Academic Life

The Law Professor as Public Citizen: Measuring Public Engagement in Canadian Common Law Schools

Before I knew I would soon be "living the dream", I decided to embark on a data-rich study of "public engagement" by Canada's 600 common law professors.  After seemingly endless hours reviewing law school websites and number crunching on Excel, the results are now going to print, (2015) 36 Windsor Review of Legal and Social Issues, and I have posted the penultimate version to SSRN here.  Readers should be attentive to the important methodological caveats I include in the article.  The results should be considered more for what they tend to rebut than what they prove.  Nevertheless, my hope is that my article will help, in a small way, make empiricism fashionable in law school decision-making.

The abstract reads:

This article asks whether there is room for the law professor/public citizen in today’s law schools. It does so by measuring indicators of professor “public engagement” with constituencies outside of academia, such as government, civil society and media. As evidence for its inquiry, the article reviews a comprehensive data set collected from the public web profiles of Canada’s 600 full, associate and assistant common law professors. These data suggest that common law professor public engagement remains part of the tradition of the Canadian legal academy. More than that, there is no support for the view that public engagement diminishes scholarly productivity. Nor is there evidence that mainstream media participation distracts professors from conventional scholarship – in fact, the most media active professors appear to have above average net publication tempos. In terms of institutional implications, public engagement does no harm to law school reputation, and indeed there is a moderate positive correlation between the net level of public engagement represented on law professor web profiles and reputational rankings, such as they are. The connection between media presence and institutional reputation is more complex, and there are data suggesting little positive correlation between reputation and media presence. However, when one potentially anomalous case of a law school with a striking media footprint but a lower reputational scores is discounted, there is a moderate positive correlation between a law school’s media presence and reputational rankings. In sum, until a more comprehensive survey is undertaken, this article constitutes the best available evidence that law professors can be (and often are) teacher/scholar/public citizen.

Want to Teach Law in Canada? How many pubs do you need to be competitive?

I receive variants of the above question from prospective job candidates all the time.  My totally off the cuff response is usually "aim for 5 articles", based on three years sitting on our (uOttawa) hiring committee and another 8 years of being attentive to the hiring process (and the cvs of candidates).  But I have never actually measured it. 

In my collection of data for my article on common law prof public engagement (see my prior blog posts on this topic), I have pulled together the publicly available info on Canada's 600 full, associate and assistant common law profs.  I have collected data on the publication tempo of these profs, where available (the amount of information varies from website to website).  I shall report on that in due course.

But in this, the fourth in my series on "the Canadian common law prof", I can report on a subset of those data.  Ten assistant professors post their complete cvs, and from those cvs one can determine the number of publications each had as of the year they were hired.  (Admittedly, this is a very small sample size, but it's better than holding the finger up to the wind. I could include other ranks who post cvs, and back out their pubs according to the date of their appointment, but that would take some time and all this is collateral to my article.  Moreover, those data would be "stale" reflecting the (probably less competitive) hiring market of bygone years, rather than the more recent markets in which today's Assistant Profs were hired.)

The results: an average of 4.64 journal articles (a median of 3) for the 10 individuals, and two professors had 1 book each when hired (so I suppose that's an average of 0.2 per prof, an obviously meaningless number).

So I suppose I haven't been that far off in telling candidates to shoot for 5 journal articles.

Of course, there are lots of other qualities that go into being competitive in the job market -- but pubs are undoubtedly important in my experience.

Thanks for those providing feedback and asking questions about my dataset on twitter @cforcese.  This is turning into a fun article to write (although a gruelling exercise in data collection) and it may, gasp, even be useful.

Gender Breakdown for Cdn Common Law Profs: Prelim Data

This is the third post in a series drawn from data collected for an article I am writing on public engagement by Canadian common law profs.  In support of that article, I collected publicly-available data from the websites of full, associate and assistant law profs at Canadian common law schools. (Yes, it took me literally weeks). For my prior posts, scroll through this blog.

I am "serializing" my analysis as I go -- feedback on twitter (@cforcese) has suggested other lines of inquiry that are fruitful and which help my thinking process.

