Clinical Law Prof Blog

Editor: Jeffrey R. Baker
Pepperdine University
School of Law

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Thursday, May 22, 2014

Time for Summer Writing

By now, most of us have donned our academic regalia for commencement and wished our new alumni well on their bar preparations and the launch of their legal careers.  Time to take a deep breath, plan your well-deserved family vacation, and drop off that seven-pound load of professional clothes at the dry cleaner (finally!).  We now have twelve weeks ahead of us before we start ramping up for the Fall 2014 semester.

Twelve weeks?  Not coincidentally, twelve weeks is just enough time to write a high-quality law review article.  Now you might think that as clinicians we are not bound by scholarship obligations, and at your school you might be right technically, but the fact remains that we have chosen to work in a profession in which scholarship, not practice, is the coin of the realm.  Thus, regardless of your school’s published criteria for the advancement of clinical faculty, you should consider using a substantial portion of your summer for scholarship so that your purse is full of academic currency.

If you want to get "rich" this summer, academically speaking, here are ten basic tips for productive writing:

  1. Even though classes may have ended, do not change your schedule.  Go to the office every day, all day and write.  Our academic associate dean here at Willamette once told me that the first step to being a productive writer is putting your backside in your chair and keeping it there.
  2. Block your time and be disciplined.  I remember reading that we are only highly productive for a few hours per day.  Identify what those hours are for you and schedule your writing blocks during those periods.  During your writing periods, turn off email and close the Internet browsers.  ALWAYS.  Do not open them until your writing time has ended.  Use the other four hours or so for less demanding work such as reading, researching, and answering emails.
  3. Quantify your writing.  Some professors I know mandate that they write a certain number of words per day.  Others require that they write for a certain length of time.  Regardless of how you measure your output, set quantitative writing goals and allocate sufficient time to achieve them.
  4. Set qualitative writing goals.  It is not enough to write a lot or even regularly.  You must improve your writing through researching, outlining, developing, drafting, revising, proofreading, and external editing and feedback.  Develop a 12-week writing plan that includes all of these stages to ensure that your work is high-quality.  A resource to help you can be found here
  5. Don’t wait for days of uninterrupted time.  They will never come, or at least, not very often.  Even during the summer, requests for letters of recommendation and bar references continue to stream in, some clinic cases are still active, and many of us are engaged in summer teaching, supervision, and are presenting at conferences.  Do not let these prevent you from writing this summer.  When I first joined the academy, I read a book about how to be a successful professor.  It referenced a study that showed that professors who worked on their scholarship every day, even for just one hour, were far more likely to get tenure than those who wrote in blocks of uninterrupted time.  So write every day.
  6. Ask for (and offer!) help.  I suspect that many doctrinal law professors are introverts and many clinical law professors are extroverts (which is what makes our conferences such a riot!).  The consequence of this is that we may need to develop writing partnerships or even writing support groups with whom we can talk about our writing, set goals, exchange drafts, and hold one another accountable.
  7. Write your first draft from your own ideas.  One of the criticisms of my early academic writing is that my voice did not come through.  I was lacking confidence and so would hide behind third-party authorities and quotations from “experts.”  The suggestion of Martha Minow, Dean of Harvard Law School, for overcoming this very common characteristic in emerging academic writers is that we should write the first draft without reference to resources.  Simply write your own ideas down and then build out from there.  That way, your voice and ideas form the core of your piece.   
  8. Tap into your passions.  At a workshop for new clinical professors, I remember being in a working group about scholarship led by Philip Schrag.  An intelligent young woman said that she did not have any expertise or ideas to share in scholarship.  Professor Schrag spent just seven minutes asking her about her experiences and background and identified 3-4 topics for law review articles based on her interests and experience.  Don’t undervalue your ideas and experiences.  If you need to brainstorm, call someone.  If you don’t know whom to call, call or email me (916-719-7796; wbinford@willamette.edu) and I will try to help you brainstorm or get you matched with a mentor.
  9. Remember that the prime submission cycles are August and late January/February.  Plan to submit your summer work during those periods for the best placement.  ExpressO is a popular portal for submitting law review articles to numerous journals simultaneously. 
  10. If you would like to present your article in a supportive and scholarly workshop before submission to a law review, consider applying to the Clinical Law Review’s Writers’ Workshop to be held at NYU Law on September 27, 2014.  The deadline for applying is June 30.  More information and the application can be found here.

Now, enjoy your summer and write on!

 

 

 

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Comments

These are great reminders and good advice, Warren. I'm mindful right now of being too busy to write well. I have a book chapter to write, a new clinical course to design, a research grant to manage (and blogging to blog). Even so, the constant, ceaseless stream of emails and short, persistent meetings has diminished my bandwidth. These are all important parts of directing a program, and nothing has been wasteful, especially as we wrap up the placement and launching of all our summer externs. Today, though, I feel that I am out of imagination, out of creative force, and my mind cannot find a rhythm or the space to write.

I will take this to heart next week, after a long weekend. I am resolved actually to take Monday off, not to fill it with catch-up work, then to be disciplined enough to ignore my pinging emails.

Posted by: Baker | May 22, 2014 9:07:41 PM

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