Mentoring Prawfs

Law professors who teach intellectual property and information law subjects are, on the whole, a pretty lively, friendly, and social bunch, and our numbers are growing.  The market has a seemingly endless capacity to absorb new faculty, as law schools across the rankings spectrum hire first one, then a second, and increasingly a third IP specialist.

If my informal conference conversations are any guide, then there is a growing and largely unmet need for mentoring among junior IP scholars — even while law schools appoint Research Deans and develop robust in-house mentoring schemes.  I’d like to use this post to kick off what I hope will be a broader conversation about mentoring junior law faculty, across the disciplinary spectrum.

Under the broad “mentoring” umbrella, questions include:

1.  From the perspective of a junior scholar, what’s the best use of a works-in-progress conference?  What’s the best structure for a works-in-progress conference?  IP is awash in these things.  (Take a look at my IP Conferences blog for a sample, and a calendar.)  There is the IP Scholars Conference (IPSC) in August, the Works-in-Progress-Intellectual-Property (WIPIP) conference in the Fall, and the IP Scholars Roundtable in February.  Should folks aim for just one (which one)?  More than one?  Is it worth going if you don’t present a paper?  What’s the best way to prepare for and get value out of the conference as a whole? 

2.  Working paper conferences aside, how much time should a new scholar try to invest in traveling and speaking in connection with scholarship?

3.  Is there a highest and best use for SSRN and blogs, when it comes to developing and distributing drafts and new papers?

4.  How should a junior scholar prioritize a list of possible paper topics? 

This is obviously a preliminary and nonexclusive list of questions, and it focuses on scholarship rather than teaching or service or other things.  Mentoring can and should cover the latter as well.

Who is supposed to answer?  Ideally, comments here (and elsewhere, if the thread gets picked up at, say, Prawfs, Co-Op, or the Faculty Lounge) will fall roughly into the following categories:

Junior faculty asking mentoring questions.

Senior faculty responding with mentoring answers.

And — perhaps most important — senior faculty volunteering mentoring advice, that is, talking about things that junior faculty may not know or think or be willing to ask, but should.

I’ll post more shortly.  But don’t wait on my account.  Fire away.

6 thoughts on “Mentoring Prawfs

  1. I’ll start by saying I think this is a great topic and look forward to the input people give.

    I’ll also add my two cents on issue 1:
    I think going to as many of the working papers conferences as possible, even if not presenting, is pretty important. Last school year, when I was still a fellow, I attended two such conferences without presenting. I thought they were immensely faluable for the following reasons:

    1. I saw a bunch of really interesting presentations on many interesting topics. I’ve since cited working or final articles that I heard at these conferences in my own work.

    2. I saw a bunch of presentations, and was able to see what styles and methods work better than others for presentation.

    3. I met many nice, interesting, and helpful people, whom I continue to correspond with, see at conferences, trade papers with for mutual review and comment, etc.

    All told, going to these conferences, even without presenting, is probably the most valuable thing I have done with respect to becoming a part of the larger IP community. I’m sure I could have written and published work without them, but it wouldn’t have been nearly as fun and the quality would not be as good without the experience.

    As for structure, I’m a fan of the current IPSC format – a couple keynotes plus breakout sections – it allows for many tracks with many different topic interest areas (and thus good attendance and opportunities to present). Of course, there may be better ways to do it.

  2. In terms of prioritizing paper topics, one method is just to do things as conferences come up. I usually have many projects brewing, but finish the things that are imminently due at a conference. Signing up to speak is a good way to precommit oneself to writing.

    Scrambling to get things done also helps one avoid importantitis:
    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB120311487595072493.html?mod=googlenews_wsj

    “Contrast [Ralph] Ellison’s creative paralysis with the lifelong fecundity of the great choreographer George Balanchine, who went about his business efficiently and unpretentiously, turning out a ballet or two every season. Most were brilliant, a few were duds, but no matter what the one he’d just finished was like, and no matter what the critics thought of it, he moved on to the next one with the utmost dispatch, never looking back. “In making ballets, you cannot sit and wait for the Muse,” he said. “Union time hardly allows it, anyhow. You must be able to be inventive at any time.” That was the way Balanchine saw himself: as an artistic craftsman whose job was to make ballets. Yet the 20th century never saw a more important artist, or one less prone to importantitis.”

