Sunday, August 3, 2014
The Southeastern Association (SEALS) of Law Schools Annual Meeting is underway. It started on Friday, August 1, and will run until Thursday, August 7. The program can be found at: SEALS 2014 Program
Since declining enrollments at most law schools will mean reduced faculty travel budgets, it will be even more important for faculty members to maximize the benefits, while minimizing the costs of travel. Two of the biggest conferences for law professors are SEALS and the AALS Annual Meeting, in January. If a faculty member has to choose one of these conferences, which one should they choose?
I realize that there are individual considerations that have to come into play. There are some great, specialized meetings that may be better than both SEALS and AALS for teachers and scholars in particular areas, but I wanted to do a side-by-side comparison of SEALS and AALS, since they both attract a broad range of law school faculty members from around the country. While SEALS started as a meeting targeted to law schools in the southeast, it has grown every year, and now has member schools from all over the United States SEALS Member Schools. It is truly a national organization.
Registration Fee $160 $450
Annual Membership* $500 $10,000+ (based on FTE)
*This amount is paid by the law school on an annual basis to maintain membership in the organization.
SEALS Pro's and Con's:
Pro: The SEALS annual meeting is very inclusive. Every faculty member attending from my school this year is speaking on a panel, or participating in a workshop. SEALS makes a point of including at least one new scholar from each member school on a panel, every year. These newer faculty members work directly with mentors from other law schools, and receive feedback on their scholarship. AALS only recently added a program for developing scholars. Law schools derive much greater benefit when their faculty members actively participate in conferences, rather than passively attending them.
SEALS programs tend to encourage participation from the audience, and the workshop programs even depend on that participation. Attendees at SEALS typically report that the programs were interesting, and worthwhile.
SEALS is held in a relaxed, and casual environment. The networking opportunities are numerous and varied.
The conference is held at resort locations, and benefits from reduced off-season hotel rates.
Con: SEALS always lasts a full week. It is impractical for many attendees to stay for the duration of the conference. In that regard, there are almost two different sets of attendees, and some networking opportunities are lost because of the length of the program.
AALS Pro's and Con's:
Pro: AALS is the most respected of the law school annual conferences. It brings together speakers of national import, and attracts attendees from around the world. The size of the organization insures that its sections and committees have the critical mass necessary to put on programs each year. Speaking at AALS is considered an honor, and a law school benefits from having a faculty member present on a AALS panel. Attendees have multiple opportunities to network with colleagues from many different law schools.
Con: The exclusive nature of the conference means that it is often hard for new voices to be heard as speakers or panelists. One complaint that I hear, repeatedly, is that the same people appear on panels every year. I have also heard that the audience has been greatly discouraged from asking questions or participating during several of the panels. The atmosphere at AALS is much less relaxed and casual than the atmosphere at SEALS.
The conference is held in large cities, where the hotel costs tend to be high. As shown, above, the cost of membership and registration for the AALS meeting is much higher than SEALS membership and registration.
The January meeting time can make travel to and from the conference difficult.