The lone gunman.

A professor pointed out today that one of our readings was an article cowritten by a law professor and a third-year law student. That was the first time I’d ever seen a professor / student collaboration.

This made me wonder: why is it that almost all legal scholarship is the product of solo authors? Collaborations between professors are rare; collaborations between professors and students are almost nonexistent.

Intuitively it seems that there are strong incentives to collaborate: co-authors can fill gaps in each other’s knowledge and skills. A co-author will be your best editor.

Co-authors get their names on more articles with less work. I won’t assume that co-authoring an article is half the work of writing it solo—divisions of labor are never that efficient—but it must represent some time savings. More articles means more ... of whatever satisfaction people get from publishing, I don’t really know what that is.

Well, maybe I can guess. Legal scholarship can be separated into three types: 1) the kind that professors write when they’re first looking to achieve tenure; 2) the kind they write when they have tenure but they’re looking to be poached by a better law school; 3) the kind they write when they have tenure and they’re just interested in the topic enough to write about it.

Category (3) is the smallest. Some professors have a steady law review publishing career after they get tenure. Others move on to writing casebooks or other legal texts (though arguably, that may pay a few bucks, but it’s not scholarship in the sense of exploring new academic terrirtory).

But most tenured professors’ publishing habits become, shall we say, sporadic as their career wears on. I’m too lazy to do an empirical analysis. It seems true.

Category (3) also looks like it might be the best opportunity for collaborations. Wouldn’t a non-tenured professor or student benefit by co-writing something with a professor established in the field? But we still have the problem of what incentive the tenured professor has to participate. Very little. That professor can exploit student labor without having to grant a co-writing credit.

As for working with another professor, one problem is that profs tend to focus on very narrow areas of legal thought. You can build a whole career around something like “the death of the irreparable injury rule”. How many other people are likely to share your interest? Very few. So the realm of potential collaborators may be, in practice, quite small.

Category (1) might be an inappropriate place for collaborations. On the one hand, profs do want to get published. Frequently if possible. I know tenure committees say they value quality over quantity, but the more you write, the more you have a chance of publishing something that gets noticed.

But a non-tenured prof’s main goal in publishing is to prove that they have the smarts, skills, diligence, etc. to merit tenure. So there’s more value to solo articles, because everything in that article (for better or worse) is attributable to you. If you went before a tenure committee with several great but co-written articles, you’d have to explain what your contribution was.

And that assumes that the result of the collaboration is good. When you’re co-writing, you still have the risk that you’ll spend six months on an article and it will suck. If that happens, you would’ve been better off on your own.

There’s probably also some cultural heredity at work—solo writing has been the model for a long time. The profs reviewing your tenure application all had to suffer through writing their own articles. They probably think that you should get to suffer too.

That leaves category (2). Which perhaps is indistinguishable from category (1).

Apparently I’ve answered my own question. Go back to whatever you were doing.

03 Apr 07

Comments

How does this reconcile with your earlier post where you proposed that one reason for going to law school instead of B school is “joy of working alone”?

Also interested to hear your thoughts on the Commencement Speaker chosen for the graduating class of 2007.

Posted by: Another law student at April 5, 2007 09:43 AM

If I choose to work with a person whose skills and talents I respect, that’s much different than someone requiring me to work with random people whose skills and talents I know nothing about.

I don’t know who the commencement speaker is. I imagine it’s someone chosen more for their symbolic value—embodying the liberal ideals that most UCLA law graduates will not be pursuing at their corporate litigation defense jobs—than for their ability to deliver a competent speech.

More relevantly, since I’m not going to commencement, it’s hard for me to care.

Posted by: MB at April 5, 2007 12:23 PM

matthewb @ ucla
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