The Legal Beat
AALS 2017 (Part IV): A Postscript
Posted on Monday January 09, 2017
Now that the law professors have all departed from the American Association of Law Schools Conference (AALS) in San Francisco, and as I try to write with my body twisted in an airplane, I thought now would be a good time to reflect on our time together at AALS, and what could make for a better time next time.
The beginning of this conversation took place offline as a follower of mine took me to task for Part III of this post. The follower asked me: What would you do to improve AALS?
My response was partly this, with some thoughts supplemented on this terrible airplane flight:
We need to do a lot more mentoring at AALS. Instead of looking to be seen by people higher up than us (or by our peers), we should be looking to mentor people who haven’t made the leap into the academic space (I learned to use this word after AALS; it’s the cool trendy academic word of the year). They could come, listen to talks, engage in the field, and benefit from the mentoring. And….
If we mentor people who have had practice experience, the talks will be improved. I am always amused when a clever, yet factually wrong article impresses someone. It’s like saying how my article on flying pigs is brilliant. I would prefer to hear an article that was brilliant about pigs that are grounded, with the article grounded as well. I know some will disagree as they travel around on their flying pigs, but I believe that academics need to operate in the real-world space.
I also REALLY like Paul Horwitz’s post on Profsblawg advocating a restriction on repeat players. I had friends on multiple panels and they are always great, but I think others should be able to have their say, too. Schools are cutting way back on funding for travel to AALS; some schools will only pay if the person is speaking, and some will not pay at all. Reducing the repeat players thus assures some an easier time to get to AALS. Also, while it is the case that some star-studded players have expertise on the topics of the panels in question, I noticed that it isn’t always the case.
This might be controversial, but I wouldn’t mind seeing some integration of the AALS with the shadow conferences of Socio-Economics and Federalist Societies. Echo chambers aren’t good for learning and knowledge on either end. Sure, some topics are probably never going to get resolved, but I suspect there might even be areas of agreement.
I might also think about broader types of panels. Hot topics are nice, but I can’t for the life of me remember any of them but one. I imagine the notion of a “hot topic” depends on one’s knowledge. For example, I would imagine a hot topic for two people stranded on an island might be a basic notion of property law and personal hygiene.
Now to some more detail-oriented things:
Stop treating vendors like 3rd-class citizens. They give us a place to meet, to talk to friends, and they have some interesting things to say. They pay money to be there. If they want to see panels, let them. If they want to have a drink, don’t be so stingy with the drink tickets. Better yet, don’t have drink tickets: They were the only ones excluded from having them.
Be less stingy with the panel slots. I understand that given my critiques of too few people in some panels that I should be arguing for some restraint on panels to increase participation, but I don’t think that the loss in attendance is due to too many choices. Judging by the number of people in hallways versus in panels discussions, I suspect the problem is people withdrawing from the panel space and lingering in the lobby.
Spread out the receptions. This is true for the alumni- and friends-type receptions, not the Stanford alumni-only reception that LawProfBlawg had trouble with a year ago. There are too many on the same night. It’s a parkour for some, and it draws down attendance to all. This might be the perfect topic upon which to have greater coordination.
Offer law students in the towns hosting the event free admission to any panel. Heck, if a law student is willing to attend, offer them free admission no matter the city in which they live.
Collect more data than AALS does on the survey. The ABA is now collecting some data about membership rates, depending on Section. Surveys and the like might tell why people aren’t going to some panels. It might also tell why people don’t go. The data collected by survey after AALS doesn’t really get into that. It’s a very general survey about why you are happy or not, but it doesn’t get into the details.
Go somewhere new. Are there other venues that could house us in different cities? Or are you trying to assure that you get a draw in venues that house multiple law schools? Are there no venues down in Miami? Denver? Salt Lake City? Las Vegas?
I’ve gone to AALS for roughly 10 years. I’m a big fan of the event. I’ll be there in San Diego for AALS 2018 regardless, but I hope to see some of my suggestions implemented. Or me nominated for a prominent position at AALS. You’re welcome.