October 08, 2006
Lingua Franca
Posted by Victor Fleischer

Usha's wonderful post, Notes of a Native Daughter, really got me thinking about how my parents shaped my path to academia.  (See also Althouse.)  My father is an English professor, and my mother was an English professor before she became a lawyer. 

It's pretty clear to me that class is irrelevant to the conversation.  My parents' status as academics usually meant that I was surrounded by peers with more money than me, not less.   I worked part-time in college and law school (who doesn't?), with no serious ill-effects on my studies. 

It's no surprise that profs beget profs.  Part of it, as noted in the comments to Usha's post, is knowing how to talk the talk.   I may not be Larry Solum's platonic ideal of a legal academic, and he could probably take me to task for misusing Plato in that allusion.  But growing up in a household where literary criticism was a proper topic for dinner table conversation means that I have a better command of the Intentional Fallacy than your average deal lawyer, which brings a whole new perspective to something like the parol evidence rule.  Cultural literacy eases the transition from lawyer to law prof.  After all, to get the job you have to first make it through a job talk, which means being able to make profs who know nothing about your field understand why your research is interesting.  It helps to speak the lingua franca.  And even better to have actually read Lingua Franca at the kitchen table.   

But there is something even more important, I think, that explains why profs beget profs.  Having seen the academic life, I went into law school keeping a steady gaze on the academic path.  This made the law school experience much more rewarding.  Law school wasn't preparation for Wall Street, but the gateway to a life of exploring ideas.  I very much doubt that without academic parents, I would have taken, in addition to the usual corporate and tax classes, Vince Blasi's Ideas of the First Amendment or Kendall Thomas' seminar in Critical Race Theory. 

I work harder than most lawyers I know, for half of what I used to make as an associate.  But the trade-off is worth it, to me.  Most of my Columbia classmates just don't get what it is professors do -- I still get asked what I do with all my "time off."  If my parents were investment bankers, I probably wouldn't get it either.   

Thanks, Mom and Dad, for showing me the way.

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