Search the Lounge


« Hey, Maybe Aliens Will Buy Europe! | Main | Big Words »

November 01, 2011


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


I have no idea if the advice is sound, but I can confirm the advice to me (3rd year prof) was to not even think about doing a second area until after tenure.

bad advice

Given that pretty much everyone with a pulse gets tenure at a law school, is there any reason to put off writing in a new field because of the tenure decision? Isn't this just more law professor neuroticism, as opposed to a concern based in reality? Write about what you find interesting. That's about the only relevant consideration.

Franita Tolson

@bad advice: I disagree, mostly because I question your initial premise that "everyone with a pulse" gets tenure as well as your secondary premise that writing about what I find interesting is "the only relevant consideration." If only it were that easy.


I would consider the start-up costs to enter another field before making the decision to jump. As you know, if you want your scholarship to command respect it's often not as easy as simply thinking of an interesting question in another field and writing about it. It requires investing the time and effort to understanding the nuances of the different conversations that are taking place in the different field and identifying your voice and contribution.

As a junior scholar who has decided to make the jump to a second field (a field that I knew pretty well before being hired), I would suggest that anyone thinking about it consider the costs and their tolerance for anxiety resulting from the fact that that first project may take a bit (and sometimes quite a bit) longer to pull together than the second and third projects in ones primary field. And also consider that given the tenure timeline, the margin for error (in terms of a project that is not viable for a variety of reasons) is much lower once this time has been committed. And third, and this is perhaps a minor consideration depending on the school's approach to outside letters for tenure, you may want to consider whether you can make enough of a mark in the secondary field to impress reviewers enough to secure a positive tenure letters. This may require a little bit of legwork in terms of seeking comments on work and attending conferences. And doing so in two fields would seem to double the work. But I'm not sure on this front since I haven't gotten that far yet. Ultimately, I determined that it was worth it because I am more interested in contributing to the scholarly conversation in my secondary field than I am to my primary field. But I may have a different view come February if I'm not able to develop this project as much as I would like to.

bad advice

Franita, over the past five years, how many people at your school were denied tenure? And of those, how many were obvious no-tenure candidates (i.e., they wrote nothing, they sexually harassed students, etc.) I suspect the number of people left divided by the number of people who received tenure is a number that is incredibly close to 0.

Is there anyone at any law school in the United States who would have been granted tenure but for the fact that they wrote in more than one area? I can't imagine such a person exists.

Most pre-tenure advice is terrible. If you want tenure, write. And the key to writing a lot is writing about what interests you.

Franita Tolson

The reality is that the number of people who are actually denied tenure tells us very little about the number of people who would have been denied tenure but left before the tenure decision, or the number of people who were close cases. I suppose that being a close case may not matter because tenure is ultimately granted, but who wants to be a close case? And many of my posts are about following a path to tenure that will result, not only in tenure, but also in being a successful scholar who is well known in the field. For me, it is not just about "getting tenure," although for some people, this may be their only focus. I want to be a part of the scholarly conversation, so my questions often turn on the best way of accomplishing this goal. I agree that writing is key to getting tenure and acknowledge that it is rare for a productive scholar to be denied tenure, but I think that most schools are starting to look at whether scholars are becoming nationally known in their fields because of the reality that folks at law schools at every level are publishing scholarship. It is starting to become about more than just the numbers, and maybe rightfully so.


I love this post--I'm also pretenure and write in multiple areas. I started out with a more narrowly focused research agenda, but ended up writing more broadly--certain articles just seem to demand to be written, even when I am trying to work on something else entirely. But I think that people who write in more than one area might find certain convergences that make the overall body of work more cohesive than it might first appear, especially over time. I would say that my research agenda, broadly defined, looks at the impact of globalization on civil litigation--but within that, I have an article that looks at the social psychology of offshore legal outsourcing, papers that focus on transnational litigation in domestic courts, a purely doctrinal piece on personal jurisdiction, etc. I think BR's concerns about tenure referees and reputation-building are valid, though, and I certainly share them.

Eric Muller

Franita, I'm with those who say to stick to one field before tenure. I say it because I find academics to have remarkably short attention spans for learning about others. Scholars want to put labels on people. "Oh, Susan -- she's that person at ______ who's doing that amazing work on _______, right?" That's how most people tend to think about others in academia -- they want to know how to "file" them. So there's just no margin at all in risking "incoherence" by delving into a separate area. A few people will appreciate the breadth of your interests; most people just won't get it.

Incidentally, this advice also applies to anyone looking to make a lateral move. The lateral market, from my observation, DETESTS "incoherence."

(I offer this advice as a person who got tenure doing only constitutional criminal procedure, and who, at around the tenure moment, bailed for legal history. Not the smartest conventional-career-advancement move for a bunch of reasons. But I don't regret it for a moment.)

Josh Douglas

I think it's possible to write in multiple areas pre-tenure, especially if you can relate those areas to each other. I, too, focus my scholarship on Election Law, but have written a few pieces about procedure and election law. Indeed, someone recently referred to me as an "election law proceduralist!" Given that, I've tried to play in both the election law world and the civil procedure world. I don't know if I've been successful,or if I would be better off focusing on election law to the exclusion of civil procedure. But if there are two areas that interest someone pre-tenure, my sense is that if you can come up with a way to relate those in some manner there is little cause for concern.

