Monday, January 01, 2007

Writing With Guidance From Above

Recently Jim, ever the ontological type, created a taxonomy of sorts for "Types of Faculty Appointments." He included the following categories: VAP, Rookie, Senior Junior, Junior on and so forth. I was tempted to email him with a simple query: "What am I, chopped liver?"

While I never doubt Jim's faith in me or his solid support of ambitions, I must admit that his omission of L.L.M's and J.S.D's from his taxonomy is a classic oversight. We are sometimes lumped in with VAP's (Visiting Assitant Professors) and Fellows, as a certain type--those who make up for their sub Top-5 schooling with extra time in a more elite law school program to hone their scholarly skills and get some writing done (and published). And that's where the similarity ends.

For one thing, I, as an L.L.M., am paying Liberal College Law an awful lot to assemble a "tool kit" or "package," and VAPs and Fellows are paid by their school to do so. While L.L.M's and J.S.D.s are similar to VAPs and Fellows in their supplicant ways, we tend to be closer to Raw Rookies than VAPs as we are begging harder to get jobs. When we go on the market we have no fancy title (say, Climinko Fellow), but we do have an alphabet soup after our names. (I will have four post-secondary degrees by 2010, but console yourself with your much better padded 401(K).)

Then again, we are not so rookie as say, someone with just a J.D. and a nice clerkship under the belt--by the time you finish your J.S.D. you've written (and hopefully published) at least 2-3 articles and a dissertation that could in theory become a book. So L.L.M's and J.S.D's have a good amount of scholarly training by comparison to the Raw Rookie. Post-Grads probably have more than even your average Fellow.

So what are the benefits to pursuing post-graduate law degrees? Why on earth would someone who hated law school want to go back for more?

Because VAPs and Fellowships are generally reserved for lawyers/aspiring law professors who wish to enter academia after clerking or practicing for a while. Thus, post-graduate law degrees allow what would be Raw Rookies from sub-Top-5 schools to polish themselves a bit before going on the market. It's a huge investment of time and resources, but those entering academia are rarely in it for just the pecuniary gain. Post-graduate law degrees also have a huge benefit: institutional support, however weak, and faculty supervision, however variable depending on who is your advisor.

If you are trying to game the system, as I am, on what is probably one of the most unlevel playing fields possible, it helps to learn how to work within institutions and make them work for you. This is probably a big reason why I can't with good conscience call myself a critical deconstructionist anymore. Having graduated from a a Top-20 law school, I knew full well that wasn't enough to get me through the meat market--I needed more publications under my belt, I needed a more elite institutional affiliation, and I needed a lot of big names behind me, people willing to make a phone call or go to bat for me on a hiring committee. Enter, the L.L.M. degree, exeunt all that cognitive dissonant baggage over trying to dismantle the master's house with the master's tools.

My L.L.M. degree will be from a Top 10 school, and it could almost be Top 5 if the Top 5 slots didn't appear so permanently fixed. It helps to be affiliated with Liberal College Law. I can't deny that it gives me some credibility when I submit proposals to conferences or in making faculty contacts. It opens doors that being only a J.D. didn't. I can't deny that it doesn't make my sparse resume look far better, as if I was in some Linnean (or Lamarckian) taxonomy and slowly moving up the ladder. So, while I am working for a glorified J.D. taking classes with 2Ls and 3Ls, I am also writing two substantial articles to be published by next fall. And they will be written under the supervision of faculty advisors. And this is a good thing.

No one will hold your hand in the legal profession. Even my friends, who are only first or second year associates, don't get much guidance from their partners. Hazing is what our profession does best. Can you remember the first semester of your 1L year? Yet legal academia is, and should be, different from all this. It should be like any other division of academia, where the ideal is that students and professors alike are in the collective pursuit of truth and knowledge. I am still young enough an academic to make such a statement without sarcasm. Ideally, there is no hand-holding, but there is guidance, there is mentoring, there is a spirit of collaboration. I know I must sound naive, but this is what I am hoping academia is like.

In theory academia should be more cordial, and the word "collegiate" comes to mind. Networking in academia is not just about getting a job, but doing the job right---read any law review article and see the paragraph long "thank you" to all the people who have read or given valuable commentary on drafts of this article. It helps to have friends in high places, and if you are coming from a school below Top-5, you need them all the more. You need to produce quality work, and it helps to have quality people reading your work. You will be judged on your work alone, and there will be no one guiding your hand as you write. But at least you have an editor.

Post-graduate degrees give institutional support to those who don't have a ready roster of heavy-hitting academic figures behind them. It allows us to have access to faculty advisors, some of whom are experts in their field. It allows us to use our institutional affiliation to garner more support and notice at academic institutions elsewhere, which helpful when we finally go on the market. While there is no hand-holding, there are at least formal structures in which one may obtain guidance.

