The Nature of Our Profession I
I thought I might take the opportunity while guesting here at Co-Op to talk about the nature of legal scholarship. One topic that I think is worth discussing is the nature of our conferences.
First, there is the standard “panel” conference. Each panel has three or so law profs. Each prof writes a paper prior to the conference and summarizes the paper at the conference. After all three panelists have spoken, audience members ask questions for about an hour. Second, there is the commentator format. Each session is about one or two papers, often the commentator goes first and the panelists respond, (although the order can be reversed). Then, audience questions.
In contrast, there are two “conference” formats that are less common. One is the “no presentation, no commentator, 100% questions” format. Bottom line: come prepared or don’t come at all. Another format is the innovative “roundtable.” Here no one writes a paper. Rather, a small group 10-20 folks get together to talk about a pre-selected group of materials and hash out the issues.
How to choose? Keep reading…
Of course, to choose among formats, one must answer some questions. Here are three that strike me as preliminary:
First, for whom do we hold conferences? If they are for the audience, then a panel format provides the most information to the general public. But breadth comes at the expense of depth. If conferences are for the panelists (and other participants), then an all question format (very concentrated and high intensity) or a roundtable format (learn a lot by chatting) seem to be the best options.
Second, what is the role of the conference paper? In many disciplines, presenters read their papers. We don’t. This seems to reveal less concern with text than in other disciplines. Is that correct? It does appear that folks often do not give their best work and best efforts to conference papers.
Third, depending upon the value one sees in conferences, we have to ask how much work a conference should be for participants and/or a general audience. Should it be accessible only if one comes prepared? Or, should faculty be devoting more time to other endeavors, such that demanding conferences should be discouraged?
For my money, I’ll take the 100% question format and the roundtable format. I know I work the hardest but learn the most from both of these formats.
Any thoughts? And are other innovations out there?