Howard Wasserman

I think it depends on whether you come by those areas (related or not) naturally and whether you can easily write in both without start-up time or costs . The problem with writing in multiple areas, it seems to me, is only if doing so slows you down because you have bring yourself up to speed on some area. But if I see a candidate or colleague who is genuinely engaged and keeping up in two areas and can keep up the expected scholarly pace but in two areas, more power to her. FWIW, I think the two areas thing can be tough to maintain. I have not written a straight First Amendment piece in several years now.

izmir medyumları

Ben birbirine bu alanlarda özellikle de izmir medyumları olabilir, birden fazla alanlarda ön görev yazmak mümkün olduğunu düşünüyorum. Ben de, medyumlar Kanunu bursum odak, ancak prosedür ve seçim yasası ile ilgili birkaç parça yazdım. Gerçekten de, birileri kısa bir süre önce bana "seçim yasası proceduralist!" Olduğu göz önüne alındığında, ben, seçim yasası dünya ve medeni usul dünyasında hem de oynamaya çalıştık. Başarılı oldum bilmiyorum, ya da seçim yasası, medeni usul hariç olmak üzere odaklanarak daha iyi olurdu. Ama ilgi birisi ön görev, benim anlamda bir şekilde bu ilişki için bir yol ile gelip, endişe biraz neden olduğu olduğu iki alan vardır.

Isaac Stewart

I, too, have heard the "coherent scholarly agenda" (CSA) mantra. But I still don't see any case here for for it. True, one shouldn't write in other fields if that lowers scholarly quality. But we already know not to write bad scholarship. If doing good work in more than one field is, at worst, not a minus, and maybe -- plausibly -- a plus, then why urge a CSA, rather than just whatever course of action produces the most high quality work?


I am pre-tenure but write and teach in 2 areas. My research agenda directly melds the two areas and I can not imagine separating them. Any one particular article might take more focus on one or the other area, but it is how the two area converge and influence each other that drives my interest. I haven't thought strategically about this as to tenure but I basically assumed if I am writing, publishing in decent journals, and being asked to present, etc., everything is fine. It seems silly to me to limit my academic work in hopes of creating a more cohesive appearance.

True Religion Outlet

The gods of Abilene Christian University have decided that two of the classes I need to graduate are only going to be offered in the fall STARTING THIS UPCOMING SEMESTER, so I will be graduating in December of 2012 instead of August, pushing back grad school another semester, adding another semester of undergrad outrageous student loans, etc. Bee is not a happy bee. in fact, Bee is about to cut someone.

Paul Horwitz

Franita, I think the "everyone gets tenure" point is more powerful than you acknowledge. Of course no one wants to be a close case, but the question is how many people are close cases for the reasons you worry about. Here, I think tenure standards are sufficiently forgiving that if you can write decent pieces in more than one field and are otherwise welcomed by your colleagues, it is not hugely likely to be a close case. Of course, if you write four articles in four different fields, the startup costs are immense, meaning you're less likely to have time to write enough articles within the relevant time period, and it will also be less likely that each article will meet tenure standards. But writing in two areas, say, presents much less of a danger of this happening. And, of course, it depends on what you mean by one field, two fields, etc. Some people write about methods or problems, and their papers have a kind of unity even if they involve multiple substantive fields: think about, say, Adrian Vermeule or Adam Samaha or Ian Ayres. Finally, I'm not sure that counting those people who left before tenure really disproves the general point about ease of tenure: the point with many of those individuals is that they had serious problems, ie. they hadn't written anything or only wrote one piece. If you can make it over that hurdle, then tenure is generally much less likely to be a serious concern. I'm not suggesting it's a trivial concern; but I think the reality is that pre-tenured people, often to their own unnecessary disadvantage in terms of psychic energy expended (and, sometimes, doing things they needn't or shouldn't do, like kow-towing to senior faculty), worry overmuch about tenure.

Of course, wanting to have impact in an area is a different matter, and I quite understand that point. The question, though, is how much you should be dissuaded if you really feel compelled to write in more than one area. Following your scholarly muse with passion and independence is itself generally a sign, except for those who are woefully wrong in their own assessment of their abilities and limits, that you are the kind of person who is doing fine and will do fine at tenure time. And the more passionate you are about what you are writing about, the more likely it is, on the whole, that you will 1) have an impact, 2) find a community of fellow scholars, and 3) actually find the experience rewarding. I guess my rule of thumb is, first and foremost, to do what your own sense of yourself as a scholar demands, certainly with a sense of one's limits and capacities but without going too far to restrain oneself for other reasons, such as fear of not obtaining tenure.

True Religion outlet

You don't, but you can enlist your network of attendants, friends and family to tell guests via word of mouth about your preference, if and when they're asked. In any case, some people will still want to mark the occasion with an actual gift, so registering for at least a few items—like upgrades of items you already have, or new linens—is a good idea.

Moncler Outlet

areas (related or not) naturally and whether you can easily write in both without start-up time or costs . The problem with writing in multiple areas, it seems to me, is only if doing so slows you down because you have bring yourself up to speed on some area. But if

Anthony Colangelo

Writing in multiple areas may prove fruitful if one can identify and cultivate synergies among them. Sometimes complex legal problems call out for solutions that draw together areas traditionally analytically isolated from each other. Bringing the areas together in innovative ways may make a scholarly contribution and result in more sophisticated and creative analysis. At least that's the hope.

Ann Bartow

I write in a lot of different areas. I might have a more successful career if I'd stuck to just one and tried to become a national authority in it. But I've enjoyed interacting with several different circles of scholars over the years, and writing in different areas made that possible. And writing about things that interest me makes the writing easier. Nothing makes the edits easier though :>)

The comments to this entry are closed.


  • StatCounter
Blog powered by Typepad