In today’s episode, we chat with Tracy Pearl— an internationally recognized scholar on emerging technology, and a law professor at Texas Tech University. Tracy is also a researcher and writer, with a focus on risk regulation and tort law.
Tracy discusses her career path, and her continuing passion for writing scholarly articles on a variety of fascinating topics including driverless vehicles, crowd crush, and Miranda. She also shares tips on how other women lawyers can get into academia.
We’ll dive into those topics, as well as…
● Advantages of life as a law professor
● The challenges of women in academia
● The lag in the legal system to develop new statutes, regulations, and case law in the realm of new forms of technology
● How to get your research and papers into the hands of the people that need to see them
● How to get your research and papers into the hands of the people that need to see them
● And more
Mentioned in this episode:
Davina Frederick: Hello and welcome to the Wealthy Woman Lawyer Podcast, formerly known as the Solo to CEO Podcast. It’s a new year and we have a new name but our mission in 2020 is still very much the same, to provide thought-provoking, powerful and practical information to help you in creating your own wealth-generating law firm without overwork or overwhelm.
I’m your host, Davina Frederick, and I’m here today with Professor Tracy Pearl, an internationally recognized scholar on emerging technology and the law. Professor Pearl teaches at Texas Tech University and she researches and writes about risk, regulation and tort law in the areas of driverless vehicles, the Internet of Things, and other new forms of technology. Welcome, Professor Pearl. I’m so happy to have you here today on the Wealthy Woman Lawyer Podcast.
Tracy Pearl: Thank you so much for having me. I’m thrilled to be here.
Davina: Great. So why don’t you start out by just kind of telling us what, a little bit more about your teaching and what you teach at Texas Tech?
Tracy’s Journey Into Academia
Tracy: Sure. So at Texas Tech, I have sort of two categories of classes that I teach. I teach torts related classes. So that would be the first-year torts class, and then an upper-level environmental law class, and I’ve taught toxic and environmental torts and product liability in previous years. And then in the spring, I switch over to the criminal law silo. And so I teach the first-year criminal law class and then I teach a seminar about criminal justice reform. I’ve also taught criminal procedure in past years.
Davina: Wow. That’s quite a variety.
Tracy: Yeah, I love it.
Davina: Quite a variety of different topics. Yeah. So we’re going to come back to this part of your career, but I want to roll back a little bit and talk about just, you know, the early years. What made you decide to become an attorney to begin with? And, you know, is this something that you always knew you wanted to do? Did you, you know, were you influenced by somebody or what made you decide to go into the law to begin with?
Tracy: Yeah, so I was a huge speech and debate nerd when I was in high school. And I was very fortunate to have a great coach named Lynn Levinson. This was in Honolulu, Hawaii. And her husband, Justice Steve Levinson, was a justice on the Hawaii State Supreme Court. And he was always sort of at our tournaments and around and he is somebody who is deeply passionate about all things related to law.
And he was unusual in that he loved talking about the law with everybody, including me, a teenager at the time and his enthusiasm was just so infectious that I became very, very interested in all kinds of legal topics. He also taught us how to do legal research. And so I started sneaking into the University of Hawaii Law Library when I was in high school.
I apologize to anybody from the University of Hawaii who’s listening. So I used to actually sneak into the law library and do research for the debate cases that I was working on. And what I quickly found is that it was just fascinating. I liked reading legal scholarship just on its own even away from preparing for my upcoming debate tournament. And so by the end of high school, I was pretty certain I wanted to be a lawyer. I don’t think I had a strong sense of what kind of lawyer I wanted to be, but I knew that that was the direction in which I was headed.
Davina: Yeah, I love that story. And what I love about that is that, you know, you’re, this is what you do, as a teenager, this is what you do for fun. You read legal, anybody, you know, all the lawyers on here thinking back to their law school days and all those hours and hours we spent, you know, with the case books and doing, reading all those cases and everything. You were doing is in high school just for kicks, you know?
Tracy: I know. And you know, it’s funny like now I write law review articles for a living. And I hadn’t really thought about the connection between like, I used to sit in the stacks hiding and the University of Hawaii Law Library reading law review articles and like now that’s what I do professionally. So I think if you look back, I mean, it seems obvious to me now that I would have wound up in this position, but at the time, I think I just knew that I liked law and I didn’t know what that was going to look like for me in the future precisely.
Davina: And so what, after you graduated from law school, you went to work for a firm?