I think of it as the difference between the two Caravaggios, the first (and his first attempt) picturing St. Matthew as an old man, struggling to write the first gospel while the youthful angel guides his hand. Don't go into academia if you think this is how things are going to be. Even with the benefit of being associated with Liberal College Law, I have to do a lot of work on the side to create and maintain faculty contacts, keep abreast of current developments in my chosen fields, and turn in regular drafts of work to make sure that Preeminent Federalism Scholar likes me. I am writing more than most L.L.M's in my program, and I can't say it doesn't exhaust me. But imagine how much harder it would be to write my two articles, to make faculty contacts here and elsewhere, to submit to conferences, or have someone who regularly reads drafts of my articles without the benefit of the L.L.M. program. Actually, I don't have to imagine. That was last year.

While I aesthetically prefer the first painting, the image of the second is what is most comparable to academia: the long, hard slog through the night, but with the comforting knowledge that the angel is above, reading over the shoulder. Hopefully, what you write will have readers, and while you write you'll have a few people looking over your shoulder. Just be sure to thank them in footnote 1.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

As someone who recently obtained an LLM from one of the top schools I must admit I have mixed feelings about it. Few professors were helpful and the idea of taking more law classes was less than helpful. My LLM paper advisor refused to meet with me for most of the year, thus I was mainly on my own. Considering that I paid $50,000 for this 1 year degree, I wonder whether paying for the name of the school after my name was really worth it.

What I find completely frustrating is how legal scholarship is published -- the whole law review process. Considering that almost no practicing lawyers read these reviews, one realizes that it is truely an insider's gig. I mean, can you imagine medical students deciding what gets published in the New England Joural of Medicine? Of course not, that would be rediculous!

1/01/2007 12:27 PM  
Blogger Anthony Ciolli said...

If you think LLMs have it rough, just imagine what it's like for JD students... At least dozens of law reviews won't automatically reject your work without reading it because of your student status.

1/01/2007 6:50 PM  
Anonymous M. Roark said...

In contrast to Anony above, My LLM was incredible -- the best experience of my Professional Career; of course the sticker price was also very high.

I do offer three thoughts regarding my experience, particularly in the range of publishing. First, I found that it suprising that a number of Law reviews will not consider your work when you are an LLM student either. This seems to me odd but it is as those here say, a part of the Game. Thus, if you are considering doing as I wanted to do (LLM then Meat market) make sure you have at least one pub other than your student note before enrolling. That leads into the second thought which is the LLM is valuable for letting people see your scholarly potential and writing. Take as many seminars as you can. Thats not to say that your grades are unimportant -- they are just secondary to writing.

Finally, Anony is absolutely correct in that the Law Reviews are as much gamed as the entire process. My advisor would read articles I wrote and suggest that I submit them to Harvard Yale etc...and I kept wondering if _____, likes them so much why aren't these guys publishing it. Only after talking with other professors did I figure out Law Review rejections have less to do with what you write than who you are.

Have fun gaming the system. Its a long road to get where we are going but it can be a fun ride too.

1/02/2007 2:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, how does one game the system for publication?

1/03/2007 1:45 AM  
Blogger Anthony Ciolli said...

I can't imagine why a journal would not consider papers by JD students... the fact that some journals would actually not consider work by LLM students is simply outrageous. It seems like law journals are the only publications where having more education can actually substantially decrease your chances of getting published.

I'm probably going to blog about this issue on First Movers sometime next week. This sort of discrimination really needs to have some light shed on it.

1/03/2007 4:57 AM  
Anonymous mlr said...

The advice I received is that you work the expedited review process as far up the ladder as you can go. And that is ultimately what worked for me. Thus, sending your article to Number 167 on the W&L rankings site is not necessarily bad if you can expedite your way higher. I moved one article from 327 to 85; another from 187 to 62. It only takes one offer to expedite higher, but as in every food chain, there are limits of your process; Harvard is probably not going to be impressed with an expedite offer from L.Rev. ranked at 187; though they will raise an eyebrow at something from 15-20 probably -- (I say that last part with no experiece publishing at Harvard, but just based on the results I have received in other tiers.) Thus the publishing process can be gamed with patience and luck.

Anony: email me sometime. I would love to talk with you about your LLM and where you are now, as I am in the middle of the MM process.

1/03/2007 10:09 AM  
Blogger Belle Lettre said...

When I did prelim shopping of an article, one journal thought it should be classifed as a note. Bear in mind, by this point I was already a J.D., and the journal had previously published works by lawyer-practiioners as "articles."

Such is the ignorance of law students and even student editors about what LLMs are. I'd like to think we're a notch above 2Ls, but I concede that without the professor title (acting, assistant, associate, or even visiting associate) it's hard to shop around an article.

Good future blogging topic: how to game the submission system with it's crazy system of exploding offers!

I'm enjoying the comments thread, thanks for contributing.

1/03/2007 10:34 PM  
Blogger Anthony Ciolli said...

I wonder if it might make more sense to just leave the LLM off your resume instead of facing that sort of discrimination in the article selection process.

1/03/2007 11:08 PM  

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