In an earlier post, I asked why senior faculty tell new law professors not to worry about writing an article their first year. Many of those who commented on the thread tried to make sense of this advice, but the general consensus is that new professors should be writing their first year. Now, there is some dispute as to whether they should write but focus on teaching less, or write but focus on teaching more, or write but not feel pressure to publish that first year, but everyone agrees that new professors should be writing. So in the interest of recognizing that all politics are local, first year professors should get a sense of exactly what this means for their home institution.
My second question concerns how the emerging legal scholar is suppose to show that he is building a national reputation in his field. At Florida State, having a national reputation is one requirement for tenure, and I imagine this is true at most other schools as well. This question is especially salient for me as it ties back into the earlier discussion of how young scholars should divide their time. Attending conferences is one way that scholars try to build a national reputation, but conferences can be a time suck because they take away from writing, class prep, and family obligations. It is obvious that writing law review articles is one way to build a national reputation, but why do we believe that attending conferences also produce the same result? In fact, teaching does little, if anything, to further the goal of building a national reputation, but at least it can help scholars develop their writing and develop a coherent research agenda, which does further this goal. But to what extent does attending conferences help young scholars build a national reputation in a way that writing and teaching may not? Is this time better spent on writing as well?
I am starting to think that it may be better to focus on writing and be more selective about conference attendance, at least in the first couple years on the tenure track. This tends to be difficult for newbies because the general consensus is that you should attend every conference that you can. In retrospect, it is not clear to me that there are any benefits to heavy conference attendance as it relates to getting tenure, at least in the early years.
Case in point: I have attended Law and Society for the last few years, and my attendance at the panels I have been on have ranged from 0 to 3 in any given year. It could be that I am simply not interesting, but the reality is that most of the panels at Law and Society rarely generate a substantial amount of attendees. This is true for a lot of conferences. Don’t get me wrong – I have made some wonderful connections at conferences that have led to other opportunities, but this generally occurs at conferences that are tailored for my field. For this reason, as I get more senior, I am more deliberate about which conferences I attend, and I have learned to get a substantial amount of writing done while I am there. This was not true in my first and second year. I felt like I had to go to every conference possible in order to build a “national reputation,” and I attended as many sessions as possible so that I could meet people. But I wonder if that is the right way to go about it, particularly for those just starting out. I suspect that publishing in a top law review pre-tenure will gain you more name recognition than attending every conference that you can sign up for. But this takes time and effort that can be compromised by attending too many conferences.
So let me ask - Is it better for young scholars to err on the side of going to as many conferences as they can because “you never know”? Or should they be strategic at the outset and attend only a select few? Maybe the key is to turn these big conferences into mini-conferences, like some of the crimlaw profs do at Law and Society? In other words, how do you change conference attendance from a time suck into a way to get your name “out there”?
Cross-posted at Democracy and Distrust.