August 22, 2007

Beyond lawyer jokes: Elite Law Professor Jokes!

by Dave

I'm back! After a bit of a summer hiatus from thinking about the law too much, I am ready to get back to spending some time thinking deep thoughts (ha!) on the law and the whole crazy circus we have built up around it.

I'm now back at USF as a newly minted 2L eager to take classes in my particular areas of interest, and of course to learn about this new world of being a (drumroll) law review junior staff member. I have heard so much about this whole law review business that I am certain that I am currently undergoing some sort of hazing: they are trying to separate the truly dedicated from the merely curious by making us do hours and hours of cite-checking. I am certain that once they separate the wheat from the chaff, they will part the velvet curtains and usher us into the back room where all of the serious partying and handing out of federal clerkships goes on. I know it's going to happen any day now, and in the meantime I just must keep... on.... shepperdizing...

In my quest to learn more about law review, I checked out Daniel Solove's humorous piece titled A Sample Law Review Submission Policy over at Concurring Opinions. I actually was introduced to Concurring Opinions last year through Solove's humorous piece Guide to Grading Exams, which I posted about at the time because, well, it's hilarious. I have since become a dedicated CO feed reader... I admit the site has my favorite lawprof commentary, perhaps because I identify more with the bloggers age and outlook than those at Volokh or Balkinization.

Which is why I was disappointed when Prof. Solove's most recent piece just plain sucked. Even as I started off I was hoping it would be funny. Alas, there really is nothing funny about a Yale-educated law prof at Georgetown mocking student run law reviews for a) making people jump through hoops, b) making arbitrary decisions with great import to people's lives, and c) trading in otherwise meaningless reputation-enhancing association. As far as I can tell as a lowly 2L law review junior staff member still waiting to be shown where the girls and the firm offers are, that's what law school, and law professors, are all about. Isn't it? It's a bit hard to take grief, even if humorously intended, from one of the big fish in our little food chain.

From what I know of Solove through his writing, he is probably a great guy. And, of course, I know he is probably one of the "Good Guys" who wants to reform all of these ridiculous little hierarchies and hoops we have created for ourselves. And I'm sure his piece was intended for other junior law profs, all of whom I understand are struggling to make tenure by kowtowing to 25 year old self-aggrandizing senior editors, and will probably be amused by his piece (as Homer put it, "it's funny because it's true").

But he's gotta get in touch with his readership. How many of CO's thousands of daily hits are from professors/judges/elite lawyers? Probably less than the Concurrers hope! But I can guarantee that a lot of us readers are more likely to be familiar with the agonies and annoyances of trying to get into good schools, please professors, and get good jobs than we are with the rarefied world of the inconveniences of law review submission. And plenty of us (including probably Solove and most other profs) have gone through the long hours of law review work, many of us in the hopes that we might someday be annoyed by over-zealous student editors doing the correct citations for our lazy law-prof asses.

Ultimately, this really is a commentary on the nature of comedy. Solove's grading piece was great because it discussed a common experience, and sorta mocked professors (everyone from 1L's to the CJ have wondered at some point whether a prof was randomly assigning grades). But when he takes aim at folks that are mostly hoping that if they just land the right article or do a great job of editing that one piece that they might someday have a shot at being a GTown law prof, well, it falls a bit flat (although I admit that the same piece would have been mildly amusing if self-deprecatingly offered by a current law review editor). But in Solove's case, he might as well have done a stand-up routine on how difficult it is to find good domestic help these days, or on how the service at fast-food restaurants sucks. Now that's funny!

It gets a C minus on my comedy curve. Of course, that doesn't mean it's that bad... almost everyone gets a C, right?

August 22, 2007 02:07 AM | TrackBack

Is this a parody? You write, "[P]lenty of us . . . have gone through the long hours of law review work . . . ," but you've been on your journal for what, two weeks? I'd submit you don't actually know very much about law review at all.

Bluebooking and "shepperdizing" are necessary, but meaningless. Solove's piece will be funnier after you have actually been an articles editor (i.e., you select the articles), if you ever are. Trust me, any introspective articles editor will recognize the truth in all of those points. So we don't select articles on very complicated topics we don't understand? That's a shame, but the least we can do is recognize our limitations and laugh at them. And laugh along when others point them out.

Posted by: Another former editor at August 23, 2007 06:27 AM

This is a silly post. Solove is a law professor. His main job is to publish articles. Much of that job involves interacting with student law review editors who, it is well known, can be difficult. He's writing about what he knows.

It's not as if he's complaining about the size of the dorms Oxford makes available to Rhodes scholars or complaining that the caviar at the Bentley dealership's customer lounge isn't Osetra.

Posted by: former editor at August 23, 2007 11:17 AM

...though it's certainly not as good as the TSA lego post.

Posted by: former editor at August 23, 2007 11:18 AM

He teaches at George Washington, *not* Georgetown. Check your facts, citechecker.

Posted by: Former Editor at August 23, 2007 02:24 PM

Former Editors:

I appreciate all the comments, but outside of the clarification of where Solove teaches (which is correct, thank you kindly), I acknowledged pretty much everything you pointed out. Yes, some folks will find it funny (I even pointed out that it would be a lot funnier if it was self-deprecatingly offered by a current editor). Yes, it is true. Yes, I am new to law review (thanks for putting me in my place, sir!)

But, you all missed the issue (or 'thesis' as I understand senior editors like to call it). I was arguing that it wasn't funny, and that it wasn't funny because it was someone at the top of the law world mocking those below him (actually in positions he used to hold) for behavior that is arguably developed and reinforced by law professors themselves. Why do editors behave in the way Solove described? A lot of it is because someday they hope that a faculty hiring committee will be impressed by the pieces they edited, or simply because they believe they are behaving in a way that a professor would.

