Post-CELS Thoughts

Josh Wright —  30 October 2006

I had a wonderful time at the First Annual Conference on Empirical Legal Studies. I presented this paper on the consumer welfare effects of shelf space contracts and commented on Keith Hylton and Fei Deng’s comprehensive empirical analysis of relationship between the scope of competition law (102 different countries) and the intensity of product market competition. The conference, by all accounts, was a resounding success. Congrats to Bernie Black and the conference organizers for putting together such a well-run event with a great set of papers. Here are ten quick post-conference thoughts and ramblings (below the fold):

  1. Format. The panels generally included 3 papers over a 2 hour session with presenters getting 18 minutes followed by 8 minutes for the discussant (both enforced fairly rigorously,and sometimes with the assistance of a buzzing timer) and a Q&A session. This format was pretty successful. For some papers, presenting your research question, introducing your data and specifications, and discussing results in this time period was challenging. But I think the time frame really encouraged presenters to get to the nitty gritty of the empirics — which was, after all, what this conference was about. The discussants and Q&A sessions often picked up on theoretical considerations and policy implications. Overall, I really liked this format.
  2. Discussants: Comments. From top to bottom, this was the best set of discussant comments I have seen at a legal conference (these comments, in other words, were not taken from Stigler’s famous “Conference Handbook“). It was fairly obvious that Bernie and the conference organizers put a good deal of thought in assigning discussants to papers in a manner that would generate valuable comments.
  3. Discussants II: Powerpoint. I have never seen as much use of powerpoint or formal presentation by discussants. I’m not sure what this means, if anything. I’m not sure how I feel about this as a general matter, but it did work pretty well here.
  4. Discussants III: Thanks! On a more personal note, Ken Hendricks (an excellent I.O. economist at UT) was the discussant assigned to my paper, “Slotting Contracts and Consumer Welfare.” Ken provided great comments during his 8 minutes and in my talks with him afterward that will undoubtedly improve this paper and future research using the same data set.
  5. Diversity of Empirical Approaches. CELS included empiricists from a variety of fields: sociology, psychology, criminology, political science, economics, statistics, etc. My initial reaction is that this is a significant advantage of this conference because there is a lot to learn from the different methodologies employed.
  6. CELS Is Not Just for Established Empiricists. On a related note, the diversity of empirical approaches, datasets, methodologies, problem-solving techniques, etc., are a real advantage for folks already using empirical methods in their scholarship but also for those who might be interested in incorporating some of these methods in the future. Who knows, you might even meet a potential co-author!
  7. Law Bloggers do Empirical Work. There were a number of bloggers and guest-bloggers at CELS who were either presenting or attending (sorry if I missed anyone): Bobby Bartlett (former TOTM guest), Darian Ibrahim (Glom guest), Hillel Levin (Prawfs alum), the entire ELS Blog crew, Tom Ulen (Law & Econ Prof), and of course, UT Law’s own Kate Litvak (of blog commenting fame).
  8. Empirical Work and Junior Scholars. CELS included a large number of junior scholars. This was, at least in part, because of the generosity of the CELS folks. Hopefully, the success of CELS bodes well for acceptance of empirical legal scholarship by junior folks. The conventional wisdom sometimes expressed is that younger scholars should stay away from empirical work because of various inherent risks to do with time, risk (of uninteresting results after the data collection), deviation from the traditional law review format, and the potential for tenure and promotion related issues associated with evaluating your work. I have blogged about my own view of these risks here. In short: “I think the best advice an untenured faculty member can get is to find a research agenda they are passionate about and then put your head down and get to work.” Tenure is supposed to be the reward for your scholarly output and community service, not the guiding light for creation of a research agenda. Sure, the greater ELS is valued by law schools, the better off juniors will be as the above risks are reduced. And hopefully, conferences like CELS should help in reducing some of these risks by signaling to faculties that this type of work is valuable scholarship.
  9. On A Lighter Note. Gordon was right about the stuffed avocado at Trudy’s.
  10. Favorite Dialogue I Overheard:

Q: “Isn’t it great that we are at a conference where lawyers are talking about robust clusters? Who would have thought?”

A: “What the hell is a robust cluster?”

Overall, a fantastic conference. See you next November at NYU.