Paul L. Caron

Thursday, February 4, 2010

WSJ: Are Law Professors Just Plain Lazy?

Wall Street Journal Law Blog, Are Law Professors Just Plain Lazy?, by Ashby Jones:

Law professors seem to have it pretty good. They teach a few hours a week, host office hours for an hour a week, and spend the rest doing whatever else they do out of students’ sight — write law review articles and blogs, attend conferences, interview potential colleagues and, well, frankly, we’re not entirely sure.

But lazy? Is it fair to call them lazy just because they don’t sweat and toil in an office or cubicle like the rest of us nine-to-fivers?

Absolutely, writes Ursula Furi-Perry in this article at the National Jurist. We love the lead to the story:

As in most other aspects of life, the “Seven Deadly Sins” manifest themselves in legal education.

There’s plenty of Professor Kingsfield–style wrath (see class discussions with unsuspecting 1L’s). There’s both pride and envy (Google “law school rankings” for some examples). And there may even be lust.

But the one “Sin” in legal education that is the most pervasive and serious, in light of today’s legal landscape — affecting not just groups of students but every law student and recent law grad — is sloth. ...

Furi-Perry quotes St. Johns law prof Brian Tamanaha, who’s written about the inefficiencies of tenure: “[M]ost of the time [tenure] functions to confer immunity on professors to work as little as they please beyond teaching their assigned classes. And that imposes a high cost on law schools (in money as well as institutional productivity and morale).”

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To those here who are professors are griping about their hours:

How much of that is the work you are choosing to do? It is possible to *not* work hard and keep tenure? Or possibly even keep the job in the absence of tenure and work less hours?

You don't have interact endlessly with colleagues to do good scholarship. You don't have to write "ground breaking" work every 6 months or even every year. You don't have to join the endless committees of dubious value that spring up on every campus. What's the bare minimum you actually have to do to keep the job?

I'm thinking that the minimum is much less than most professors confess to. Most professors I've met have clearly chosen their own workloads. And some of them have their job because they *want* to be involved 80+ hours a week.

And many professors I've met have been hopelessly inefficient with both their time and their student's time to boot. How many professors demand 10, 25, 50 page papers without regard the topic, to their or their student's time? (30 x 50 pages is 1500 pages to wade through and that's just 1 class...)

One of the best professors I ever had demanded I write 3 page papers with no typos (down a letter grade for each after 3) because they didn't have time to waste reading fluff. As a student, that is an extremely high standard to meet and much more useful in real world situations.

I think in the end most professors bring their workload on themselves. So, not a whole lot of sympathy here... :(

Posted by: AM | Feb 8, 2010 2:56:22 PM

Oh, to be a 9-5er. Today is Friday and I will be on campus supervising the school's VITA program until 8:00 p.m. And then again on Saturday. That is not to mention the weekly night class that is taught until 10:00 p.m. "Unfortunately?" my ivory tower is not high enough for me to have one office hour a week. I probably have one hour a week of students just popping in. But I do lay around the summer serving on boards and writing law review articles.

Posted by: Cheyanna Jaffke | Feb 5, 2010 9:27:00 AM

All I can say is I've worked in private law firms, the United States Congress, and a law faculty and there's little doubt that the latter work harder and for less reward than either of the first two. If you measure it by time--if you include, say, a flight to Japan as fourteen "billable hours," or time spent fundraising [i.e., nearly all of it] as doing one's congressional job--then yes, there are people who work harder. But how many people in private legal practice are expected to produce original, groundbreaking work into their 60s and 70s? Incidentally I've met Tamanaha at least once. He was giving a paper and responding in detail to his listener's comments . . . on a Saturday.

Posted by: mike livingston | Feb 5, 2010 2:38:46 AM

This is garbage. I work harder as a law prof than I did at one of the top law firms in the country, where 2500-3000 hours a year was the norm. I'm interrupted more and less able to direct my own use of time as a professor than I was as an associate--e.g., by administrative and faculty governance requirements(filing reports, reading admissions files, attending faculty meetings, attending committee meetings, participating in candidate interviews, hosting potential donors), teaching-related responsibilities (meeting with students, responding to student queries, writing recommendations for students), and field-related conferences (attending conferences that provide opportunities to interact with colleagues in the same field but that require makeup classes and take a considerable amount of time because useful meetings are spread over a diverse schedule to suit many different demands). Being part of the university community often means participating in programming that requires preparation as well. The scholarly writing and teaching preparation that are at the heart of the job take place in this context of difficult-to-allocate time where many different demands, all part of the job, must be satisfied.

There are already enormous pressures on faculty to conform--to the university administration's view, the discipline's view, the community's view. Without tenure, those academic voices of wisdom that contribute mightily to our ability to sustain democratic institutions in spite of all the forces aligned against them would be mostly silenced. So-called scholarship on the so-called inefficiencies of tenure strike me as generally missing the point.

Posted by: stop, look and listen | Feb 4, 2010 11:00:34 AM