Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Conference Circuit

It has been the conference circuit for me recently. I have done three in as many weeks, which has turned out to be more exhausting than I thought. I'm relieved it's over.

I didn't have to travel far: twice to Onati in the Basque Country and once to Bologna, Italy. I avoided going to the Law & Society Association meeting in Las Vegas

The Onati experiences were quite different. One was a small workshop with about 20 people, the other was the first European Sociology of Law conference with around 170 people. The Onati Institute for the Sociology of Law is a unique institution which teaches a masters in the subject and holds workshops on various topics, such legal profession, research methods, the legal aftermath of war. It is housed in a beautiful 16th century cloister that used to house the original Basque university. It has now been open as the institute for 17 years. Onati itself is a small medieval town halfway between Bilbao and San Sebastian. It's tucked into the hills and resembles Switzerland. It is also one of the homes of the ETA movement.

My workshop was on self-governance in a globalized world, and was divided into two segments; one on the role of lawyers, law firms, and consultants in developing self-sustaining and stable structures for the business of globalization; the second examined the constitution of some of those structures, such as ethical forestry standards. My paper was on the work of large international law firms and the ways in which their status and brand names have the effect of granting an imprimatur to transactions. They sanctify deals. This casts them in a priestly role, or more accurately, a jesuitical role since they are intellectual, cover the world, and proselytize. I have attached a draft of my paper below.

The workshop was an intensive three-day session where we listened to each other, critiqued each other, shared meals, and socialized with each other. That's a long time to spend with other people in that type of situation. It's not really possible to break away and get some time on one's own. Still, it is stimulating and I come away with new ideas and mentally refreshed, though tired.

The conference allowed more individual time and whereas I thought I would give only one paper, I ended up chairing a session, acting as discussant in a couple of sessions, and giving my own paper (lawyers and globalization again). That was tiring, but what made it exhausting and draining was the news that London had won the Olympics and then the bombs exploding in London the next day. It took hours to be able to call my wife, Eleni, who works as a lawyer in the City. A small group of us trying to contact London sat around in a cafe and told stories about the strange members of our families as a way of eking out the hours. Given we were not a representative sample, the bizarre antics of some of our ancestors made one wonder how families can ever be described as a key institution of society. I gave my paper the day after the bombs and I must have been in shock still. My performance became rather theatrical in some ways: it was a way of releasing tension. One or two asked if I was a barrister or indulged in theatre. Neither is the case.

In between these two meetings I had a seminar in Bologna. No more than 10 or so people discussing the ways courts allocate cases among judges. (I mentioned this in the "Deadlines" blog, Monday 16 May.) What perplexed me more than anything else was the stark difference between the UK and the rest of Europe. In the UK as and when judges finish cases, they are given another--no empty courts, no empty judges. The cases even out, some difficult and some easier. It's ad hoc and piecemeal. In mainland Europe it is far more bureaucratic. Each year the court determines for the next year what kinds of cases each judge in the court will try. Difficulty, complexity, easiness are spread evenly throughout the judges of the court. In Italy, the Council of the Judiciary has to approve these plans and often requires changes. Sometimes the plans are not approved until after the court year has begun, so the courts operate with no plans. It gets very confusing. The prime aim is to prevent corruption in the allocation of cases to judges favoured over others. And so the wheels of justice grind exceedingly slowly... Moreover, the UK report described a court system that seemed byzantine compared to the others. And there I agree. It is based on a series of reforms in the 19th century that haven't been revisited systematically.

Now I am back in London, there is no more travel for a while and I can devote my time to writing and teaching a summer school for the University of Miami Law School on "Global Lawyering", which is generally fun and the students make an interesting change of personality to English ones.

Re: Collaborating With Others

Our co-authored article was accepted by the Journal of Law and Society, to my surprise, and will be published in September 2005!

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Evaluating Professors

All UK universities are revising their systems of remuneration for academics. Much of this is being done by a process known as "job evaluation". For most academics it appears not to be a difficult task. I may be wrong. However, for senior academics, viz, professors, it gets more complex.

Professors are promoted to their positions for their individual characteristics, especially in relation to research. My university has just begun this process and it is one that the professors had failed to have confidence in. Recently, heads of department were evaluated. Although the evaluations showed significant differences in role, size and scope of job, the university's senior administrators decided to ignore the results and place all heads on the same point of the pay scale. The heads have not yet seen their evaluation results nor has it been explained to them how the final results were arrived at.

We professors decided that we could not embrace that approach and we have had to insist on consultations with the vice-chancellor and the personnel director to ensure that the evaluation would be transparent. We insisted that we receive the results so that we could be aware of any decisions being made. Reluctantly, this was granted. Some of the reluctance was based on the fact that the Hay Group evaluation process was difficult to interpret without training.

The job evaluation process looks at three dimensions.
1. Know how: How much does one know about how many things? Redolent of Isiah Berlin's distinction between the fox and hedgehog.It also includes elements of affecting people's behaviour.
2. Problem solving: which concerns creativity, innovation and challenges.
3. Planning and organizing: Do we cross disciplines? Do we plan over the long term or short term? Are we pulling together heterogeneous elements?
As the professors listened to this explanation, most of us could feel that it might have enough analytical force to make meaningful distinctions.

Our concerns are raised when we consider what is to be step 2 in the job evaluation process. This is where the senior administrators (or management as they now prefer to call themselves--title inflation) will take the Hay job evaluation material, construct a series of pay bands and place each professor on a point. What was not explained was how this would exactly be achieved. Moreover, there would be a year on year review that would determine if professors would receive any pay increment. In principle, there is nothing wrong with this, provided that we have input into the process. As yet, we may only have minor input. We may achieve more. It has only taken us a year to reach this point with the administration.

Perhaps the most useful and constructive thing to come out of the entire process is that for the first time, professors across the university began to talk to each other and respond to the scale of the endeavour that faces us. Producing that spirit of collective enterprise has been wonderful.