Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Perils of Packaging

I recently met with the general advisor of the LLM program, Not So Evil Law Prof, (not my thesis advisor, Preeminent Federalism Scholar) last week. I say "not so evil" not to criticize the director, but rather to express, once again, my chagrin over having preconceived notions of someone's personality or character based purely on their politics.

Let us just say that I disagree violently with Not So Evil Law Prof's politics and the policy recommendations he has drafted for The Government (and lest you think you can guess who I disagree with, I disagree with a lot of policies--the Bankruptcy Reform Act; work-welfare reform; proscriptions against race-based affirmative action; limiting the over-the-counter sale of Plan B to women over the age of 18; parental notice restrictions on abortions for minors without judicial override options, etc., etc.). Not So Evil Law Prof is not only not evil, but he is really, really nice. One of the kindest, most solicitous professors I've ever met. He directs the graduate legal studies program here at Liberal College Law, and he's quite good. He advises all the non research track students, and sort of keeps an eye on us research-track LLMs as well (matching us with paper advisors, approving our courses, etc.). As one of the few American LLMs (seriously, where are the rest? I've met two, and there are supposedly four more somewhere), he reassured me, just a little bit, about my chances of getting into the JSD program. sensible advice about entering the law teaching market. Some of it even I already knew: don't enter the market until you have the "best" package to present--some good articles that are hopefully well placed, plenty of good recommendations and people who "will go to bat" for you, a network of connections....

Which brings me to the topic for today, the "perils of packaging." I had previously written on being a young scholar, and the need to take risks and risk failure. I still believe in that. But there is so much that terrifies me about the entire process of trying to become an academic that I really am susceptible to following the "gentle suggestions" of others. In other words, I am already trying to package myself, and while that is a very useful thing, I wonder if it is a very good thing. I wonder if it is making me less adventuresome. I wonder if it is going to limit my scholarly reach.

I'm already thinking that this year I'll write a doctrinal piece on federalism (although, surprisingly, with a slightly law and society bent in one chapter), and my extra theory/policy piece on employment discrimination. I'm thinking that next year, it would be nice to create a project on federalism issues in employment law--which would create a nicely dove-tailing "package" to present.

Much as I keep stumbling towards some unknown future (this employment law focus is quite new), I keep wanting to be directed and prodded in the right direction. But I have no idea what direction that is. I had a long conference call with the faculty chair at Bourgie Metrosexual Law School recently. It was one of those phone calls that makes you want to walk very, very carefully and look both ways before crossing the street.

This is not to say that Faculty Chair Prof wasn't nice, kind, solicitous, etc.---he was very kind. But the advice he gave, since he knew that our school though very good and highly-enough ranked, is not as much of a faculty mill as the top ten. Liberal College Law produces far more academics, but it will never produce as many as Elite Secret Society Law School.

So there is much to think about, now that I'm at the very beginning of the journey. Do I continue to stumble my way towards my goal, turning on a dime at the suggestions of others towards new paths of scholarship? Or do I take what I'm doing now, and make sure that it becomes a very tight, coherent package in 5 years? Do I dare take on a project on welfare reform law? Do I dare apply for a visiting scholarship to France or England to work on comparative federalism theory in 3 years?

The perils of packaging is that it is that packaging limits you to a certain box, of a certain size, and of a certain shape. If I continue to work on my beloved federalism and employment discrimination law, I could easily find ways to integrate the two and start work on ERISA preemption, state sovereignty issues with the various anti-discrimination laws, etc. etc. But if I wanted to move off on a tangent towards a project on welfare reform and the regulation of states through the spending and taxing power, can I or should I? Is that employment law enough? does it sound like a weird migration? What if I shift from doing American federalism to do a comparative federalism project? Do I dare?

I think I do dare. I just have to keep reminding myself of that. I need to remember that while I want a nice package to present in five years, that it is okay to occasionally think "outside the box."