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Sunday, May 27, 2012

Some Final Reflections on EATS 2012

Some Final Reflections on EATS 2012

The conference is over. We are all traveling home or to other destinations. I had such a great time at this year's conference, I feel bad about having missed it last year!

This is a different conference than most, and that's because the advocacy teaching community is different from all others in the legal world. Our community includes practitioners, judges, part-time faculty at law schools, professional trainers at organizations such as NITA, clinical faculty, non-tenure track faculty, tenure-line faculty, non-lawyer geniuses such as Josh Karton, and retired members of all the above categories (with the exception of Josh, who is a category--and army--of one).

I appreciate our ecumenical ethos and the absence of the standard academic status stratification we've all experienced elsewhere. Sometimes at events and conferences, watching self-described academics (no one in this world refers to themselves as teachers) try to sort out issues of status in order properly to evaluate the relative merit of each other's existences, I am reminded of canines urinating on fire hydrants or sniffing each other in the park. The questions, "where do you teach?" and "where did you go to school" and "are you tenure track?" are loaded and dangerous, exclusionary, designed to sift and separate--to weigh, measure and find wanting those with the wrong credentials.

I'll never forget, for instance, the stinging condescension of a professor from a top-10 law school I met at the AALS meat market years ago. I was sitting outside a door waiting for an interview. He popped his head out and said, "are you our next candidate?" I replied, in a friendly tone, "I don't think I'm on your list, but I did apply with you and could easily work you into my schedule." I never thought I'd land the interview, of course, but I was naive enough to think I might make a new friend. He looked through me to the sign on the door behind me. It named the less-well-regarded school with which I was interviewing and told him all he needed to know about me. Snidely dismissing me, he sniffed, "No. You're not for us." And he shut the door.

I know I'm not the only one with a story such as this one. Some of our conference attendees work full time at their schools, are beloved by students, teach heavy loads, serve on committees, yet have "doctrinal" colleagues who won't give them the time of day.

At this conference, we did not have speaker biographies passed out in advance. Charlie announced that he just hadn't gotten to it, but I think he stumbled onto a good thing (he has that kind of luck from time to time) because the bios mattered much less than the ideas. I hope and recommend that he never provide bios in the future.

I have no idea where most of the conference attendees went to law school. I now know where most everyone teaches, but not their faculty status at their institution. Some of these things came up naturally in conversations, such as, "that's a great idea, but how can I do that if I have no funding or work for an institution (or with colleagues who are) hostile to what I do?" or "how did you end up in [insert name of obscure location]?"

A week ago, because of an unusually heavy (and unusually awesome) travel schedule, I suggested to my wife that perhaps I ought to reconsider attending the conference. "No, you can't do that," she said. "You love this conference. You always come back so happy and filled with ideas. These are your people."

She was right, of course, and I'm glad I came to renew friendships, make new friends, steal ideas from others and tinker with my own ideas. These are my people, and like most everyone at the conference, we are often alone or part of a small group of like-minded people at our institutions.

This conference featured several Biblical allusions in support of debate positions, so I'll end with one from the New Testament to go along with the one from the Old Testament I snuck in earlier in this blog post (bonus points and a free Mike Streib/Eddie Ohlbaum/Bobbi Flowers/Dave Erickson bobble-head doll set for citing either one chapter and verse AND refuting it with an aphorism from The Art of War).

To paraphrase Saint Peter, it was good for us to be here.

Stay in touch, and I look forward to seeing you at EATS 2013.

Sent from my iPad

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