congress and look earnest on camera as a (typically male) member of Congress explains things to us about our own field of expertise.

I’ve done all of that.  And I’m not one bit happier.   More importantly, many have pointed out the potential racial and gender biases of scholarly impact measurements.  Just as one example, Nancy Leong’s blog post is an impressive discussion on the topic.  Gasp!  I cited a blog!

To answer these questions, I have teamed up with the Loyola University Chicago School of Law to host a symposium on April 6, 2018, regarding “The Future of Legal Scholarship.” 

Prior TaxProf Blog coverage:

Legal Education, Scholarship | Permalink


I sought to become a professor because I am compelled to write. Whether others believe what I do counts as scholarship may be a question. But I don't understand the notion of choice. Considering the scarce dollars allocated and available for the advancement of knowledge for knowledge's sake, I even feel a moral imperative.

Posted by: Andre L. Smith | May 11, 2017 11:55:58 AM

The happiest law professors are those who care to and thus find the time to get to know and to work with their students. They focus on intrinsic values and encourage their students to do the same. They allow for (limited) personal exploration, turning more serious matters over to their student service professionals. And they remember in their classes that they are human beings, and remind their students of the same, as often as necessary. It can be an incredibly fulfilling career for those who are mindful of what they can accomplish with those they teach.

Posted by: David Jaffe | May 11, 2017 3:07:55 PM

Isn' the most basic answer that they are contractually obligated to engage in research and scholarship as part of their job, an obligation for which they are paid a significant premium to undertake? It's the same reason law professors teach classes.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | May 11, 2017 6:29:13 PM

What is the evidence that they're unhappy? Compared to whom?

Posted by: mike livingston | May 11, 2017 9:11:15 PM

If you do research and write because you are required to do so, then you do not belong at a top university. Research and writing should be an act of love.

Posted by: mike | May 12, 2017 6:13:49 AM

In the past 30 years the search criteria for law professor candidates changed 180* from top graduates from top schools who had 4 to 8 years of LAW practice on their resumes to PhD's who have no work experience (who is hiring Humanities PhDs?) in any field but who have managed to graduate in the upper half of their class at an upper half law school.
The real lawyers hired pre-1985 were lawyers first. They later developed into academics as they were able to delve deeply into a legal subject matter. For example, my book and 80% of my early articles grew out of issues encountered in my practice or consulting work. After that I sought out legal scabs to pick at, often successfully in terms of change. I wanted my work to make a change NOW.
When I left Big Law, I traded wealth for influence. Good trade.
The PhD-JD's follow a different track. They have no interest in Contracts, Civil Procedure, Business Associations, Evidence, Taxation, or other legal subjects. Occasionally they would "deign" to teach one but their hearts are not in lawyering. They are still interested in their PhD subjects now clothed in a lawyer suit and marketed to law reviews who need material. So law schools have two dozen "Law and ..." courses and produce graduates who can't pass the state bar exam on the first try and who are unhappy writing 12(b)(6) motions (once they find out, in practice, what such a motion is). This is why area specific Ll.M. programs are growing.
The problem isn't students who can't/won't learn law. No, it is faculty who are disinterested and can't/won't teach bread and butter law courses.

Posted by: 40YearLawProf | May 13, 2017 4:16:39 PM

Seems to me that law professors are over represented in the realm of blog excellence

Posted by: steve sterling lyon | May 13, 2017 8:36:25 PM

Here's a clue to writing and being happy: change your audience. Quit writing for other fuzzy headed academics and target legislators, advocates and courts. Argue for changes in the law. Make cogent arguments that people who can change the law will use.Gauge yourself not by how many times other fuzzy-headed academics cite you, but how many times courts rely upon you in opinions.

Or just keep writing for an ever decreasing universe of legal hermits who don't even have an ivory tower from which they can see the real world.

Posted by: Academy Parolee | May 14, 2017 8:31:07 AM