Questioning the Value of Omnibus Academic Conferences

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6 Responses

  1. Ezra Rosser says:

    My experience mirrors what you have stated about smaller conferences — you get better feedback on papers and get to hear more papers in your field. Justifications that I have heard for AALS’ conference is the chance to network, but I find the smaller conferences win in that regard as well. The best explanation I have for the AALS dominance is that it routinely chooses places people want to visit and is seen by some Deans as a way to work on reputation scores for US News rankings.

  2. Lawrence Cunningham says:

    Thanks for the very thoughtful and astute post, which warrants serious consideration. I agree with the sentiment, but in fairness note that AALS adds at least four unique things:

    (1) Presidential Programs offer a chance to consider the possibility of themes of genuine general interest to every law professor;

    (2) participation of publishers of legal academic books is a chance to meet authors and editors and discuss topics and trends in pedagogy, publishing and related ideas;

    (3) the AALS House of Representatives meets (a source of routine jokes at faculty meetings appointing reps, but a non-trivial forum all the same); and

    (4) it’s the only chance during an entire year that blogging groups like those of us at Co-Op actually get to meet together in person!

  3. Orin Kerr says:

    The AALS seems to have two major functions. First, it provides an annual boondoggle for every law professor to go to a nice location to spend a few days seeing friends and eating nice meals. Second, it justifies the existence of the AALS, which otherwise would just be about the meat market.

    What I personally find frustrating is that the AALS is quite strict about letting sections organize subject-matter specific conferences. Those are by far the most useful, and widely attended, and yet the AALS limits them to every 5 years or so. It would make more sense to reverse that and have an annual subject matter conference with conferences for all groups every five years.

  4. I no longer go every year, but I try to go every two or three years. I appreciate the opportunity to encounter people and ideas that don’t live in one of the narrow fields in which I teach and write. This is where I feed my interest in Indian law, or legal history, and where I get up to speed on the most recent Queerlaw scholarship. This is also the only time I ever hang out with/catch up with old friends in legal academia who teach in areas far away from mine. In years when I’ve been on my school’s hiring committee, it’s been useful as an inexpensive way to find out about potential lateral candidates. None of these reasons may strike a dean as sufficient to justify an allocation of travel money when travel money is scarce, but I, for one, would miss the annual meeting a lot if the AALS stopped having it.

  5. It’s a paid vacation in a great town where you can catch up with friends. What’s not to like about it?

  6. Miguel Schor says:

    I have serious doubts about the usefulness of the AALS conference as well; the subject matter conferences are a different matter entirely. Some large academic conferences, on the other hand, are very useful such as Law and Society. Perhaps the answer would be to reform the AALS conference to make it an academic conference rather than just merely a paid vacation in a great town. The costs of attending, moreover are exorbitant. I cannot believe how much registration costs and how much the meals are.