Friday, March 07, 2008


I am a big sports fan but not that knowledgeable about ways to pad sports statistics. Of course, in basketball, total rebounds is not very useful. Offensive rebounds are critical. Points without much attention to attempts is pretty worthless. In baseball, I am not sure. Certainly a win/loss record is way too mushy when ERA tells you more about pitching effectiveness. Hopefully even the most unMoney Ball manager in any field knows to look at stats that really reflect performance.

I am not so sure the same level of scrutiny is uniformly applied in law. I say this not because I know how decision-makers and deans evaluation resumes but because of the persistent use of "stats" that can be deceptive. Since I believe that markets sometimes work, I believe that some decision-makers must be buying what some law professors are selling.

Some examples:

1. Lists of books. The best book is a university press original offering. It is not a recycling of old articles which most books by law professors are. Also listed in the books category are collections of works by others. This takes the form of a book but is hardly a "book" in the sense that it signifies a traditional book-like effort. In fact, the professor's role here is more as an administrator. Casebooks are harder to classify. I'd rank them behind the real university press book and way ahead of the edited book of readings. Still, there they all are listed as "books."

2. Coauthors. It is very difficult to find any book that is not coauthored. This is especially true when it comes to casebooks. There is nothing wrong with this. In fact, it probably makes for better work. But, I have seen way too many claims to be an "author" as in "I have published 3 books" when the person was one of two or three This problem is magnified when the author is actually a "coauthor" of a selection of readings by others. The same issue comes up with articles. Professor X boasts of 15 articles and Professor Y has measly 10. X's are all authored, none of Y's are and the difference goes unnoticed.

3. Articles. Don't even get me started. I have now seen listed and reported as "articles" everything from 2 page introductions to sweeping 100 page treatments of complex issues. Yet from the mouths of many of those with the 2 pages I hear "I have written X articles." Worse I have seen decision-makers look no further than numbers.

4. Placement. Privately professors will concede that placement is a crap shoot Actually, not quite. Your chances of a high placement soar if you can list some elitist credentials. Placement for my purposes here means was the article send into the marketplace for articles or was it a solicited symposium article. Not only are the latter generally shorter but placement is based, nearly exclusively, on what the author has already said somewhere else. Still, there they are listed along with other articles and often counted as equal to the the other articles. Don't get me wrong. Some of these pieces are better than standard articles but, for the most part, they are not selected by someone looking at two or 2000 completed articles and deciding which is best. To me ten articles send out to fight it out with the other hundreds of articles law professors produce is, without more, way ahead of ten invited offerings in which the author is often asked to preach to the choir.

5. Speeches and presentations. This part of a resume has always puzzled me. Is it scholarship? So far, I do not think I have heard a talk that was not part of something already published or part of something to be published. So, what is the contribution here? Orally presenting something that can be read? More importantly, if these talks are viewed as scholarship, isn't the risk of double counting huge?

6. Double counting. There are many ways to do this. I have noted lunch time talks and recycling articles into books. I have also seen this. Under articles there is an entry. The same entry is then found in "Book Chapters" because the article also appears in another book of readings.

All of this does go on. A few months ago I surveyed 4 schools at the level of my own to determine if elite credentials were good predictors of future scholarship. They were not. In the course of that, I discovered a number of outliers -- people with resume items way in excess of the average. In every case, all or some of the above were at work. Of course, it also goes in the context of shorter resumes.

I'd like to think law schools are as good as sports general managers at looking past the numbers but I am not sure they are. Obviously, a great number of law professors are counting on the possibility that they are not.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Regarding point five, I think that a list of presentations/speeches can be informative. Namely, the list says something about whether the person's work is sufficiently respected that other people want to hear about it in person. A long list of presentations, especially at academic conferences or presentations at other schools, suggests that the person is probably well-known/respected in his/her field. I don't think you can get precisely the same information from a list of publications.

3/07/2008 5:49 PM  
Blogger Jeffrey Harrison said...

Could be but I have two reservations. First, is it scholarship or something else? Second, in my experience even to have the value you suggest requires something more than measuring the length of the list.
Very often, being invited means you are someone's buddy -- basically unknown other than to the people doing the inviting.

3/08/2008 7:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As for your first reservation, I agree with you that a presentation is not scholarship. But a list of presentations can still offer valuable information about an academic that one cannot glean from the rest of the c.v.

And that takes me to your second reseravation. I agree that some invitations are the result of having a friend in the right place. But if the list of presentations is long and varied, it does suggest to me that the person is widely known and respected. At the very least, it suggests that the person is reasonably well-connected in academic circles, which is a relevant factor when considering whether to hire someone. I think connections can benefit a law school in a number of ways independently of someone's list of publications.

3/08/2008 10:32 AM  
Blogger Jeffrey Harrison said...

Thanks. If it is not scholarship but it is a measure of how "well connected" someone is, I am still a bit learly.

I think we agree to this extent. If someone writes something that is important and is then invited because people would like to question the professor further or ask about their own work, its like being cited by a court. It's a meansure of the importance of the work.

My problem is that I look at resumes with lists of presentations that go on forever. They range from informal talks with other faculty at the professor's school to invited speaches to academically oriently bodies. Unless one sifts very carefully through this it there is a risk of viewing it as having important independent of the underlying work, if any, that gave rise to the invitations.

3/09/2008 9:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't mind collections of articles put together as a book so long as, 1) there is some connection between the articles so that it make sense to have them together other than that they are by one person. (The exception to this might be for very senior/important figures for whom "collected papers" volumes are appropriate), 2) The articles do not have too much over-lap- many times with a collection you get a terrible feeling of having read the article before since it's half or more covering the same ground as the one before (and after!) it. In itself this is not necessarily bad but makes a collection unbearable to read. 3) Ideally there should be some sort of introduction or conclusion to bind the articles together, as well as some revision in the articles themselves when needed. In cases like these collections of articles by one author can be very useful and worth-while, though of course ought not count for as much as a "real" book of material that hasn't otherwise been published. (Of course even "real" books often build on earlier articles, so the line might not be completely clear.)

3/09/2008 7:30 PM  
Blogger Jeffrey Harrison said...

Matt: Maybe I should not say it is padding to write a book composed of old articles. I do not think there is anything wrong with it as long as there is full disclosure. Mainly I am concerned about evaluators who are primarily counters give full credit for both.

3/10/2008 1:08 PM  

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