December 23, 2008
Law Profs and the 10,000 hours
Malcom Gladwell's book Outliers contains a fascinating theory: That the most successful people in a field tend to be those who met a certain threshold of intelligence or talent, and then practiced their skills for at 10,000 hours before attaining success. He applies this recipe to hockey players, computer scientists, musicians, and others and finds it to be a consistent guide to predicting the most successful.
What about law professors?
Law teaching is an anomoly, in that you don't get to train directly for it in the way hockey players or musicians do from a young age. Moreover, a large part of our job, classroom teaching, usually isn't "practiced" at all until someone gets their first job as a professor. But... what about the other part, scholarship? Could it be that those who are the best at legal writing are those who met a certain threshold (admission to an elite college or law school) and then practiced the skills of scholarship? Certainly, it seems to be that many of those who are most successful within the legal academy love to write, do so in a variety of forums, and have been avid writers from childhood. It could be that all this writing and analysis is "practice"-- and that at least in part, the Gladwell formula may hold.
-- Mark Osler