To make a difference in science, so it seems, you have to start very young, or else reinvent yourself utterly. This is why Geoff Rapp's inaugural PrawfsBlawg post, Are Young Scholars Too Old?, should be required reading for anyone interested in starting a revolution in legal academia.Just when does "juniority" end and seniority begin? At the most practical level, Geoff is simply asking about the appropriate cutoff date for the Young Scholars Law Abstracts, the Yale-Stanford Junior Faculty Forum, the AALS Paper Contest, and other things seeking to foster relatively recent entrants into legal academia. The obvious choices are either an arbitrary number of years (usually seven, sometimes five) or a professional threshold such as tenure or promotion to full professor.
But the rapid emergence of the visiting assistant professorship as the de facto gateway to a tenure-track position raises a different question. I am less concerned with the definition of juniority than with its transformative value. The creeping insistence on an ever larger set of credentials -- clerkships, degrees beyond the J.D., VAPs -- necessarily delays the physical age at which law professors begin their careers in earnest. Indeed, if Thomas Kuhn's observation about scientific revolutions holds true in law, we may be wasting some of the most potentially transformative years of individual careers by delaying would-be upstarts' full-fledged arrival within the academy.
Do the math. Phenoms aside, Americans begin college no earlier than 18. And then there's college itself. Remember the scene in Animal House in which John Belushi's character (Bluto Blutarsky) laments, "Seven years of college for nothing"? That used to be funny. If we hope to keep the academy open to members of the lower and lower-middle classes -- individuals known to this forum as "Hardy boys" and their sisters in spirit -- some professors will indeed have spent six, seven, eight years on the path between high school and the bachelor's degree. Add as many as four years for the J.D. (completed part time, of course), one or two years clerking, at least two years on another advanced degree, and one year as a VAP. God forbid that an aspiring law professor might also . . . practice law. We have taken our hypothetical aspiring academic well past her or his 30th birthday. The fictional Roy Hobbs would be downright young in a gathering of rookie law professors.
There is a world of difference between one's 20s and one's 30s:
Once I had a love from theNanci Griffith, "I Wish It Would Rain," on Little Love Affairs (1988). When the diamonds fall, darlin', they burn like tears. If only once in a very blue moon, the legal academy might consider hiring a rookie slightly before her time.
Who only cared for me
I wanna find that love of twenty-two
Here at thirty-three