Since my first postings, I have fully eliminated emeritus profs from my sample and have focused strictly on full, associate and assistant profs.  I found 600 persons at that rank on the websites of Canadian common law schools.

In this post, I want to break down these numbers by gender, a particularly important issue given recent (less than edifying) rationalizations of the federal government's poor appointment rate for federal judges.  So how are the law schools doing?

In 1981, only 10.1% of common law profs were women. 

Today, that figure is 44.5%, or 267.

Categorized by rank, the numbers of female law professors are: Full (35.9%); Associate (47.6%); Assistant (60.7%). (Not every prof included rank on their website, so my data set here included 259 entries).

These figures suggest that female hiring now exceeds male hiring, as Assistant Professors will be the most recent hires.  But there is, of course, another prospect: that these data also reflect gendered promotion processes.  There is at least a hint in the prelim data that this is a real concern, but I shall report on that once I have crunched the numbers more (and perhaps hold back that analysis for the final article).

Notably, there also appears to be significant institutional variation in the proportion of women law professors: there are some schools above the norm and a few well below the norm. The range for average number of women on faculty is 62.5% on the high end and 27% on the low end.  The median proportion of women at Canadian common law schools is 47.4%.   

I am debating whether to reproduce the full institutional breakdown -- demographic data are collateral to my article's purpose of discussing (and measuring) public engagement by Canadian common law profs.  Still, if you sit on a hiring committee, you can do your own internal headcount and then take note of the average figures reported here. (Incidentally, a prelim analysis suggests no correlation between average number of years teaching in faculties and proportion of female professors.  In other words, this does not appear to be a case of some schools doing less hiring and having older profs and a gender composition reflecting bygone gender patterns).

So overall, progress since 1981.  But there seem to be differences in institutional culture.  And as noted, I am concerned that some of the data seem to suggest differences in the way men and women's careers then develop.  Back to the Excel datasheet!

Want to Be a Law Prof? Data on Whether You Should Do a Doctorate

As suggested here, I am in the midst of a giant data gathering exercise reviewing the professional profiles of Canada's 614 common law profs.  In my prior post, I shared data on where these profs went to grad school.  In this post, I examine the question of the "teaching degree" -- that is, the highest degree profs obtain before being hired as an Assistant Professor.  (NB: These data are preliminary, and subject to double-checking as I write my article.)

I will discuss this more in the article I am writing, but in 1981, only 12.6% of Canada's common law profs had doctorates in law, with another 4.3% possessing doctorates in other disciplines.

Today, 49.8% of those in common law law schools for which data were available (564 of the 614 profs in my data set) have a doctorate.  An LLM is the highest degree for 42.6%, while 5.5% have undergraduate law degrees as their highest law degree.  Another 2.1% have other highest degrees (MA, MBA, MLS, M.Litt).  The proportion of profs with doctorates in each academic rank are interesting:

Full: 42.7%

Associate: 59.2%

Assistant: 51.0%

The Assistant figure is misleading -- my data captured the highest degree obtained by the professor as of June/July 2014.  It does not include the many instances in which the Assistant Prof is still a doctoral candidate.  On an anecdotal review of the data, the latter is a common status (that is, profs are hired on their LLMs with their doctorates "in progress").  It stands to reason that by the time that today's Assistant Profs are promoted to Associate, the proportion holding a doctorate will look more like the current figure for Associates than that for the older Full Professors.

I won't breakout the data here, but there are notable institutional differences as well.  Some schools are predominantly staffed by doctorate-holding profs (with the highest proportion 77.1%) while other schools are dominated by profs whose highest degree is an LLM (the lowest proportion of doctorates is 24%).  It is a generalization, but most (but certainly not all of the) Ontario schools and McGill seem to place a higher premium on doctorates among their full-time profs.  Obviously, there are "cultural" differences in hiring.

Putting all these data together is starting to make me feel insecure.  Can't wait to do the number crunching on publication tempo.

Thinking about Teaching Law in a Cdn Law School (Common Law): Read This

(Revised Thurs July 10, 2014)

I am in the midst of a massive data collection and crunching process, in support of an article I am writing on public engagement by law profs in Canadian common law schools (that is, LLB and JD granting schools).  To this end, I have collected demographic and career data from the public web profiles on the people listed on the websites of these law schools as Assistant, Associate or Full professors (and occasionally emeritus). 