And I am not criticizing Solove for holding those views. If this had taken the form of a post critiquing law review submission policies, heck yeah, let's talk about it, and who better to hear from than a person subject to the submission process. But, it was an attempt to be funny, and an attempt to be funny by mocking. Generally, as most comedian's would probably tell you, that rarely works unless the mockery is flowing up: celebrities, politicians, lawyers, etc. If you mock down, the mocker doesn't come off as funny, he just comes off as, well, not funny, to say the least.

Obviously, whether something is funny or not is about as subjective as you can get. But you could at least address the issue (perhaps empirically by counting how many chortles and guffaws you managed to emit). But the comments offered thus far mostly prove another point about the nature of the people who seek certain paths inside legal academia (myself included): we're mostly a bunch of dicks, less concerned with addressing the substance of arguments than we are with hierarchical chest-beating.

Posted by: Dave at August 23, 2007 06:28 PM

But, you all missed the issue (or 'thesis' as I understand senior editors like to call it). I was arguing that it wasn't funny . . . .

Oh, I understood your thesis. But it's based on the fundamental misconception that something can be "funny" or "not funny" in an absolute way without regard to the context or the listener. There is no Platonic form of funniness, so any argument trying to show that something does or doesn't typify such a form would be doomed to failure a priori.

I assume it was me you were calling a "dick[]" for not addressing the substance of your argument. But there was really nothing to address. Read your post again. For the first five paragraphs, you hem, haw, and joke around. Paragraph six ("But he's gotta get in touch with his readership. . . .") contains the only material with even the semblance of an argument. What is it, though? Are you saying that, based on your unsourced guess about the demographics of his readership, you think a relatively small percentage of that readership will be people who find it funny? Who cares -- it's his blog, and if he felt like posting an in-joke that only one other person would get, that's his preference.

In sum, if your argument is that Solove's post "wasn't funny," then I say, "Sez you." If your argument is that he's out of touch with his readership, then I say, "You can't please everybody all the time. Likewise, you can't amuse everybody all the time. Accordingly, no humorous post could ever amuse Solove's entire readership. I disagree that a single instance of posting something that is amusing to a minority (you allege) of his readership shows that he is generally 'out of touch.'"

Finally, although I did point out that you would likely find the post funnier if you were higher in the law review "hierarch[y]" (your term), I did not mention status for status' sake alone. The status of being an articles editor is concomitant with the experiences of being an articles editor, and it is the importance of having those experiences, not the status, which I was pointing out.

Posted by: Supra, comment 1 at August 23, 2007 06:58 PM

Comment 1: As I pointed out, this is as subjective as it comes: I say not funny, you say funny. Great! There really is no solution to the question of whether it deserves a label of funny or not. My response to the comments was in answer to a common theme that my lack of ability to find something funny about it was based on either 1) my short length of service as a law review member, 2) my not being a law professor, and 3) my crappy cite checking. But that's my point: if something is funny (to me) it shouldn't have to depend on my point of view (although, of course, it often will). It's fairly futile to convince the Polish that the jokes about them would be hysterical, if only they weren't Polish! If you find it funny, that's great. I also happen to find Polish jokes funny, despite the fact that others may not.

The ancillary comment I was making is that class levels are important factors in what people see as funny. Take a law revue: generally (I stress generally), we find students doing send-ups of professors make for great comedy. Professors doing send-ups of students? A heckuva lot harder to pull off without coming across as mean-spirited. Mocking celebrities? Funny! Retarded kids? Well, despite what looks like ripe grounds for fun (South Park does manage to pull it off), this is pretty difficult to turn into comedy. Not being any sort of sociologist or psychologist, and not being all that funny myself, I can't give you any reasons why that might be beyond a pedestrian one: it just isn't all that funny when a superior class mocks a subordinate class.

As for the matter at hand: again, I have pointed out repeatedly that some would find the piece funny, that it would be funnier if written by a different person (in other words, that it is not the substance of the piece that I find unfunny, but rather who it comes from), and that it is based on truths regarding the submission process. That is why I was critical of the comments, which collectively said to me: well, it's funny because that's the way things are, and you just don't get it because you are not part of our club (and can't citecheck [sic] to boot). Precisely! That's why it's not funny to someone who can't use the handle Former Editor. Then it just looks like he's picking on retarded kids.

As for the audience: Fine. If you want to make this a law review article, you're right. I have no clue who the readership of concurring opinions is. Satisfied? But I do know that Solove can write some funny shit, as evidenced by the scores of people from mostly non-legal paths (no support for that, either, but so be it) that thought the Guide to Grading Exams was hysterical and wrote in to note as much. Here, it seems the only folks that found this amusing also have to qualify that they are either a law professor or a Former Editor. Great! You are all in the joke, and have established yourself as part of the class that finds law review submission to be a pain in the ass. Congratulations! But it's still not funny to a lot of the rest of us.... even when we are capable of seeing the basis on which it is funny to you.

Posted by: Dave at August 23, 2007 08:03 PM

Solove's career depends in large part on his publication record.

Student articles editors decide what pieces of Solove's get published where. A GWU lawprof has no power over these people.

Therefore, he's mocking "up."

Just like his TSA post. Maybe he's higher in the socioeconomic food chain than the TSA screeners, but they are, like student editors, arbitrary gatekeepers standing between him and something he needs, and making him do silly things to get to it.

It's not about the poor 2L footnote monkeys. He's certainly not mocking their plight.

Posted by: former editor at August 27, 2007 09:41 PM
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