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January 04, 2015


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A little off topic but I raise a question as to attendance at this year's Meeting in light of the general law school fiscal woes. Good? Bad? Same as in past years? My travel budget precluded attendance this year. Same for others?

Enrique Guerra Pujol

Another solution in search of a problem


1. Why? Is there a lack of diversity in terms *other* than speaker identity -- e.g., in terms of gender or race? Or is there a sense in which the speakers are seizing opportunities not deserved in terms of merit, and at a greater rate than would be the case if one of your proposed rules were adopted? I ask out of genuine curiosity. Sometimes rules like the ones you suggest are proposed simply in order to distribute more opportunities for attendees, not to redress any particular problem; those too may be merited.

2. Another solution, perhaps taken in parallel, might be to cut down on the programming. 772 speakers, with redundant gigs, sounds like an awful lot. It is the rare national conference that wouldn't be better if it cut a half or whole day. And cheaper.

Bridget Crawford

Thanks for your clarifying questions, Ani. As you accurately suggest, my proposal goes to distribution of opportunities.


Thanks for the reply. By themselves, the numbers don't necessarily suggest a big change. Notionally, one could think of the total number of speaking instances increasing by 169, 44 of which (again, notionally) being taken up by repeaters, which looks like a huge proportion -- unless you think of the number of willing and able speakers being somewhat fixed, in which case it's not so surprising that a bigger pool of speaking instances would create a higher rate of repetition. And if attendance declined, while the number of instances increased, it's less surprising still.

I find the absolute increase in the number of speaking instances -- the number of participants or participant opportunities -- just as interesting. Have the number of subjects requiring discussion by different individuals, or the real audience appetite for programming, increased by over 25% in three years? In other associations with which I am familiar (but *not* in my experience the AALS), one of the biggest drivers for individuals in pursuing participation in the program is the need to justify the expenditure to school administrators . . . which obviously creates a more complicated set of equities.

Orin Kerr


I respectfully disagree with your proposal. The key, I think, is that panels should exist for the benefit of the audience rather than for the benefit of the speakers. If I'm putting together a panel, I want to feature panelists who will excite the audience and provide the most interesting and insightful commentaries that make the event most valuable for them. The problem with a "one appearance" rule is that it can get in the way of that goal. If I want a particular speaker who I know is particularly awesome, but that speaker has already committed to another panel, I would have to find someone less good instead. That makes the panel less valuable to the audience.

Your comment about the need for an exception for a speaker such as Justice Ginsburg hints at the problem. Justice Ginsburg is invited everywhere and can speak whenever she wants: She has a truly extraordinary set of opportunities to speak and to get her views known. If we take the concern with distribution seriously, we should sharply limit when Ginsburg is permitted to speak to make sure that others get the same opportunities that Justice Ginsburg gets. We don't do that because the audience at the AALS really wants to hear Justice Ginsburg. I think that's the right approach, as we should be focused on making the events interesting and engaging for the audience rather than trying to ensure that there is no unequal distribution of speaking opportunities.


Orin, I tend to agree with your bottom line, but there are meaningful differences between Justice Ginsburg and the average (two timer) speaker: she merely responds to requests, and she is an unambiguous "get". With those more active in the AALS, there's a prospect of self-dealing or that ties/relationships will play a decisive role in less clear-cut assessments of which speaker to invite. Hence the supposed need for a brake. My sense is that a rule is too undiscriminating, and that we would be better off with fewer speakers, but reasonable minds may differ.

Bridget Crawford

Thanks for these comments, Orin. I find much wisdom in the notion that "panels should exist for the benefit of the audience rather than for the benefit of the speakers." I suppose where we might differ is in our assessment of the biases (or lack thereof) in the selection of speakers. I have attended too many AALS events where the panelists were not necessarily providers of the most "insightful" or "interesting" commentaries (somewhat subjective, anyway), but the speakers *were* buddies of the organizer and/or well-known and/or folks who have spoken on the topic before (often at a recent AALS Annual Meeting). I perceive a "clubbiness" to many AALS panels and I suspect that we can do better. My proposal is a mechanical -- and perhaps blunt -- approach to fixing what I perceive to be a negative aspect of the AALS Annual Meeting. I think the scheduling preference for programs with speakers chosen from a call for papers was motivated by a similar desire to diversify.

Orin Kerr

Bridget, Ani, thanks for the thoughtful responses. I think there are two different issues here: (1) People being invited to speak multiple times because they are chummy with the organizers, and (2) People who are invited to speak multiple times because they are well-known as experts in a particular topic or range of topics. I see (1) as always bad, but (2) as often good.

On (2), you wouldn't want to hear too much from one speaker over time, and speakers who feel they are being over-invited can certainly decline an invite on that basis. But in general, being well-known in a field is probably a reason for being invited to speak on it that correlates pretty well with audience value. Again, I think the Justice Ginsburg example is helpful here: We think it's okay for her to speak, even though she is over-exposed, because we think the audience will get a lot out of it even if they have heard from her before.

As for (1), I think that's a problem even if there is no repetition, and I don't see it as so closely linked to the repeat speaker issue. We've all been to panels in which Professor X invited Professor X's friends to the panel to discuss issues of pet concerns to Professor X, and they all agree with each other, and it's all pretty useless for the audience. I think it would be totally fair for the AALS to address that problem by having rules or preferences on the diversity of perspective of the panelists (not everyone the panel should agree with everyone else ) or to impose rules on organizers prohibiting inviting speakers who are close friends. I also tend to think the concern with repeat speakers is addressed primarily by having a good rotation in who organizes panels; if people are chummy with the organizers, but the organizers constantly rotate, you shouldn't have much repetition on that basis.

Finally, my experience is that the AALS is pretty focused on speaker diversity already. The one time I organized an AALS panel, they not only had the common standards on race/gender diversity, but they also had rules on prominence diversity: My first panel proposal was rejected because everyone on the panel was already famous, and that didn't give a chance to professors who hadn't accomplished as much.

new spurs for Christmas

I think speaking spots should go to those who want them the most. No one else cares.

Christine Hurt

I also respectfully disagree. I have never liked the LSA rule, and it has kept me from presenting different papers on different panels several times. The AALS organizers have tried to increase opportunity by incentivizing calls for papers. CFPs increase opportunity for non-friends of organizers to participate, but they also increase the likelihood that someone will be selected by multiple sections or be selected by a CFP after accepting an offer to speak/moderate/comment on a different panel. The speakers that I saw appear twice were in the CFP category. I would not be in favor or restricting that outcome.

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