Monday, September 29, 2008

Getting to grips!

This article is worth reading and stems from a previous post sometime back on Professor Pausch's lecture on "Time management". In her abstract, the author discusses some of the issues raised on higher education. The title of the article is Two jobs, two lives and a funeral: legal academics and work-life balance (2004):

"Changes in higher education over the last twenty years have led to a huge increase in the workload of legal academics. At the same time, there are many more choices as to how to spend time outside the workplace. Research shows that academics around the world are finding the maintenance of work-life balance an increasingly difficult issue. This article uses data from a qualitative study of legal academics in the U.K. to illustrate the particular effects of changes in higher education policy on the workload of those working in law schools. While no easy solutions are offered, it is suggested that it is time for legal academics to engage in some Socratian self-examination."

"The latter interpretation of Four Weddings and a Funeral has many resonances for contemporary legal academics, particularly in relation to the problem of work-life balance. Just as for Charles, the problems are immediate, pressing and difficult. They cannot be shelved for later consideration, because life moves on – in the same way as the threat of Carrie’s imminent marriage puts pressure on Charles, legal academics are faced with the immediate prospect of children growing up, partners getting older, ties with friends becoming weaker and opportunities for personal growth being lost. At the same time law schools are making ever-increasing demands upon the time and energy of their staff. It is almost inevitable that when faced with choices about the balance between different strands of their lives individual legal academics will sometimes behave like Charles; they will prevaricate, procrastinate and make mistakes (the latter in itself a potentially humiliating experience for those whose professional life is so intimately bound up with making rational judgements). "

The article is useful and highlights some issues for scholars contemplating of entering into legal academia in the UK. What would be useful is how this compares with other professions such as journalism etc. Some final thoughts from the same author:

"Perhaps the obvious answer is that we need to engage in some serious philosophical analysis. The unexamined life, said Socrates, is not worth living. If our lives are to be worth living, both in Socrates’ sense and at a more pragmatic level, we need to be able to examine our lives and make reasoned choices about how we spend our time. Others within the academy who observe the inhabitants of law schools may consider that a plea to live a fully examined life in the Socratian sense may be a bit of a challenge for the academic lawyer, since doctrinal legal training, at least, provides a poor background for the consideration of values. As a result of the pervasive influence of legal positivism, generations of law students have been taught to see the law in purely technical terms, while its moral content is regarded as irrelevant (Nicolson & Webb, 1999, p. 67). Thornton has referred to the ‘technocentrism’ of the doctrinal tradition, in which law is seen as autonomous, with discernible boundaries between law and morality, as well as between law and other academic disciplines. The pedagogical practice which is found in law schools, she notes “...focuses primarily on legal rules [and] creates a law school environment in which the technocratic is normalized, ...” (Thornton, 1998, p. 372).

"This intellectual background does not necessarily equip lawyers to engage in sophisticated philosophical reasoning about work-life balance (or any other forms of sophisticated moral reasoning, for that matter). Granted, there are exceptions within doctrinal law; the study of jurisprudence may involve consideration of moral issues, for instance, but overall, legal positivism is not interested in the analysis of values. Socio-legal and critical legal scholars have, of course, been quick to point this out, and consideration of the values and attitudes subsumed within the law are a main feature of their work. Nevertheless, familiarity with philosophy is not generally a mainstream feature of the legal syllabus, and it is understandable that, in intellectual terms, legal academics have long been regarded with suspicion by other members of the academy Sugarman notes that a need to gain credibility and acceptance from a sceptical academy was one of the top priorities for early legal academics (Sugarman, 1986). Becher’s work suggests that this is still the case; legal academics are regarded by their peers in other disciplines as not really academic, but engaged in unexciting and uncreative activities; typically, they are thought to be ‘...arcane, distant and alien; an appendage to the academic world’ (Becher, 1989, p. 30). Such opinions may bring forth howls of protest from the inhabitants of law schools, but setting them to rest is not the focus of the current argument. The question is, when faced with the problem of work-life balance, can legal academics, despite their somewhat unpromising intellectual background, engage successfully in the critical self-examination which is one of the crucial elements of a cultivated human being? If we, like Charles in Four Weddings and a Funeral continue to prevaricate, we may as Martha Nussbaum suggests, be cultivating humanity in our students – but only at the expense of failing to cultivate our own."

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