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Law Professor Infuriating Comment of the Day: I. Glenn Cohen (Harvard) Edition

 

Very briefly over at PrawfsBlawg there was a post up entitled How To Increase Your Risk of Not Getting Tenure by recently tenured Harvard law prof I. Glenn Cohen. I say was because it quickly got pulled down. Over at TaxProf, Paul Caron has a clip from the post:

  1. Write less than one paper a year or leave most of your publishing for late in your tenure clock
  2. Co-author too much
  3. Being too much of a wallflower or being not enough of a wallflower
  4. Focus too much on teaching or service
  5. Fail to get to know those in your field, fail to be a good PR agent for yourself
  6. Undertake projects with timelines incompatible with your tenure clock, including books
  7. Focus on the views of your mentors to the exclusion of the views of your faculty as a whole and outside readers

The list is no doubt idiosyncratic and missing many good pieces of advice. Others will disagree. I welcome that and encourage people to add in the comments. The last thing I will say is that while this list is focused on what people can do to increase/reduce their risk of getting denied tenure, because that is where your agency is as a junior, I don’t want to let faculties off the hook. I think we should think of tenure denials as failures on our part, either as to early screening or (more often) as to helping our colleagues through the process of tenure. There are many things faculties can do better vis-à-vis junior faculty, and this list is not meant to let the faculty off the hook.

school-failTenure, the holy grail for academics – for law professors a six-figure job for life. With tenure you are suddenly plucked forth from the free agency model of a liquid workforce that the rest of the proletariat must toil in; safely ensconced in the ivory tower for life.  If you want to achieve this lofty goal,  just make sure you don’t focus too much on teaching and serving students. No wonder the post was short lived. I’m sure there was a law professor pile-on urging Prawfsblawg to take the post down. But like the last time there was an unpopular post on Prawfsblawg that was taken down that I pointed out – this is the internet baby. Don’t put something up on the internet if you aren’t prepared for the world to see it – forever. Prawfsblawg doesn’t seem to enjoy the unrelenting focus of the greater online legal world, but if  you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen (google cache link of Cohen’s post).

To Cohen’s credit he notes that:

Again, I am being cynical here but a realist; this is not the way I would like tenure to work, but I think it is the way it works right now in many institutions.

This should make every practicing lawyer very sad and worried for the future of the profession. Here is a law professor – at Harvard – saying that his job stability is better served by not serving his students. The people that we are entrusting to train the next generation of lawyers are being encouraged by their institutions to not focus on students, but instead on papers, projects, and other scholarship that has little to no relevance in the actual law practice. They might make schools look nice but as has been noted by Justice Scalia, bears little relation to what happens in the real world: “The academic mindset is too far removed from the practice of law.”

I’m not sure what the solution is, but there is going to have to be a fundamental shift in the nature of law schools if this is how they function. A law school’s purpose is not prestige, or papers, or books. A law school’s purpose to produce new lawyers. Period. That should be their entire focus. If that is not their focus, there are going to be serious problems facing the legal industry in the future.

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About Keith Lee

I'm the founder and editor of Associate's Mind. I like to write, talk, and think about law, professional development, technology, and whatever else floats my boat. I practice law in Birmingham, AL.
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