March 04, 2009
In These Tough Economic Times, What About Workshops?
Posted by Christine Hurt

Yesterday, I began blogging on how law schools would change "in these tough economic times."  I just read that McDermott, Will & Emory decided that free coffee on every floor was a luxury, so stopped the coffee on one floor, leading some to question the cost savings v. morale bust the decision caused.  Well, we only have free coffee on one floor anyway, but I guess Bagel Tuesday may be a victim in the future.

Seriously, I was chatting with a group that included colleagues at different law schools, and the prevailing feeling from outside our building was that the workshop culture will be changing soon and radically.  For awhile now, the workshop series has spread to law schools in all tiers.  Some may be modest (8-12 speakers a year), while others may be so ambitious as to turn even an out-of-the-way college town law school like mine into an international space station during school semesters.  With a general workshop program, and speakers invited through various other programs and institutes, Illinois has numerous guests per week, and sometimes more than one per day.  Although no one has mentioned cutting any of our speaker visits, word from other institutions, even fancier institutions than ours, seems to be that workshops may be on the cutting block.

So, what are the costs of these workshops?  Plane ticket, hotel room, dinner for 3-4 and lunch?  Depending on the location of your law school, the price tag could be $600 per speaker.

What are the benefits?  Well, as an academic, I could go on and on about the benefits.  The faculty gets to meet new folks, it's a good way to let your junior people get to meet more senior people from outside the building, faculty get exposed to new ideas that may inspire and inform their own research, etc.  And of course, workshops are especially great for the guest -- the guest gets to meet maybe 20 people, get feedback -- but the costs are borne by the host.  Of course, one can posit that by hosting workshops, your own folks may receive invitations to give workshops in return.  And, many workshop series are exchanges, like our junior faculty exchange with other midwestern schools.  In addition, I've heard many folks at various schools say that they use their workshop series as an information gathering/recruiting tool for folks they have their appointments eye on.  So, do the benefits justify the costs?

Are their alternatives?  My law buddies were brainstorming that workshops might go online.  A fancy scholar could even advertise that they would give a streaming live workshop at 12:00 EST.  It could be for free, but who knows?  Maybe there would be per-institution hookup fee like CLE.  Would anyone turn in for the junior scholar's workshop?  Perhaps someone could organize a series -- like a Wednesday lunch junior faculty series in corporate law, or something.  Would this take the place of face-to-face workshops?

Again, don't get me wrong -- I love hosting workshops and especially love giving workshops.  But, as one of my law buddies said, "Is this culture of "we invite our friends, then our friends invite us" workshops going to change?"  In these tough economic times?

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