The results are fascinating, especially on some of the gender issues.  I am writing up the article now.  But as a teaser, here are provisional data on the education of Canada's common law professors.  Table 1 below shows the top 15 institutions from which Canadian law professors obtained their highest degree (an LLM or increasingly a doctorate -- more on that in the article) and the proportion of profs who received degrees from each institution.  I had data for 572 profs (a number that includes a number of emeritus profs). Table 2 represents the top 15 institutions, at the Assistant professor level.  It reflects, in other words, more recent hiring trends.  (Here, I had data for 102 profs.)

Table 1: Highest Degree By Institution, All Profs

Toronto 12.8%
Harvard 11.0%
Osgoode/York 9.4%
Oxford 8.2%
Columbia 6.6%
Yale 5.4%
Cambridge 4.9%
UBC 4.2%
McGill 3.8%
Dal 3.3%
London 3.0%
Queens 1.7%
NYU 1.7%
Michigan 1.4%
Berkeley 1.4%


Table 2: Highest Degree by Institution, Assistant Profs

Toronto 13.7%
Osgoode/York 13.7%
Harvard 12.7%
McGill 9.8%
Columbia 5.9%
UBC 4.9%
Dal 4.9%
Oxford 3.9%
Yale 3.9%
Ottawa 3.9%
Cambridge 2.9%
Sask 2.0%
Chicago 2.0%
Sydney 2.0%
Montreal 2.0%


These top 15 schools account for 79% of all of the highest degrees of all profs, and 88% of all of the highest degrees of Assistant Profs. 

These data suggest that UK schools have lost ground relative to Canadian schools, while US schools continue to figure prominently (although perhaps not as prominently).  In fact, a more general analysis confirms this inference.  Table 3 shows the region in which Canada's common law professors earned their highest degree. 

Table 3: Region Where Canadian Common Law Profs Earned their Highest Degree

All Profs Assistant Profs
Canada 42.0% 55.9%
US 34.3% 31.4%
UK 17.7% 8.8%
Aus/NZ 3.0% 2.0%
Eur 3.0% 2.0%


Canadian origin higher degrees have swelled among Assistant professors.  These data are heartening to those of us labouring in Canadian law schools to produce competitive graduate students .  We may be overcoming the "neocolonialism" of academic hiring -- the bias in favour of foreign credentials.

Special credit goes to Toronto, Osgoode and McGill for their success in producing graduate degree holders securing positions in Canadian law faculties.

Government Lawyers, Law Professors and Watchdogs: Thoughts on public engagement

I am in the midst of a largely empirical academic article measuring "public engagement" by law professors in Canada.  (And for that reason, I was very interested to read Paul Daly's excellent thoughts on this same topic.)

Along the way, I have been pondering not just "how much public engagement" but also "what sort" and the broader normative question of "whether and why" public engagement. 

Meanwhile, events have unfolded in the appointment of a career Justice Department lawyer to the privacy commissioner post.  There, there has been criticism of his perceived lack of independence and potential conflicts between his role as commissioner and the files he may have handled while in government.  See here for a discussion of some of the legal issues around appointment.  As best I know (after reading the reporting from the parliamentary committee hearing), this is as far as most of the critiques have gone -- circumstantial inferences drawn from a curriculum vitae, from perception and from maxims such as the appearance of independence.  (I would hasten to add that at least some critiques focus on degree of expertise in privacy law -- that is entirely a different matter and central to any discussion.)

This has led me to juxtapose what I am learning about law professor public engagement with the sorts of issues that lawyers in government (and also private) practice encounter daily.  For the very little it is worth, I thought the time ripe to articulate some of these impressions.

