My Twitter friend and famed UCLA biz orgs law professor Stephen Bainbridge responded to my blog post asking the question as to why law professors write law review articles. His blog post is here.  My article was querying not only why we do it, but how we seek to go about measuring the usefulness of what we do. Before I’ve called this the law professor search for meaning.

Professor Bainbridge’s post is thoughtful and interesting. So I greatly appreciate the time he took to write it. Overall, I don’t necessarily disagree with what he wrote, except maybe just a few points.

First, Professor Bainbridge accuses me of “navel gazing,” in my query to answer the questions I posed in my blog post. I would counter by suggesting I was “naval gazing,” because the fleet upon fleet of law journals suggests we are doing a whole lot of publishing. My concerns are about the value of the endeavor, and how we are seeking to validate the activity via a multitude of metrics suggesting “scholarly impact.”

Perhaps Professor Bainbridge and I disagree on whether or not we write to have impact. Professor Bainbridge states that he writes because he loves to do it. “You want to know why I write law review articles? Because it’s fun. I enjoy the process of finding a puzzle, doing the research, and then I really enjoy writing it up. I love the whole process of writing. Thinking about how best to express an idea. Trying to come up with something semi-clever or funny or snarky to work into the text.”

I totes agree. Writing is fun. But, why do we choose to write law reviews? Professor Bainbridge says because we get paid to do so. “Okay, honestly? I write law review articles because I like to write and being a law professor pays better than being a science fiction writer (unless, I suppose, you’re John Scalzi). Also, I can’t write dialogue to save my life. So I found a job that pays me quite well to do something I love doing.”

This also is true. We are expected to write. Not that every tenured faculty member does so, but most do. We then publish our articles in law reviews, with a very clear hierarchy based loosely on U.S. News rankings or other similar indicia.

Professor Bainbridge mentions that we write for ego, and I suspect that’s true.  That’s fine, so long as it doesn’t go overboard. No need to go crazy and give up being humble. Writing is a lonely life, but exchanging ideas and advancing knowledge is social.

I think the thing about Orwell’s essay, which Professor Bainbridge quotes, is that the categories listed as reasons to write overlap. Yes, we do it for ego, but that by itself isn’t sufficient unless we believe that our writing offers some value. It has to give someone a reason to read it. Otherwise, the ego outcome would be the same whether I published my article or burned it in a fire (as I suspect many law review editors do).

That begs the question: Why would anyone read what I wrote? Some of you might be asking yourself this question now.  First, perhaps because the article is beautifully written, such as in a work of fiction or my 50 Shades of Admin law post.  Second, perhaps the reader can learn something from it, such as Bainbridge’s biz orgs books. Third, perhaps the article offers a solution to a perplexing problem. Regardless, my ego is attached to someone reading the piece, and this is where my quibbles about how success as a scholar is measured become more troubling.  How we measure scholarly impact is laden with some problematic assumptions, and I’m not willing to claim that we ought to measure the number of times my friends cited me.  The seeds of knowledge do not produce fruit overnight, so measuring scholarly impact is a short-sighted endeavor.

In any event, Professor Bainbridge made some thoughtful remarks, and I’m still pondering them. I might take his advice and center one panel on the Orwell essay. And invite Frank Partnoy. Maybe even Bainbridge.

Professor Bainbridge’s last suggestion is a deal breaker, however. He suggests, “giving up the whole anonymity thing.” He didn’t say why.  I suspect it’s hard to think about a reason why someone would anonymously blog when he has no bone to pick, isn’t lashing out at the world, and isn’t exactly fearful of administration given he’s tenured.

My thought is this: I get no credit for this. It’s not going to be in my law school’s scholarship notebook, isn’t mentioned in terms of my productivity, and I get paid nothing to write this.  I don’t get to humblebrag about it in my faculty highlights.  Heck, my online persona is more famous than I am.  So, maybe Professor Bainbridge is right: It’s because I just like to write.