« Law and Politics | Main | The Challenges of Data Coding »

04 April 2007




Eugen Tarnow

Have look at http://coauthorship.com for articles about coauthorship issues.


One might wonder why interdisciplinary scholars entering the legal academy should not be conforming to the norms of the legal academy when it comes to authorship rather than the other way around? If one thinks that there should be a common currency to work in the legal academy--namely, argumentative and analytical rigor--then it is reasonable to want some free-standing evidence of that from junior scholars. Some of the fields in which co-authorship is very common (say, fields where experimental work is required) are also not, in many cases, fields which place a premium on the intellectual common currency of legal scholarship. Or so it seems to me. (And I realize that there is a lot that passes as "legal scholarship" which is also not analytically or argumentatively rigorous; but I would neither hire nor tenure folks producing that work.)

By the way, the MacCarthur award is not a "genius" award:

And Kahneman won a pseudo-Nobel prize, not an actual one:

Geoff McGovern

I don't have anything substantive to add, but wanted to say: excellent post and comments!

Rick Lempert

The law school desire for sole authored work is not completely without reason. The schools are making a life time employment commitment to a person and they want to be sure that he or she has the skills that justify it. They do need to be confident that what is best about his/her scholarship is not the input of a coauthor who will shortly disappear. BUT this perspective (1) ignores the fact good people want to work with good people - a person who co-authors work with top scholars is usually one him/herself [Dan Kahneman got a Nobel prize for a series of coauthored works; no one would suggest he was free-riding on Tversky or vice versa, since Tversky would have shared the prize had he been alive.] (2) interdisciplinary work is often much improved by, and sometimes requires, co-authors/investigators; (3) co-authoring, particularly for a younger scholar, is often a learning process making one a better and broader-gauged scholar. It is particularly valuable for law profs who usually will not have had the kind of senior faculty mentoring experience that Ph.D.'s get. (4) there is a certain irony in law school's looking askance at co-authorship when the work of some people can be so heavily edited by unknown law review editors that one can never be sure how much of its polish is due to the author and how much too a fine student editor.

Having said this, it is, first, also the case that in the social sciences, which I know best and where co-authorship is highly credited, many co-authored articles are not co-authored in the way law schools understand authorship. Rather one person writes one article and another writes another article, and they name each other as co-authors when all the second author has done is provide comments for the first author to use in revising. However, this kind of trading off of authorship usually happens where the underlying data or other products on which the articles are based were produced jointly, so in a larger sense co-authorship credit is not for the writing but for the joint responsibility for project results. In the hard sciences, co-authorship can be even more removed from involvement in the research, as the lab head who gets the grants is a coauthor on everything that comes our of his/her shop even if he/she had no input beyond a quick read - this has more than once given rise to a situation where a lab head/co-author has pleaded innocent to charges of data fabrication or plagiarism because he/she had no part in producing the data or article in question.

Second, I would qualify my point about good people working with good people to say it is not always true, for I have seen a case or two where a personable younger faculty member was "adopted" by a fine senior scholar who co-authored a series of high quality work that the junior faculty member could not have produced on his/her own because, for reasons of friendship, the senior faculty member wanted to pull the junior author to tenure.

Third, not all co-authorships are equal. In some the quality is in fact due largely to one of the co-authors and the "go-along" does unfairly benefit from the association, but I think this is rare, and such associations will not last, absent some romantic or other extra-scholarly attachment.

The morale of all this to my mind is not that young law faculty should refrain from co-authoring or that schools should ask this, but that untenured faculty should try to produce one solo piece and/or a piece or pieces where they can clearly show they were the lead author. Moreover, it will generally not be a good idea, because of risks the school might be taking, to coauthor everything with the same senior figure whose scholarly strength is acknowledged. Rightly or wrongly the high quality of an article may be attributed largely to the person with the established reputation. Conversely co-authoring with several top people can lead to a series of letters that make a very strong case for tenure since co-authors are in the best position to judge a person's scholarly quality. If this is being done, it is yet more important to show evidence of lead authorship.
Beginning scholars who anticipate considerable co-authorship, for their own protection as well as to gain a sense of whether a school will be a good fit, should discuss a school's attitudes toward co-authored work
at tenure time with the Dean when they are being hired. They are also wise to get a written statement as to whether any sole-authored work will be required for tenure.

As for books,they are very difficult to produce by tenure time unless one comes with a dissertation that can within a year or two be revised into a book. But even this can be problematic since schools tend to undervalue or even dismiss at tenure time work that was published or largely completed before a person arrived, even though this work may be as predictive of long term scholarly production and quality as afterwards produced work, and transforming a dissertation into a book can be a major effort equivalent to writing several long law review articles. The problem for the untenured with writing a book from scratch is that it can take far longer to produce than one might think. Empirical research can be at least as bad; as a rule of thumb when anyone who has not done substantial empirical work projects how long an empirical project will take, the estimated time should in my experience be at least doubled, and that is often an optimistic estimate.


William Henderson

Michael, I think, offers sound advice.

I have co-authored four articles during my short tenure in academia, plus worked on a two grant proposals with multiple P.I.s. Although like any type A person, I hate sharing control of the text, each experience has pushed me to produce much better work that I would if left to my own devices. I may publish another solo article, but I have many ambitious collaborative projects in the hopper. The multiple skill sets make the ambitiousness possible.

As noted in earlier post, http://www.elsblog.org/the_empirical_legal_studi/2007/03/coauthorship.html , Kevin Murphy co-authored his way to a MacArthur genius award. Ignore the bean counting in the legal academy--let them adjust norms and expectations in response to your success.

Michael Heise

To be sure, I am certainly mindful of the general (and, to some degree, inevitable) anxiety among the untenured as well as existing (though shifting) norms in the law school world regarding co-authored scholarship. That said (and aside from any institution-specific norms), I would urge that junior legal scholars resist passing on collaborative projects that will generate high-quality work. Quality work almost always "counts," even if the pro-rata share might be < 1.0.

The comments to this entry are closed.


July 2024

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
  1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30 31      

Site Meter

Creative Commons License

  • Creative Commons License
Blog powered by Typepad