17 Feb No-Stat All-Star Law Professors?
Last week I blogged about those incredibly irresponsible law professors who have tenure but do almost nothing to advance the institution. This week I want to turn the tables and talk about that delightful breed of law professors who are incredibly unselfish and manage to immeasurably improve the quality of the institution. Michael Lewis’ wonderful article on the “No-Stats All-Star” basketball player Shane Battier tees up the question nicely. Here is what Lewis says about the complicated relationship between playing in the best interest of the team and being purely self-interested:
There is a tension, peculiar to basketball, between the interests of the team and the interests of the individual. The game continually tempts the people who play it to do things that are not in the interest of the group. On the baseball field, it would be hard for a player to sacrifice his team’s interest for his own. Baseball is an individual sport masquerading as a team one: by doing what’s best for himself, the player nearly always also does what is best for his team. “There is no way to selfishly get across home plate,” …. Manny Ramirez can’t take at-bats away from David Ortiz…. In football the coach has so much control over who gets the ball that selfishness winds up being self-defeating. The players most famous for being selfish … are usually not so much selfish as attention seeking. Their sins tend to occur off the field. It is in basketball where the problems are most likely to be in the game — where the player, in his play, faces choices between maximizing his own perceived self-interest and winning. The choices are sufficiently complex that there is a fair chance he doesn’t fully grasp that he is making them…. [Battier is] the most abnormally unselfish basketball player … ever seen. Or rather, the player who seems one step ahead of the analysts, helping the team in all sorts of subtle, hard-to-measure ways that appear to violate his own personal interests.
Borrowing from Michael Lewis, one could say that law school is a strange mix of individual and team players. For the typical law scholar, academia is not a game that tempts one to do things that are against the interest of the group. Like baseball, virtually every great success of a member of the team inures to the benefit of the entire team. Every home run, every “selfish” act of personal glory, helps enhance the reputation and success of the team. And yet, law school is also like basketball, with some team players who are “no stat all-stars” fielding positions that do not secure much attention. Yet these individuals dramatically improve the school in subtle, hard-to-measure ways. Typically administrative positions–deans, associate deans, committee chairs, institutional directors–do not offer opportunities for statistical attention. Effective teachers, brilliant research librarians, career counselors, and dedicated staff are also quintessential “no-stat all-stars” who can make the difference between good and great.
I would suspect that most law scholars watch with envious astonishment as the superstars of our world work their magic. But there is a time and a place to give Shane Battier and his ilk their due. We can’t measure their success, but each of us who work with them can feel their impact.