On Law Professors and Public Engagement

As an academic, I enjoy "academic freedom".  This is a contractual right found in Article 9 of the collective agreement of which I am part.  That provision guarantees that neither the university nor the union will infringe or abridge my "academic freedom", defined as follow:

Academic freedom is the right of reasonable exercise of civil liberties and responsibilities in an academic setting. As such it protects each member's freedom to disseminate her opinions both inside and outside the classroom, to practice her profession as teacher and scholar, librarian, or counsellor, to carry out such scholarly and teaching activities as she believes will contribute to and disseminate knowledge, and to express and disseminate the results of her scholarly activities in a reasonable manner, to select, acquire, disseminate and use documents in the exercise of her professional responsibilities, without interference from the employer, its agents, or any outside bodies. All the above-mentioned activities are to be conducted with due and proper regard for the academic freedom of others and without contravening the provisions of this agreement. Academic freedom does not require neutrality on the part of the member, but rather makes commitment possible. However, academic freedom does not confer legal immunity, nor does it diminish the obligations of members to meet their duties and responsibilities


The last few statements are important.  Academic freedom is not the right to be incompetent or lazy or inept or refuse to do my duties.  Nor is it some sort of quasi-constitutional, public law norm that elevates me above the law governing other persons.  Rather, it is an understanding between me and my employer that allows me to pursue scholarly and teaching activities without fear of employment-related retaliation.

For many law professors, public engagement -- which I believe done properly falls into the "disseminate knowledge" component of academic freedom -- may mean taking positions on the chief legal controversies of the day.  In so taking these positions, a law professor deploys (essentially state-funded) expertise to deepen understanding and provide (sometimes missing) context or countervailing positions. 

Most other actors in any given debate are encumbered by restraints on what they can or will say.  Law professors are not, and that very fact is at least one decent reason why they should exist.  (Another decent reason is that I like my job).  The positions taken and opinions voiced by a law professor are her or his own, ideally arrived at through academic study and analysis and supported by fact and credible inference.  In other words, they should ideally be the product of marshalled expertise and not instead a lay opinion shellacked with expert credentials. (If they are the latter, then they should be in the letter-to-the-editor section of the paper, not in the newsreporting or even the op-ed section). 

In sum, academic freedom means that these expert views are not dictated by others.  In the result, a law professor need only follow her or his conscience, and answers to no one for it.

(In recent practice, this has sometimes led academics to be tarred as "partisan" or "enemies" by the political class.  In some cases, there may even be truth to a few of these accusations.  But partisans often seem to imagine that criticism is motivated by allegiances, and not by reason.  In my case, I can only claim this: if I oppose a government position it is because of the substance of the position, not its author.  And if I have political preferences, it is because of amalgam of substantive positions, not because of the brand.  Put another way, support is earned on the merits, not bestowed because of the colour of the campaign sign.  I'm pretty sure that's how democracy works best.)

On Lawyers in Practice and the Client

I have also been a practising lawyer, albeit for a short period of time before embarking on a career as an academic.  As a practising lawyer, my behaviour is governed by the rules of professional conduct in the three jurisdictions in which I am a member of the bar.  I am expected -- obliged -- to act in the best interests of my client.  For example, Rule 4 of the Ontario code reads: "[w]hen acting as an advocate, a lawyer shall represent the client resolutely and honourably within the limits of the law while treating the tribunal with candour, fairness, courtesy, and respect." 

As anyone who has had a foot in these two domains knows, this is a very different universe from the one that I inhabit as a law professor.  It is possible to follow one's conscience, but to a much lesser degree.  As Rule 4 suggests, there are outer limits to what I can and should do for a client.  And in private practice, I am free to choose which clients I am prepared to represent (at least in principle.  In practice, economic reality or the hierarchy in a large firm may choose clients for you).  But the range of liberty is much constrained relative to the world of a law professor.

This is true for a government lawyer as well.  The Ontario rules (R. 6.05) impose as high a standard of conduct on lawyers in public office -- elected or appointed -- as on any other practising lawyer.  My colleague Adam Dodek has authored an insightful article on government lawyering the rule of law in which he argues persuasively that government lawyers are on a different footing that private sector lawyers and have public interest obligations that pull in a direction different from their private sector counterparts.  But nevertheless, the freedom of action for a government lawyer is still much smaller than that of a law professor (and indeed has probably become smaller in the present climate at the federal level).