Tracy: I actually clerked twice. So I clerked for a federal district court judge in Richmond, Virginia. And then the following year, I clerked for a US Court of Appeals judge on the 10th circuit in Tulsa, Oklahoma. And then I went to work at a very large law firm in Washington, DC
Davina: When you were, you know, when you came out of law school a lot of times I know with attorneys I know, you know, for me, I knew when I was going to law school and when I graduated law school that I wanted to have my own practice. What was your, did you have those thoughts when you were in law school that you knew that you wanted to be a scholar? You knew that you wanted to be a law professor, this is where your career was headed? Or were you trying to figure it out and kind of figure out what areas of practice you wanted to practice and that kind of thing? What vision did you have in your head?
Tracy: Yeah, that’s a great question. You know, I don’t know that I had a specific vision. I remember thinking that being a law professor seems like a great gig, but it seemed just completely unattainable. Just because I think nobody sort of explains to you, I mean, maybe they do if you go to Yale or Harvard, but I went to Boston College. And so like, we didn’t have that dialogue about how one transition to becoming a law professor, and so I followed sort of a very traditional route.
You know, I knew I wanted to clerk. I had professors telling me that that was an important thing to do. And I got an offer after my junior year to join this, you know, great law firm in Washington DC that I was excited about. But I think I always had the sense that I was not a law firm gal. That wasn’t ultimately going to be fulfilling for me, but I think it was just sort of a question mark. Like I, you know, I think I wanted to be a law professor, but it just seemed like, you know,
Davina: Yeah. formulated or something. So how did you wind up at Texas Tech, and was that the first School that you were teaching or have you taught in other places?
Tracy: I started out, my husband is a law professor to we started out at Florida International University and then move to Texas Tech. And we’re actually, this is our final year here. We were recruited by the University of Oklahoma, and towards the end of the summer, so we’ll be training there. Yeah, you know, I think for us, we both had good law firm experiences. I was very fortunate. I worked for great partners who were kind and reasonable human beings. And so I didn’t have that really terrible big law experience I think that you hear about a lot.
But it just was never a great fit for me. Like, it just I wasn’t fulfilled by the work. I hated building my hours. You know, I just sort of didn’t, I just wasn’t enthusiastic. And, you know, I know that you’re supposed to sort of aspire to be a partner. And I guess to some extent I did, it just wasn’t something I was super excited about. So then we got pregnant with our first child.
And we were very lucky in that both of our law firms offered alternative work arrangements and allows you to work part-time. And so I think we sort of thought that we would do that. That our daughter would be born and then we would work 80% time or whatever. But really, it was like, the moment she was born almost, we both looked at each other and just said like, this is not gonna work. We can’t work at these large law firms and be the kind of parents that we want to be. And that sort of ushered in for us a real period of uncertainty. I think we were both uncertain about what that meant. Like, what do we do from here?
And by that point, we did know a lot more about being law professors. And that was something we both aspire to. But it just seemed like an overwhelmingly difficult thing to do. There’s this sort of statistic batted around that it’s actually been easier over the last 15 years to be recruited into the MBA than it is to get a tenure track job as a law professor. So I think, you know, I just sort of assumed it wouldn’t work out for us. You know, something like 80% of law professors are, hired that are hired have JDs from Yale, Harvard or Stanford, and we didn’t. So I just was not optimistic that it would work. But my husband is a super optimistic guy.
And so he said, you know, let’s just throw our hats into the ring. Let’s go onto what’s called the meat market. There’s a standard hiring process for lunch. Professor so he said, you know, let’s go to that conference, let’s throw our resumes into the ring. And shockingly, we got hired that first time. I think we sort of thought it would be a test round But Florida International University hired us both. Unfortunately, they didn’t have tenure track positions for the two of us. And so we had to work and find another school after two years. And so that’s how we wound up at Texas Tech.
Davina: Wonderful, wonderful. And so what’s really interesting about that dynamic is that the two of you are doing this together. And so wherever you go, there has to be not one position, but two positions.
Tracy: Right. which is why I really thought this would never work out because it’s hard enough to get one position as a law professor and to get two people hired at the same school just seems like an impossible herculean kind of task. So I have been amazingly surprised at every step of the way that we’ve been able to get, you know, now three positions together.
Davina: Wow. And what does he teach?
Tracy: He teaches property, water law and federal Indian law.
