Paul L. Caron

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Are You a Chicago-Style (Quantity) or a Harvard-Style (Quality) Scholar?

CHOrin Kerr (George Washington), Writing, Fast and Slow:

Zachary Kramer's thoughtful post, The Slow Writing Movement, brings up a broader choice between two approaches to producing legal scholarship.   Fast versus slow.  Or what I think of as the Chicago style versus the Harvard style.  

The Chicago style is to pump out a bunch of articles every year.  When you get an idea for an article, whether big or small, you write it up.  The idea is to produce a steady stream of scholarship. Not every article will be a home run.  But among your articles enough will be a hit that you'll produce a major body of influential work.  I call this the Chicago style because it is most closely associated with the traditional faculty culture at the University of Chicago Law School.  

On the other hand, the Harvard style is to write less but bigger.  You focus on quality instead of quantity, not sending out an article unless and until you think it is the definitive statement about that area of law.  You won't win any productivity awards.  But what you send out should be a signficant statement -- if not a home run, at least a double or triple.  And by focusing your efforts on really big ideas, the thinking runs, you'll produce a major body of influential work.  I call this the Harvard style because I have heard it associated with the traditional faculty culture at Harvard Law School. ...

My own sense is that neither approach is necessarily better.  It depends on the person.  Some professors hit on ideas relatively fully formed.  For them, sitting on an article over time would just be lazy. Other professors work best by mulling over ideas over time.  For them, putting out lots of articles quickly would mean sending out articles half-baked.   And a lot of us are a mix of the two.  Some articles come out quickly Chicago-style while others come out slowly Harvard-style.   (With that said, going back to my earlier post, my recommendation for first-year professors is the same: Even if you see yourself as a Harvard-style writer over the long run, there are good reasons to start out Chicago-style.)

Some comments:

  • WG:  "Better to write up everything and let the audience of readers decide." It is probably instructive that this approach is not followed (indeed, disdained) by academics in most other disciplines. See Martha Nussbaum's (a Chicago professor!) Green Bag article [Cooking for a Job: The Law School Hiring Process]
  • Franita:  "I think that a great middle ground is being a "Chicago style professor" pre-tenure and a "Harvard style professor" post-tenure. This way, you can be productive for tenure, but in the process, lay the groundwork for more significant, big idea post-tenure articles."
  • Sam Bagenstos (Michigan):  "I have Chicago-Style proclivities myself (I use that phrase in the same sense as "Kosher-Style"), but my advice to juniors would be more or less the opposite of Orin's and Franita's. I think writing good law review articles is hard, and it's hard ever to develop the skill if you are on a writing treadmill from the moment you hit campus (or the moment you hit the teaching market, or the moment you take your VAP, or the moment you get admitted to YLS, or . . . ). The biggest problem I see with folks on the teaching market and with non-tenured faculty is they write a ton of stuff, but with too little insight or depth."

Marcia McCormick (St. Louis), The Push for Quantity:

Zak's post, Howard's post, Bridget Crawford's post, and Orrin's post and the comments to them pose some questions and some answers about the quantity of publications law professors and candidates for teaching positions have. Underlying these is a tension about tradeoffs between quantity and quality and concerns about the source of the pressure to produce. I would even go farther than any of them, and suggest there is something of an arms race afoot that we ought to be concerned about. Based on my experience as a VAP and on the hiring committees of two schools, I also think there are reasons in addition to those already suggested for that arms race, and I'll list them in no particular order. There is a lot of overlap among these, but I use a list for convenience (quantity over quality).

  1. Labor market competition. ...
  2. Publications are the coin of the realm. ...
  3. Tenure has weird effects. ...
  4. Quantity as equalizer. ...
  5. Increasing requirements in faculty evaluation. ...
  6. Technology. ...

Working all together, these create a lot of pressure to publish early and a lot.

Legal Education, Scholarship | Permalink


Maybe that's why Chicago always leads in number but never in influence

Posted by: mike livingston | Oct 27, 2014 4:14:33 AM