I've always greatly enjoyed the scholarship side of being a law professor. In fact, and I'm just one of many who's said this before, if you don't enjoy it, it's really not the right job for you.
But little did I know until I started in on the research behind my newly released book about anti-abortion terrorism that there is another form of scholarship that is much more enjoyable than your standard law professor theoretical or doctrinal scholarship - the qualitative empirical research that my last couple of posts have covered.
The key factor in most qualitative empirical research is that you are talking with people about their experiences to learn about how and why they do or experience things. These interviews form a data set that you then analyze to raise questions or reach conclusions about the phenomenon you are studying. It's nearly impossible to draw generalizable conclusions from qualitative research, but you can provide useful explanations and derive novel theories from it.
This is a very different method of scholarship than typical law professor scholarship. At least as I've experienced it, theoretical and doctrinal legal scholarship is a fairly solitary enterprise. You read cases, books, articles, legal documents, etc.; develop ideas and theories based on them; and then write up your analysis. All of this can be done from the confines of your office (or home or coffee shop or whevever). As I said at the start of this post, I have no doubt enjoyed this type of scholarship in the past.
But after doing this qualitative research project over the past few years, I'm not sure I'm eager to go back to traditional legal scholarship. Why? Because the qualitative research is simply more fun.
There are many reasons for this. I think the main reason is that you are interacting with people who are describing their lives and how law interacts with it. In doing so, you get yourself out of your office, see and learn about the variety of people's lives, and learn about the real world effects of law. To me, this was energizing in a way that I never anticipated.
Beyond this, there's a thrill of creating a new data set that had never existed before. In capturing stories and people's experiences that may have never been told before, you are producing raw data for the world that's new. From that, you develop your own analysis, but others may be able to use this data for other analyses. That's a contribution to the world that's different than ordinary research.
Then there's also the connections that you get from doing this kind of research. You build a network of people who trust you and might help you with other projects, whether scholarly or otherwise.
All of this, and other aspects of it as well, has been hugely rewarding and fun for me. It doesn't come without its messiness though. And the messiness comes from what makes it so rewarding and fun in the first place - dealing with people.
When you deal with people, you have to track them down, keep track of them, work around their schedules, and handle their idiosyncrasies. Caselaw and law review articles don't change contact information mid-stream, fail to return your calls, or demand that you do things one way or they won't participate. Compiling your sources for typical legal scholarship doesn't turn you into a detective trying to locate subjects who are sometimes moving targets. In other words, all the things that are messy about dealing with people in real life are also messy in dealing with people for research purposes.
Which makes qualitative research not the right thing for every law professor. Far from it. However, for me, after having so much fun with this methodology, even with the messiness, I really do find it hard to imagine going back.