Tuesday, July 1, 2008
I just returned from the AALS Workshop for New Law Prof. Overall, the conference was a success. I learned a great deal, digesting some especially good advice on scholarship and course planning. But I was struck, throughout the conference, by the almost complete lack of ASP professionals in attendance. The absolutely wonderful LSAC New ASP Prof workshop was just a few weeks ago, so I know there are 50+ new ASP prof's. While attendance at the very recent LSAC New ASP Prof workshop may explain some of the absence, it does not explain why I did not see any familiar faces at the AALS workshop.
The dearth of ASP prof's at the AALS workshop concerns me deeply for many reasons. The first reason has to do with our status in the legal academy, or our lack of status in the legal academy. Too often we are seen as lesser professionals, beneath "substantive" or "doctrinal" professors, more like support staff with J.D.'s. The lack of respect accorded our profession is compounded when we are left out of workshops and conferences that teach young professionals how to research and publish. Without knowledge of how to produce scholarship, AS may be forever doomed to second-class citizenship. More disconcerting is the genuine need for more scholarship in the areas where AS is focused; how to foster achievement in disadvantaged students, how help students pass the bar exam, how to teach so students learn, and how to reform legal education so we produce a better bench and bar. But AS professionals are not attending workshops and conferences that teach them how to produce meaningful, important scholarship.
Why aren't we attending these conferences and workshops for new law prof's? Part of the reason we are not afforded respect is the belief what we do is easy. "Easy" fields are less likely to get funding to advance skills or scholarship. But the facts point in the opposite direction; what we do is anything but easy. If helping students pass the bar was such an easy task, why aren't "doctrinal" professors successfully teaching students to pass the bar in their substantive classes? Bar prep, bar planning, and bar courses for credit are some of the most rigorous and difficult classes to teach when they are successful. Not only does a successful bar course require rock-solid knowledge of at least six bar-tested subjects, but a firm knowledge of test-taking skills, and includes a very heavy load of exam grading and feedback. Those of us who don't work with 3L's and bar takers have a similarly heavy load. We work with the students many professors give up on, students deemed unable to handle the rigors of law school. Over and over, these students succeed when given the opportunity to learn and practice skills their peers either know intuitively or learned in (better) secondary schools. In an average week during an academic semester, I grade and give feedback on approximately 20-40 essay exams. I am looking for signs that my students may have learning disabilities, mental or emotional challenges, financial problems, or family concerns that are keeping them from achieving their best. And I am keeping up with the substantive coursework in their doctrinal classes so I can prepare practice exams that accurately mirror what they have covered in class. I am preparing workshops for the entire 1L class in exam and life skills. Yet, in so many places, this is "easy" work that doesn't merit scholarship or funds to travel to conference and workshops like "substantive" faculty.
Maybe some of the reasons we are not attending these workshops and conferences is feeling like we don't belong and we are self-segregating out of conferences were we feel marginalized. The focus at AALS was on doctrinal courses, but there was plenty of cross-over to AS topics. True, the small-group breakout sessions were labeled by doctrinal subject and I was relegated to the "speciality" category, but I still had a place at the workshop. One of our own AS folk, Kris Knapland of Pepperdine, gave a wonderful presentation on learning theory. But we will never get an "ASP" breakout session if we are not attending the New Prof Workshop. We are a part of AALS, and we belong there. We need the same (and more) skills and training as new doctrinal professors, on how to navigate administrative and budget concerns, how to maintain a work-life balance, how to network, and how to have challenging conversations in the classroom or the office.
My call to all new AS professionals is this: advocate for yourself. Push for the training you need to succeed. Put critical conferences and workshops on your agenda when you talk to your supervisors. Pursue meaningful scholarship, even if you are not tenure-track. Scholarship is important to the field, important to your development as a professional, and important as we seek to improve legal education for all students.