Davina: Oh, wow, those are fascinating. I enjoy, I love property law.
Tracy: It’s great. I love it too.
Davina: Yeah. Yeah. So that’s fantastic. So you were at Florida International and then you went to Texas Tech. And you have been there for how long?
Tracy: We, this is our sixth year here. And we were tenure here. And so usually when you get tenure, it becomes a lot more difficult to move to another school. And so I was really thinking that we would spend the rest of our careers here. And then University of Oklahoma sort of called us out of the blue over the summer, and we pursued the positions with them and then we’re thrilled that that worked out.
Davina: Oh, yeah. So you’re moving to a whole different state and everything. That’s going to be really fun. So tell me about your, you have written, what about 12 papers?
Tracy: I think that’s right.
Davina: Now yeah. So that’s quite a bit right?
Tracy: Yeah. I hope so.
Davina: And you’re, I noticed that a number of your papers were on autonomous vehicles and semi-autonomous vehicles. And I wondered what about that particular topic? And maybe we could talk about how you come about your topics in general. But what about that particular topic was so compelling for you?
Tracy: You know, when I was teaching criminal law, I guess, gosh, the first time so about six years ago, there was a case in the textbook that I use about cruise control. And there was a case where there was a car accident and the defendant, in that case, argued that the cruise control in his car had gone haywire, and that’s what had caused the crash. And the court responded by saying, you know, it doesn’t matter even if the cruise control did go haywire. You are the person who chose to use the cruise control, and that’s enough to establish your guilt in this case.
And I had just, you know, earlier that day read an article about autonomous vehicles. And I just thought, well, this is interesting because we’re about to have a whole bunch of cars on the road that drive themselves. And so what does that mean for guilt in a criminal law case involving one of these autonomous vehicles? Is it just the case that if you get into an autonomous vehicle, and you choose to use it, that you’re going to be on the hook criminally?
And that seems really crazy. So I started digging around to see what courts or legal scholars had said about these new autonomous vehicles and there wasn’t much written. And so I thought, well, gosh, this seems to be a huge oversight. And these vehicles are being developed very quickly. So I felt motivated to write about it. I still do. I feel like it’s a really important topic. And I feel like that we’ve really lagged behind in our legal system in developing, you know, statutes and regulations and case law in and around all of these new forms of technology that are very quickly coming to market.
Davina: Right, right. And you know, the law is notoriously slow to catch up with technology, you know? And this is an issue that we have. But tell me some of the particular issues that you discovered because you’ve written probably what, I’m not sure exactly how many but at least four.
Tracy: Yeah, I think about five maybe.
Davina: Yeah, yeah. So tell me kind of some of the issues that you uncovered in this area.
Law Always Lags Behind Technology
Tracy: Yeah, it’s a fascinating area, because we’re entering into a period in which we’re going to have sort of old fashioned non-autonomous cars in the vehicles on the road, along with semi-autonomous vehicles on the road along with fully autonomous vehicles, you know, within the next couple of years. The big problem that I see now is there are a lot of cars available to consumers right now that are semi-autonomous.
So for instance, I have a Tesla and it has a system called off autopilot and when I set the autopilot, my vehicle will steer on its own. It will, you know, accelerate and stop on its own. It’ll even now, because of the recent update, it’ll stop at stoplights and stop signs. But it’s not yet fully autonomous and there are still quirks in the system. And so it is up to me as the driver to monitor my vehicle 100% of the time that the autopilot is engaged. And there are a number of other kinds of vehicles.
You know, Cadillac has a kind of semi-autonomous system and Aldi has something similar. And they all have these systems I think that can lull drivers into this sort of false sense that the car is more competent than it is. And so we’ve already seen crashes on the road where people have set the autopilot or the semi-autonomous system, and then not supervised.
So in a really famous case, somebody set the autopilot on his Tesla, and then he pulled out his iPad and started watching a Harry Potter movie, and unfortunately was killed when his vehicle ran into the side of a truck that was sort of crossing in front of his lane of traffic. And what’s really crazy is we don’t have any laws right now, that apply to semi-autonomous vehicles and the unique problems that they pose. And I think they’re really dangerous just because consumers, like I said, Don’t supervise their vehicles in the way that they’re supposed to.
And I think a lot of the times what some of the studies are showing is that people don’t understand what their car is capable of doing and what their cars not capable of doing. There was a really interesting study out of MIT recently showing that even the people selling semi-autonomous vehicles, so people who work at dealerships, oftentimes provide very significant misinformation about what the vehicles are capable of doing.
And so I think this is a huge legal oversight. We’ve seen accidents happening already. And my sort of broader fear is that if we get the law wrong in and around semi-autonomous vehicles, fully autonomous vehicles are never going to have a chance. And I’m actually a big proponent of fully autonomous vehicles. I believe they’re going to be substantially safer, that they’re going to save 10s of thousands of lives every year on US roads. But we’re in this very tricky legal territory right now.
Davina: Right right. And I mean, you mentioned earlier to this is also going to be doing, this is already going on and is going to be going on in the mix with standard old fashioned vehicles and old fashioned drivers such as myself. You know, I think about my parents on the road, they’re in their 80s right? And driving their vehicles. And so we got this mixed in with the semi-autonomous and the autonomous vehicles.
And we have such an issue, when we just think about the issue of technology and driving so far, just with things like our phones, right? The phone, the cell phone has caused so much, so many accidents, and so much distracted driving since you had the ability to text, right? So we just take something like that’s not even attached to the car itself. That’s just technology and look at the impact it has had on driving. And we’re just now getting laws in place in some states addressing that.
Tracy: Yeah. And, you know, we’ve seen the number of motor vehicle accidents and deaths had been dropping for decades, almost. And now we’re seeing an uptick in the number of accidents and deaths just because of the cell phone issue like you said. And it’s shocking to me that not every state has passed laws banning the use of cell phones in the driver’s seat, which should absolutely happen.
And, so yeah, you know, I think law is always slow and it always lags behind, like you said, but the pace of technological development is accelerating and so that gap between law and technology is just getting larger and larger and larger. And that’s immensely concerning to me. And I think it should be for everybody.
Davina: So let’s talk about the work of legal scholars then because it’s really important work and critical work to, for legal minds to be addressing this. And so tell me when you write your papers on these topics, how are they getting out? Are they getting out into the hands of the people that need to see them and know them?
Tracy: That’s a great question. Yeah, I don’t know that many people are just picking up law reviews and reading the articles within them. What I do to spread my work is go to conferences, and what I’ve discovered in recent years is that legal conferences where it’s just lawyers talking to lawyers or law professors talking to law professors, they tend not to be super high-value conferences.
They’re usually really edifying intellectually, and I enjoy them. But there are a lot of conferences now being held that are interdisciplinary, where there are lawyers in the room, there are engineers, there are economists, there are people in industry, there are people in academia. And those are incredibly great conferences because you’ve got multiple stakeholders, you’ve got people coming from all different angles. And in those sorts of conferences, you are able to sit down in the room and I think have a real difference.
You know, I found that when I go to these conferences, engineers, people working for Google, and you know, the big tech companies, they’re desperate to talk to legal scholars and to lawyers, right? Like they want that perspective very much. And I think the reverse is true as well. For me to be a good legal scholar and to be even a good lawyer, if I were to be practicing in this area, I really need to talk to people on the ground in the industry.
People who are actually developing these products so that I have a better understanding of the technology. And so I really shifted away from going to sort of traditional academic conferences in favor of going to more of these interdisciplinary types of conferences where there are very concrete subject matters that we’re trying to sort of work our way through as conference participants.
Davina: Right, right. I imagined that would be much more effective. You know, what, my younger sister works for the state of Florida and as the Department of Transportation and as part of her job, was to work on the transportation plan for the state of Florida and they’ve done an enormous amount of addressing this semi-autonomous and autonomous vehicles in their planning process. They’ve done a lot of studying that and discussing it and so this is what comes to my mind when I’m, you know, seeing your work and your papers on this subject.
I’m wondering how, you know, how does this get propagated so that, you know, people at the state level, you know, have had access to these things and know that they’re available and that kind of thing for when they’re considering, you know, on the political level, what decisions to make, what laws to make.
Tracy: Yeah. And I would actually encourage practicing attorneys to become involved in these kinds of conferences and these kinds of synergies as well. You know, I think lawyers oftentimes just want to talk to other lawyers and don’t really see the value that they can add and other values. But, you know, the reality is, as a practicing attorney, you’re seeing, you know, an entire side of the legal system that other people aren’t that I’m not seeing as a law professor, and that certainly people in industry aren’t seeing.
And so if you’re somebody who has litigated drone cases or autonomous vehicle cases, or you’ve had criminal cases in which emerging technology is implicated, you actually have a lot to contribute, and I think your perspective is incredibly valuable and worth sharing with people working on these issues in other capacities.
Davina: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. And there’s probably, you know, there are probably a lot of lawyers working out there in firms who have, you know, ideas of issues that need to be addressed because they’re handling from the, in the courtroom, right? But they may not have the time, energy or even interest in research and doing a paper and, you know, having that putting that work out there. So to be able to connect with people who are doing that kind of work and to be able to talk about things that they see it witness every day, it could spark for you an idea of, Oh, you know, I really need to investigate this and write about this.
Tracy: Absolutely. And you know, it, I’ve seen over the last three years more and more practicing attorney is showing up at these conferences, and I’ve just been thrilled by that trend. And even if you’re not somebody who wants to sit down and write a 20,000 word, you know, law review article, you’d be surprised at the number of people who would love to co-author with you.
I’m actually in talks right now with somebody who practices about co-authoring a paper, right? Because he’s got a perspective that I don’t have on a particular technology issue. And so like I said, I think just sort of getting out there going to these conferences and meeting people on the scholarly side or the industry side, is a very worthwhile thing to do for practicing attorneys.
Davina: So give me an example of some of the conferences that you like to go to.
Tracy: Gosh, I go, for the last two years, I’ve been going to a conference the International Telecommunications society. So last year, they had a conference in Helsinki in partnership with Nokia, which is based in Finland, and I love that conference because it’s a really nice mix of academics and industry people. At the conference last year, we were able to tour Nokia’s really big campus outside of Helsinki, see some of the new technologies that they’re working on, get a sense of sort of what they’re struggling with, what they’re succeeding with. And so that’s been really edifying.
Arizona State every year runs a great conference called the Governance of Emerging Technologies Conference. And I actually met a practicing attorney there last year. And I’ve been, he’s the person I’ve been thinking about co-authoring a paper with. So they’re out there. You know, if you get on Google and sort of look around at particular areas of interest, there are lots of things happening all over the world, because really, you know, all countries are grappling with these same issues.
Davina: Right, right. Yeah, that’s something I guess a lot of times we don’t think about, getting in our myopic view of as Americans, you know, we don’t really think about, oh, gosh, you know, there are other countries who are, unless we’re studying and researching it, you know?
Tracy: Oftentimes, they have great ideas that we should copy.
Davina: Exactly, exactly. take inspiration from is what I like to say. You’re, but you don’t just write about and research technology. There are, you have some other papers on other topics and one that jumped out at me was your paper on Miranda and how it’s affected law enforcement, which I thought was really kind of interesting perspective because I don’t think of Miranda in terms of a law enforcement. I think of Miranda as a protection for citizens, right? So I thought it’s kind of an interesting perspective. Tell us about that research and that paper and what you were studying and what you found.
Growing Interest in Law Among the Public
Tracy: Yeah. So I think we’re at this really interesting moment in the United States. And around criminal justice issues it’s suddenly this phrase Zietgeisty thing, right? We have lots of podcasts about wrongful convictions or alleged wrongful convictions. There are a lot of documentaries and series coming out about various aspects of the criminal justice system and so I think, for the first time in a while you’ve got, you know, people who are not lawyers or who are not part this system asking questions and raising concerns about, you know, the reliability of our criminal justice system, you know, raising issues about all kinds of issues.
Like things like solitary confinement that nobody was talking about, you know, 15 years ago, it’s part of the public conversation now. And what I’ve noticed is that students are really desperate to be talking about these issues because they’re listening to these podcasts or watching these documentaries. And so that’s why I developed a seminar in and around criminal justice reform issues.
And what I discovered in sort of selecting your reading for that class is there are a lot of objective research studies about all kinds of aspects of our criminal justice system. And a lot of times their findings are really surprising. So for me, when I started looking at Miranda just preparing for this seminar that I was going to teach, I was really shocked to find that it has not been effective in protecting defendants, right? Miranda Supreme Court case was aimed at protecting people who were being interrogated, from being subject to coercion.
And what the studies have found is that actually Miranda protects law enforcement far more because it gives them sort of protection from allegations that they have coerced confessions out of defendants. They’re able to say, well, no I Mirandize them. I read them their rights. I told them that they don’t have to talk to me. But the reality is that most people actually don’t understand what the Miranda rights mean. And even if they do, they still really believe that if they opt not to talk to the police, that they’re going to be viewed as guilty, and that their likelihood of conviction increases when in reality, the opposite is true.
And I just found that disturbing and interesting. And so I’ve written two papers now about this Miranda issue really arguing that Miranda has not done what it’s intended to do and that we need far more protection for defendants in custodial interrogation settings. But again, I think it’s just one of those issues that lots of people want to talk about and I sort of want to capitalize on this moment that we’re having where lots of people, not just lawyers, are interested in these issues.
Davina: I find it so fascinating that, you know, that’s something else too that is new in our society, is this podcast movement. And you know, all this citizen newscasting too, you know? I mean, you just from videos to podcast to whatever, right? And how that affects what goes on in the classroom, you know, gives you ideas for your topics and your research, but it’s a different situation for a law student now than it was, you know, when I went to law school just 12 years ago.
Tracy: Yeah, for me too. I mean, I don’t think I ever thought to ask the question like, does this work? Like, does this do what we want it to do? And that’s, you know, what all of my hall students are asking now. You know, we’re doing black letter criminal law.
And we’re learning about mens rea and actus reas, and all of the sort of classical things that you have to learn and criminal law, but I’m just getting much broader-based policy questions that I did before and that’s because students are coming in having listened to Cereal or having watched Making a Murderer, or any of the sort of spin-off podcasts and series that Netflix and, you know, the podcast world have released.
Davina: Is there like a, of all of your papers and your topics, is there a favorite? Is there something that you just go this is my favorite?
Tracy: Gosh, I, you know, I’m always sort of working, it’s always through what I’m working on at the moment. I wrote two papers about crowd crush. And so that’s, you know, people being trampled by crowds and people being killed by the forces of the crowds around them.
That was such a quirky topic that I came up, you know, came upon sort of randomly and I think I’m still one of the only people who have written about crowd issues from a legal perspective. And it was such a fascinating area of law. I wound up working pretty closely with a crowd scientist in the UK, and I just thought it was an interesting topic It’s changed my view a lot about going to large sporting events and concerts.
Davina: I imagine
Tracy: You know it was just quirky. It was different and interesting. Yeah.
Davina: Yeah, that really is. I saw that. I thought, well that’s a really interesting topic. And yeah, I’m already the person who sort of avoids crowds and especially, you know, I have a virtual business so I’m becoming quite the shut-in because I do everything virtually. And so I think you develop a lot, and I don’t think I’m alone in that, right? Even more reticence to go out being crowds. And if I read your paper now, I’m really not going to.
Tracy: You should definitely not read my paper. I have my research assistants on those two papers. I still receive text messages from them. You know, it’s been like five years. I still can’t go to a concert because of you. You’ve ruined my life.
Davina: Yeah, that sounds terrifying. So what kind of, what do you think are the challenges that you have faced as a legal scholar?
Unique Challenges of a Legal Scholar
Tracy: Gosh, you know, in so many ways, I really truly believe that being a law professor is the best job that you could have as somebody with a JD. And you know, I hate to complain about it just because I’ve just have such flexible hours. I have summers, quote-unquote, off. You know, it makes it easier to negotiate childcare issues. You know, but I think like anything else, there are challenges.
You know, I think every law faculty is sort of dysfunctional in its own unique way, right? Isn’t there that saying that every family is dysfunctional in its own interesting way. Law faculties are the same. And I think just because they tend to be smaller, you know, there can be difficult personalities. You know, sometimes you have leadership that you don’t love or that feels uninspiring in that particular moment of your career. I think the other major issue is you have complete freedom as a law professor.
I mean, I’ve got to show up and teach my classes but that’s really about seven hours of my week that I have to be someplace related to my job. You know, aside from that, there’s really nobody ever breathing down my neck or requiring me to produce anything. And so I think that if you’re not somebody who has a lot of self-discipline and organization it can be really difficult to be productive as a legal scholar, right? Like, nobody requires me to write law review articles.
Nobody’s asking if I’m working on one. I had to write to become tenured but now that I’m tenured, I mean, theoretically, I could just do nothing for the rest of my career. And I think that, you know, for some people, that kind of freedom, that kind of complete absence of deadlines and oversight can be a very difficult kind of environment in which to work. But I think if you’re somebody who’s a self-starter, you’re somebody who has a lot of intellectual curiosity, I mean, it’s just the best job in the world because there’s no oversight and because I can write a paper about crowd crush, which is a super random topic, you know?
