The 2012 AALS meeting is starting. So I may bump up a few oldies but goodies in which I share my thoughts about that learned organization.
Solango Maldonado identifies a couple of AALS annual meeting panels that are sure to be "informative and engaging." Richard Albert can barely constrain his excitement: "The AALS has assembled a terrific program. There are so many panels I can't count them all!"
I haven't been to every AALS annual meeting since I joined the profession back in 1988, but I've been to a lot ... and can count the number of "informative and engaging" panels I've seen on the fingers of one hand.
I've come to agree with Brian Leiter:
Complaints about the AALS are legion among law professors: the organization's relentless political correctness (without regard to the diversity of views among its members), its inability to stage real scholarly conferences, and its intrusive, and again largely politically motivated (when not cartel-motivated!), regulation of law schools. ...
Complaints about the AALS annual meeting are particularly common, such as this one from a prolific young scholar about the recent meeting Atlanta:
"The panels were okay, though I think I'd prefer the format of real academic conferences. Trying to be timely produces pretty half-baked comments, in my opinion. I mean, is a four person, three hour discussion about Guantanamo Bay going to change any minds or shed significant light on the relevant constitutional issues? Hardly."
Panels in which speakers haven't prepared papers, and in which they appear to have only thought about the topic ten minutes earlier, are all too common.
I also mostly agree with Orin Kerr:
Over at Brian Leiter's Law School Reports, Brian comments on the upcoming Association of American Law Schools January meeting for law professors: "[M]y sense is that specialist meetings of scholars have completely displaced the AALS as the destination of choice for those looking for conferences with intellectual content. Am I wrong?" Brian is quite right. This year's panels look unusually good, but in past years I've been significantly underwhelmed.
Of course, that doesn't mean the AALS January meeting has no purpose at all. As I see it, it serves at least five critical purposes, in descending order of importance: (1) It provides law professors with an all-expenses paid trip to the city where the conference is being held (this year, New York); (2) It provides professors an opportunity to sample the culinary delights of that city (figures Solove would be way ahead of me there); (3) For conservatives and libertarians, it provides a trip to the Federalist Society's shadow conference, always held near the AALS meeting and generally rich in intellectual content (and always with lots of co-conspirators); (4) For blog readers, it puts you in town for the annual CoOp/Prawfs happy hour; and (5) It provides a chance to roll your eyes at the bland and meaningless theme the conference organizers come up with, this year being "Reassessing Our Roles as Scholars and Educators in Light of Change." Uh huh.
As for Orin's positive reasons, the drawback of point # 1 is that the AALS mostly rotates within a very limited number of cities and after 22 years in the business I've been to almost all of them. Plus, it's a crappy time of year for vacations. Point # 2 holds mostly for New Orleans. Point 3 is perfectly true. Point 4 doesn't apply to those of us who are antisocial. Point 5 is true, but can also been done in the comfort of your home institution's faculty lounge.
So what do you think: Is the AALS annual meeting "informative and engaging" or a major league suckfest?