Academics v Lawyers

All of this is to say that when I write an article or opine on an issue, it represents my views on the matter, as they exist at that moment.  Those views may change and evolve -- they often do.  Indeed, "academic freedom" to me means that I must be open to changing my views -- freedom means intellectual nimbleness, not dogma.  (Like everyone else, I don't like being wrong.  But I figure that I'm doing well if I aspire to Teddy Roosevelt's effort to be right at least 75% of the time.)

All this is different from the world of private practice.  When I'm practising law as an advocate, I am advancing the full range of (ethical) arguments open to me in representing the interests of my client.  As a law professor that occasionally chooses to work on pro bono cases, there is not usually a large gap between where my current understanding of capital "T" "Truth" lies, and where my professional responsibilities take me.   As a lawyer briefly in private practice, this same philosophy might have informed how I offered advice and coloured my attitudes and interpretations.  I never had to deny my core values.  But this was never about wandering the earth following my conscience: I took instruction and served my client to the best of my abilities, within the range of my professional obligations and the law.  If a lawyer is not prepared to do that, then the exit is mostly (although not exclusively) at the front end: don't take on the client (or become a law professor).  Anything else, and the system crumbles.

The Fallacy of Judging a Lawyer by Her or His Brief

The juxtaposition between lawyer and academic has occasionally been made stark to me.  I have been known to speak at government events, and at those events, I feel inclined to exercise my academic freedom in criticising government positions or policies that so warrant.  I try to do so fairly and with balance (with mixed success, some observers might say).  But to leave the bull in the china shop unaddressed defeats the utility of my presence.  I see little virtue to love-ins.  (I would add that when speaking at events at which there is no government representation, I do often try earnestly to communicate my best understanding of government perspectives.  This assumes there is a government position -- I grow weary of trying to imagine never articulated justifications for certain policies and acts.)

At one government event in which I apologized in advance and then proceeded to do the gad fly thing, I was admonished by a senior (and justifiably, much admired) government counsel that I must distinguish between those who issue instructions and those who execute them.  He was right to do so.  Certainly, how and what a lawyer advises matter, as does the manner in which the lawyer executes the instructions. But nevertheless, the point is well taken.

And so this brings me full circle to the initial observation about government lawyers appointed to watchdog roles.  If they have served their government client with distinction (and within the bounds of ethical and legal responsibilities) then that is surely not a mark against them.  This is true even if they were the face on a legal matter with which I disagreed.  In sum: I am interested in who they are and will be, and not what they have been (except in so far as it relates to subject matter expertise or tangible evidence of improper conduct).  I do not believe it proper for me to judge otherwise professional conduct against the standards of unalloyed academic freedom that I enjoy.  (I hope in my public commentary I never have. I certainly have actively resisted efforts to do so in the past but I am not perfect).

Nor, as an empirical matter, am I at all persuaded that once a government lawyer, always a government fifth column.  I can name a few former government lawyers who, once free to follow their own conscience as academics, judges or watchdogs, exercised that freedom to much greater effect than I ever have.  And so I will judge by what happens in the future, and not doubt someone for their past professionalism.

Jerry Seinfield and Scholarly Productivity

As any academic will tell you, "finding time to write" is one the great existential crises of the modern era.  Whatever the traditional time allocation of 40%/40%/20% (teaching, scholarship, service to the academic and broader community) might dictate, the middle 40% feels the squeeze.  The explanation is simple: if you don't prep your courses, you risk serious embarrassment.  It's pretty easy to over-invest in an area where you run the risk of being reduced to a deer caught in the headlights.  As for service to the community, well, not everyone comes close to 20%, but if you do dip your toe into really pulling the oars on administering an academic unit, there is never enough time.

So if you're like me, you're always looking for ways to squeeze in scholarship.  And if you're like me, you vacillate between years of decent productivity, and years that I'll call, um, "fallow periods".  In an effort to forever more stave off the fallow years, I have a couple of principles I have started applying that are a tad unconventional. 