Davina: Right, right. Let me ask you this. I have recently read a report put out by the ABA about women lawyers, women law partners leaving, when they’re in their 50s, leaving the big law law firms because of basically discrimination and the way that they’re compensated and supported throughout their career.
The lack of mentorship, the lack of a certain, you know, salaries being comparable and then various other intangibles like it is often discussed among women lawyers about, you know, how they’re mistaken for court reporters all the time. And so I wonder in academia, do you find that there are these kinds of barriers or has it been your experience so far, there have been any kind of barriers because of being a woman?
Tracy: Absolutely. And I think that’s something that all of legal academia is grappling with. I actually chaired a gender equity task force at our law school that was formed to sort of suss out what our gender equity issues were and to then hopefully solve them. And I think what you find is that a lot of women who enter legal academia get jobs as legal writing professors are as clinical professors, which are often not tenure track positions at law schools.
They’re kind of like the secondary level of professors, right? And there’s a hierarchy in legal academia and so they’re sort of seen as not as prestigious or as less important than doctrinal professors. I’m really lucky to work at a school at which we have turned all of our writing professorships and our clinical professorships into tenure track positions. And that has really helped increase the number of tenured women faculty at Texas Tech Law School.
But I think there are certainly still barriers. You know, I think I am currently the only female doctrinal professor who teaches a doctrinal class in the first-year curriculum, which I think is really a shame that, you know, our students have all-male professors and I’m the only one, only female that they may encounter in a doctrinal class. You know, I think there are also issues with how women have to structure their time as academics, there are a lot of studies that show that, you know, students more readily go to female professors because they’re seen as more approachable, and that’s great.
I love interacting with students, but oftentimes, more of the burden of counseling students, mentoring students falls on female professors, which means that they have less time to write during the day. There are also interesting studies showing that women professors are given more kind of scut work on committees.
So they do a lot of the difficult and burdensome work that every law school needs to have happen just to sort of continue existing on a day to day basis. That disproportionately falls on females. So, I think just like in law firms, you know, academia has the same issues but I think that most schools are really trying in earnest to fix those problems. It is still the case in academia, just like it is in law firms. You know, in law firms, most senior partners are male, because 20 years ago, there were fewer women in the profession. That’s absolutely true in legal academia as well. It’s much more rare to find an older senior female professor than a male one.
Davina: Right, right. And so, so there has to be a change in culture among the older, the male professors, the older professors in mentoring and nurturing and all those things in people’s careers, you know, they have a willing to do that. And women have to be willing to reach out for that as well, I would imagine,
Tracy: Right. And, you know, even things like this bothers me like at our law school and at many, our faculty meetings are typically at 4:30 in the afternoon. That’s a terrible time if you’re a parent, right? And it’s not just for the younger female professors. I mean, my husband is on the faculty too. And he has the same issue.
And there are other younger male professors who are very involved dads. And I don’t think it’s, you know, a conscious choice on the part of administration to make things difficult for younger professors. I think that the people who are setting those meetings, you know, were not involved parents or don’t have kids and sort of don’t stop to think about how timing impacts the younger people with kids, right? You know, that’s sort of an ongoing issue, too.
Davina: Right, right. I mean, I know that for me, I don’t have children. So I know that, you know, I’m reminded sometimes Some people are setting appointments with me and they say, Oh, I can’t meet at this time because, you know, I have to, I want to be there to pick up my kids or whatever. Oh, yeah. I don’t think about those things. You know, my days, I’ve got bulldogs and they’re ever-present. So, if you were to advise a woman lawyer who wants to kind of switch gears and maybe get, you know, move to a career in academia, what kinds of, what advice would you have for her?
Tracy: First of all, I would say she should absolutely go for it. Like I said, this is I think, the best job that you can have with a JD and it’s particularly great if you have kids or you want a more flexible lifestyle for any number of reasons. You know, I think the most important thing for somebody looking to become a law professor is to publish articles and that can feel really daunting I think if you’re somebody who has not been in school for a long period of time. But I think it’s actually much easier to write law review articles than you might think.
