Law School Culture and the Lost Art of Collaboration: Why Don't Law Professors Play Well with Others?
47 Pages Posted: 18 Apr 2015 Last revised: 3 Sep 2021
Date Written: 2015
I have an Erdős number. Specifically, I have an Erdős number of 5. For the uninitiated, the concept of an “Erdős number” was created by mathematicians to describe how many “degrees of separation” an author of an article is from the great mathematician Paul Erdős. If you coauthored a paper with Erdős, you have an Erdős number of 1. If you coauthor a paper with someone with an Erdős number of 1, you have earned an Erdős number of 2. Coauthoring a paper with someone with an Erdős number of 2 gives you an Erdős number of 3, and so on.
In 2010, I wrote an article on law and statistics in 2010 with my son, William Meyerson. He had previously written an article with Scott T. Chapman, who had written one with Lara K. Puwell, who in turn had coauthored a piece with Zsolt Tuza, who had actually written an article with Paul Erdős. Thus, William has an Erdős number of 4, which garners me an Erdős number of 5. I quickly discovered that I was not alone in feeling a sense of pride for having an “Erdős number.” But as I thought about the path one must follow to earn a coveted Erdős number, I began to understand that the mathematical community views collaborative work in a vastly different manner than the legal academy where I have spent my career. In mathematics, it is expected that one will coauthor numerous pieces throughout one’s career. In the law school culture, by contrast, coauthorship, while not unknown, is not a significant part of the academic tradition.
This Article grew out of that insight. I wanted to explore whether my intuitive sense of these different attitudes towards collaboration was reflected empirically by a differing amount of coauthorship in the two fields, and, if so, what might be the reasons for such a difference. Finally, I wanted to explore whether there are lessons legal academics can learn from their counterparts in mathematics in terms of creating a culture that not only accepts but encourages coauthorship.
The second Part of this Article discusses how mathematicians produced a culture of collaboration. I focus on the extraordinary career of Paul Erdős, and show how he helped create a social academic environment in which coauthorship is valued. The third Part explores the very different culture in legal academe. I begin the Part by exploring the disconnect between the individualistic culture of law schools and the collaborative culture of the legal community at large. I then discuss my study of legal coauthorship, which demonstrates that law professors collaborate at a rate much lower than their mathematical colleagues. Next, I explore the benefits that law professors and their students could gain from collaboration. The Article concludes with a consideration of some proposals to help turn the law school culture into one where collaboration and coauthorship are respected and encouraged.
Keywords: Paul Erdős, Erdős number, mathematics, legal scholarship, culture of collaboration, academic tradition, coauthorship, scholarship, academic writing
JEL Classification: C49, C69, C79, C99, K19, K39, K49
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation