This year, for only the second time in 24 years, I’m not attending the AALL (American Association of Law Libraries) Annual meeting. Since I decided to change careers, resign from my position as law library director, and pursue teaching and scholarship, there’s really no reason for me to go to the AALL conference–except to see all of my law librarian friends.
Being a law professor is a pretty sweet gig, no doubt about it. Don’t be fooled, though: it is a lot of work. Especially for a newer law professor (even if I was an old-timer as a librarian), course preparation takes a lot of time. I’m teaching four new courses this coming year, none of which I’ve taught before. I know something about information privacy law and cyberspace law; those courses come in Spring 2010. Right now I’m working on a new course on electronic discovery, and preparing to co-teach a seminar on religion, cognitive science, and law. These are all interesting and fun areas to research, but it’s lonely work. That’s the biggest change from library work. As a librarian, I was part of a team, and I had (for good or bad) daily contact with colleagues and staff. As a law professor, I can work for days without anyone bothering me.
Law professors generally like working alone. Law librarians generally like working in teams. Librarianship is a more social profession than being a law professor, and this difference can be seen in the ways law librarians and law professors treat conferences.
I always looked forward to the AALL annual meeting. There were always a few good educational programs, although I found that the most important learning opportunities for me came from the spaces around and between the programs. It wasn’t so much that I learned new things, but the opportunity to have a few days away from the daily grind and to chat, share a drink, and talk with my friends and colleagues in other libraries was always stimulating and inspiring. I always came back with new ideas and a new passion for my work. (Soon enough, much of that passion dissipated in the face of the same old challenges at work, but that’s another story.) For me, it was the time spent with my friends and colleagues that was most important and most valuable.
Law professors don’t seem to see conferences the same way. Under the austerity travel policies now in place at many law schools, faculty get travel support to attend conferences only if they’re delivering papers. Learning from other presenters isn’t a good enough reason to attend a conference. And to be honest, I don’t see many law professors complaining about that policy. At conferences like AALS, many law professors prefer to fly in for the day, give their paper, and then leave–there is no time for the personal networking that goes on at library conferences. Individual law schools host their own receptions at AALS, but with 15 or 20 small receptions going on simultaneously, it’s hard to say what they’re for. I suspect it’s what the economists call “signaling”: our law school is important enough to have alumni teaching at other schools. At any rate, it doesn’t seem to promote the sort of personal networking that is such an important part of AALL.
It may be that this will change with time. Will the Gen Y and Millennial law professors of the future place more value on personal relationships with their friends and colleagues in other schools–or even those just down the hall? Or are the institutional traditions of law school strong enough to resist change? Faculty at the elite and wannabe schools come with a built-in network–they all went to Yale or Harvard. Will faculty at the top 25/50/75/100 schools find any value in getting to know faculty colleagues at bottom 100 schools, and vice versa? Time will tell. For now, I’m glad to be able to participate vicariously in AALL2009 through Twitter. Keep in touch!