You know, for me when I was at my law firm thinking of transitioning into legal academia, I went back and dredged up a lot of the papers I had written in law school for seminars. And I turned those into law review articles. And it wasn’t that difficult, right? I mean, I had to do some new research, I had to brush up, you know, the writing, I had to thin the papers a little bit, but ultimately, it wasn’t that difficult. I mean, the other thing to do is, you know, you become an expert in all kinds of various quirky areas as you practice law.
And putting your thoughts out on paper and writing from an academic perspective, I think, in many cases is a lot easier than having to draft, you know, a brief. Like a summary judgment motion or an appellate brief, because you just have a lot more freedom. I mean, you’re coming at it from an advocacy perspective where you’re arguing for your own perspective, and I think That’s really freeing.
And I think it’s different than the kind of writing that you do as a practicing lawyer. So for me, you know, I just sort of set a goal for myself that I was going to write 500 words a night. That’s not a lot. It would take me about 40 minutes, but you’d be surprised at how quick the 500 words a night adds up, even though it doesn’t take a lot of time. So, you know, you can very quickly within the span of two and a half months have a fully drafted law review article. And then submitting it for publication is really easy. It’s all standardized now.
There’s an online application called Scholastica, where you upload your paper and then you can just literally check the law reviews that you want to submit it to. And the great news in legal academia is there are thousands of law reviews. And so it’s pretty easy to find somebody who will be willing to publish your work. So I would encourage somebody thinking about entering academia just to brush off some of their old papers to start writing some new ones. And to get a couple of those papers under their belt before they throw their hat into the ring to become a law professor.
Davina: Right. And is there a book that you would recommend or books that you would recommend that they read if they wanted to start developing their, you know, some scholarly work?
Tracy: Gosh, I, there are no great books about legal scholarship. You know, I think it can be really helpful to start reading the Chronicle of Higher Education. You can get a daily email from the Chronicle about what’s happening in higher education. And that’s just helpful to sort of keep your finger on a little bit if you’re thinking about becoming a law professor.
I think the best thing to do honestly, is just to pull up some recent law review articles from say, the Harvard Law Review or the Yale Law Review, Law Journal, and just read about what people are writing about, get a sense of how they’re writing, the structure of those kinds of articles. You know, for me, that has always been the best way to sort of figuring out what I need to be doing in my own work.
Davina: That’s great advice. Great advice. Thank you so much for being here today and sharing all of this perspective with us. And it’s something that, you know, I know a lot of women lawyers talk about other options for careers other than, you know, maybe having their own firm or working for, working in a big law firm. And I think this has been very enlightening.
Tracy: Can I put through one more idea in there? The other possibility is that law schools are always looking for adjunct professors. You know, there’s a lot of coverage that just a standard size faculty can’t get to. And so most law schools have very significant numbers of adjunct professors. And so if you think you might want to be a professor but you’re not sure, go to your local law school. You know, tell them what you’re capable of teaching and teach one class. You can do it usually in the evenings or to kind of work around your schedule.
You don’t get paid a lot of money, but it’s a great way to sort of figure out if this is something that you might enjoy. And I think schools are very happy when you sort of show up and say hey, Do you have a product liability professor? Or are you looking for somebody to teach Criminal Procedure? Because oftentimes the answer is yes. And if it’s not yes, it’s often Well, not that but could you teach this other class? And that’s always a great way for practicing attorneys to sort of get their foot in the door of legal academia.
Davina: What do you enjoy about teaching?
Arguing Without the Downsides
Tracy: I love the energy of it. And in some senses, you know, for me practicing law that the most fun part was always the performative aspects. So arguing in court or taking depositions. And teaching means that I get to do that every day and I get to do that in I’m a much lower stakes context. So I love the energy in the classroom. I love getting to know law students. I love having to figure out how to make a really dry topic interesting to people who may not, you know, want to study that subject. So I think it’s sort of like all the best parts about arguing in court without all of the downsides and the fighting.
Davina: Yeah, that having to be without being conflict. This has been great. And I so appreciate you being here and talking with us today. So tell us where can we find more information, maybe read some of your papers and find more information about you?
Tracy: Sure. So I am on Twitter. My handle is @ Prof Tracy Pearl. And you can also just google me, Tracy Pearl. The first result is my faculty bio at Texas Tech, and that’ll link to my papers and to my CV. And so that’s the easiest sort of clearinghouse of papers and things that I do.
Davina: Great, great. I really appreciate it. And I think this has been a wonderful conversation. Thank you so much for being here.
Tracy: Thank you so much for having me on. This has been a blast.