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January 23, 2008

The virtues (and vices?) of law professors being friendly with courts

Over the last year or so, I have author or co-authored numerous amicus briefs filed in various federal courts.  (Specifically, I have been involved with four Supreme Court amicus briefs and with amicus briefs filed in seven distinct lower federal courts.  My latest friendly effort — concerning acquitted conduct sentencing enhancements delivered to the Sixth Circuit last week — can be found here.)

Because I am finding lots of professional rewards (and a few professional detriments) in this work, I thought I worthwhile to reflect publicly on a few virtues and vices I have discovered in being so friendly with courts lately.

Some professional virtues I have experienced from amicus work:

1.  Rediscovering the critical importance of facts, building an effective record, and deadlines, all of which are worth emphasizing in the law school classroom (even though professors rarely do).

2.  Having various opportunities to put my scholarly ideas into action, which is intellectually satisfying and helps me appreciate the opportunities and challenges for operationalizing scholarly ideas for judges.

3.  Working more closely with many terrific practicing lawyers, which has an array of professional fringe benefits (some of which I can share with students and academic colleagues).

Some professional vices I have experienced from recent amicus work:

1.  Rediscovering the critical importance of facts, building an effective record, and deadlines; litigating real cases is often harder (and more time-pressured) than making up hypos for class.

2.  Having few opportunities to get formal recognition or credit for putting my scholarly ideas into action, which is frustrating because a lot of hard work cannot and will not be rewarded in my professional marketplace.

3.  Working less closely, simply because I have less time, with my terrific students and colleagues.

Though I have a lot more to say, I will conclude here by saying that the net gains makes amici work an easy call for tenured academics: I think every tenured academic should try to be involved in some kind of amici work on a regular basis.  Sadly, though, I fear the limited ability to recognize and fully credit this kind of service in a tenure file likely means that untenured faculty should be mindful of the potential opportunity costs of investing a lot of time in amici activities.

Posted by DAB

January 23, 2008 in Service -- legal profession | Permalink

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