For one thing, I am fairly religious in applying a "return on investment" (ROI) analysis to my scholarly activities.  That is, how much "return" is associated with the expenditure of a given "resource", usually time but often energy.  So applying my ROI policy, I turn down a lot of conference invitations, especially those that require travel.  I think the ROI on conferences is very low.  Setting aside the agony of modern air travel, the jet lag, the inevitable head cold, the email backlog, the bad food, the interruptions in family life (a big deal when you have young kids) and a regular exercise routine, I just don't see the point of swelling my carbon footprint for, usually, a 20 min talk.  Just filling out the endless reimbursement forms for travel and organizing my receipts leaves me weary. 

Sure, the "between the sessions" conversations and catching up with colleagues is fun (and is actually what it's all about), but that's what Skype is for.  Yes, I do feel a quiver of doubt watching colleagues jet here, there and everywhere.  There is a status associated with conference invites, with the status directly related to the distance travelled.  But I've been there and done it, and airports and stuffy conference rooms are never as exotic as the cities in which they are located.  Plus, I'm anti-social anyway. 

I know that others strongly disagree with me on my anti-conference animus, but I'll commit to my opinion. (And in truth, I do go to -- and do organize -- conferences -- but I cap them and try to be really strict in looking at each from the ROI perspective.)

In comparison, on an ROI basis, my blogs are a much better investment than any conference I've attended.  Well, maybe not this one.  But my substantive blogs have sparked more opportunities, more follow up and more useful attention that any academic conference I've attended. That may mean I haven't been going to the right conferences, but I don't think so. 

But still, there remains the above-noted existential crisis.  Whether its blogs, books or articles, I still struggle to "find the time", even when my ROI philosophy is firing on all cylinders.  Binge writing is rarely possible for me -- for the last few years, I've been pulled in so many directions that the idea of setting aside a solid chunk of time for writing, and nothing but writing, hasn't often been realistic.  And when I have had the time, I find my concentration span is now approximately 15 minutes.  I get board, read the Globe and Mail website, see what's happening on Twitter, have long conversations with my dog etc.

So what to do (above and beyond pining for the next sabbatical where I will clearly miraculously reach heretofore superhuman levels of productivity)? 

This is where Jerry Seinfield meets How to Write a Lot (by Paul Silvia).  Professor Silvia observes that it's never about finding time and always about allotting time.  "The secret," he says, "is the regularity not the number of days or the number hours" (Ch 2, in the kindle version).  As the fortune cookie might say: even the largest stalagmite is formed by the cumulative effect of drops of water. 

Jerry Seinfield, for his part, is credited with the "don't break the chain" anti-procrastination tool.  To wit: Pick a task that you will do each day, and create a wall calendar.  Mark an X in the calendar for every day in which you perform the task. Explained (reportedly) Mr Seinfield: "After a few days you'll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You'll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain."

Now, this being the 21st century, there is an app for that.  I chose "Good Habits" for iOS.  And as my task, I have imposed "500 words of writing every week day".  (I have also included: "15 minutes of house cleaning every day", which is a real crowd pleaser at home.  It's amazing how much you can dust in 15 minutes each day.)

Now, I'm not particular about what the writing is (although emails don't count).  Just writing.  Do the math.  A law review article might be, say 12,000 words.  At 500 words per day, that's an article every 24 working days.  Yes, I know I exaggerate -- there will be raw research days in there, and editing and re-editing.  After all, it would be nice if the article were good. But still, the drops of water add up.

So why does this work?  It works for me because I am totally obsessive about not breaking the chain.  It becomes a challenge where I am always competing against my prior personal best.  And I can never turn down a challenge.  (Disclaimer: I also enjoy ridiculous endurance sporting events.)  Really, it's a personality defect. But since the "break the chain" movement seems to have a real internet presence, it's a defect in common with a lot of people, and maybe it'll work for you!

More than that, in the Good Habits app, a little red number appears above the app icon, just as it does when there is mail in your mail app.  The number represents the tasks left to accomplish that day.  Personally, I can't stand letting little red numbers accumulate.  I have to clear them.  (If Pavlov didn't have his dog, he could have studied me).

So to summarize: allot modest -- emphasis on modest, not heroic -- time regularly and do so in a manner that makes a "game" of meeting that daily objective, deploying every ounce of anal retentiveness to your advantage.  It'll be interesting to see how long I can keep this up.  But what's really important is that this blog entry in now 1170 words.  I wonder if I can count it as covering off two days?