  3. Mike,

    I concur that this is a great topic. As for issue 1, I second Michael Risch’s comment explaining the benefits of attending without presenting at working paper conferences. My first year in academics I attended (without presenting) several of the conferences and found them to be invaluable, both in terms of meeting people and hearing firsthand how senior faculty presented. While I felt a bit sheepish about not presenting, others quickly made me at ease. I’d strongly recommend it to others. I’m now in my second year in academics and this year I presented at the same conferences. I felt more comfortable having been through it once in the audience.

    With respect to structure, I generally like IPSC’s format of a few plenary sessions and a lot of breakout sessions. As someone who is primarily focused on patents, I understand that not all attendees have an equal interest in the different branches of IP.

    I have a question for the group. What do people think about presenting the same working paper at multiple of the IP conferences? The two IP conferences in the fall are quite close together in time so it is hard to have two good pieces ready (or at least it was too hard for me). On the other hand, there is a large overlap in the attendees of the two conferences.

  4. I’ll agree with both of the comments above. I have a great writer friend whose theory is “You didn’t like this one, maybe you’ll like the next one.” On the other hand, you still have to think about what topic you’re going to offer for the conference. And especially for people without a track record, that choice can be important.

    I do think that, for an IP conference in particular, it’s a good idea to focus on what you have to say that’s new. You may end up needing to write the literature review as an introductory section to get published in a law review, or you may need to write it to figure out exactly where you part company from previous work (an underappreciated feature of the literature review), but then *don’t spend precious presentation time on it*, and consider carefully whether you ought to spend precious article time on it. Unfortunately, much valuable background work really shouldn’t be shared with everyone else, because it can overwhelm the specific new point you want to make. Historians know that under each paragraph lies a mound of research, but law profs too often want to share it all.

  5. Thanks, Mike – this is a great post & I too am looking forward to the comments you get.

    I agree with the comments above about going without presenting (I did my first year) and trying different ones, multiple times (I have)…and I will admit my bias as a presenting junkie. One thing that I think is nice is that IPSC is different from WIPIP is different from the Roundtable. It’s not really that I prefer one over the other – in fact, I’ve found that each provides a different atmosphere and a different audience – which is good depending on what I’m working on. And I’ve met new and interesting folks at each one I go to.

    I don’t know about percentage of time to devote to speaking (in addition to writing), but I also work best under a time crunches, which makes conference & symposium deadlines a bonus for me.

  6. Thanks to all of the commenters. I, too, look forward to what everyone else has to say. Meanwhile, I should try to be someone else for a moment, that is, an offeror of mentoring, rather than an offeree.

    Here is the single best piece of proto-mentoring that I ever received. (“Proto” because the advice was solicited, but not from a true mentor.) When I was at Harvard a decade ago, I had the opportunity to ask Bob Clark what advice he would give to a scholar just embarking on an academic career. He replied, “Write like a bandit.”

    That’s exactly right. At any given time, I’m concentrating my writing energy on one piece. But I keep a file on my Desktop that’s filled with paper topics, paper titles, and two pages here and two pages there of things that I want to write next, with some key annotations for each one.

    A series of related questions arises: Short, punchy, and linear; or longer and discursive? Doctrinal or theoretical? Interdisciplinary or not? And so on. Some of the answer is “take the temperature at your institution.” Some is “follow your intellectual instincts.” Some is “what kind of impact do you want to have, and on what audiences?” Some is “what kinds of publication opportunities do you most want to exploit, and why?” One possible solution is to pursue “all of the above,” subject to time and other resource limitations — be a theoretician with one hand, and a doctrinalist with the other. That’s a difficult trick to manage, but you can cover all of your bases. Most people need to choose an identity and stick to it, at least for a while.

    Over my career I’ve written a series of very long, very ambitious pieces. Others will judge how successful they are. But intellectually speaking, they’re the gifts that keep on giving. I have a supply of paper ideas in the pipeline — for short punchy stuff as well as more extended theoretical explorations — that will keep me occupied for many years. Unless I choose something else entirely.

    Second place goes to Larry Lessig, whose response to the same question was that I should emulate that Lemley fellow, then at Texas, who seemed to be making a name for himself.

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