Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Double Pranking the Law Faculty: Am Empirical Work




Years ago I heard and believe it to be true that super lawyer Steve Susman pranked a law firm by  bringing in a bartender as a interviewee for a position with the firm. The bogus candidate was supplied with a resume  that was just right and coached enough to know what to say and not to say. In the version of the story I heard, an offer was made.

This led me to wonder if you could prank a law faculty. The best version of this would be a faculty hiring experiment. An articulate bartender would be supplied with the perfect resume, the right names to drop, and all the other dressing.  He or she would be coached on what to say and not to say. Frankly, I do not think it would work. Somewhere along the line a question would be asked that exposed the prank or, at the very least, a reference would be called. The job talk would likely be a disaster. Of course, if the success of the prank hinged on the job talk and references being called, I guess you could conclude that it did work in some measure by surviving the office interviews.

There could be another type of prank. This one would be conducted by a law professor looking to write a paper on the prankability of law professors. Here is how it works. The professor who is the pranker/researcher is invited to a workshop at a much lower ranked law school. This is important because law profs are very impressed by credentials. If you do not believe me, listen to the way they introduce each other.

The speaker/experimenter presents an empirical paper. This is also important since empirical would is both threatening and impressive to law profs. And, although  the questions they can ask based on intuition and logic can potentially expose the prank, for the most part a decent empiricist can fake it be saying, we used the "Himstead r-test to make sure that bias was not present" or "Hmm, that might be worth looking into."

The paper must be complete B.S. -- something like "Do Americans Like their Flag: Implications for Nationalism, International Relations, and Community." The actual empirical work could be fabricated or actual done. If actually done, people from all states could be asked:

1. Do You Like the U.S. Flag? (scale of 1-10)
2. Do you like your state's flag? (scale of 1-10)
3. Do you really, really like your flag? (scale of 1-10)
3.  What symbols do you want on your state's flag? [This is follow by a list of things ranging from eagles to Ronald McDonald.]

This would all be done by questionnaire. The data would them be compiled and correlations found based on race, gender, income level, average state temperature, party affiliation, etc. The results would be presented in graphical form with different colors for states where the flag was very popular and places where people did not care much for their flag. A very long table with all kinds of correlation coefficients, SSEs,  t-values, and R squares would be available.

The research questionnaire does not ask if the subject has any knowledge of what the state flag looks like. Why? Actually I do not know why but that is part of the prank. The researcher actually does not know if the people who have opinions about the flag have any knowledge of the flag. So among those liking or disliking the flag are completely different groups -- some are just making it up and some may have studied their flag closely.

When asked what this is all about the speaker says it has important implications for patriotism. No one asks, "Could you have just asked the subjects how patriotic they believe they are."

The  test in terms of the prankability of different faculties would be how long it would take for someone to say, "You are kidding, right?" or "Is this a prank" or "Is this being filmed for TV show." Perhaps everyone would just sit there, ask polite questions, and nod knowingly because, after all this is a faculty member from a highly ranked school delivering an empirical paper. 

Schools could then be ranking on the prankability scale -- how long it takes to detect the prank.  That ranking would them be correlated with the race, gender, socioeconomic class of the faculty, time of day, size of law school, density of population, per capita income of surrounding area, number of Walmarts in town per capita, height of the highest flagpole, etc.

I could then write up that paper and go on the workshop tour with an all new paper: "The Prankability of Law Faculties: A Comparative Study of Manners and Deference to Authority"  which itself could be a prank especially if I made it all up. 



1 comment:

Cassandra Robertson said...

If you haven't already read the short story "Dunya" by Marianne Wesson, I suspect you would love it: Marianne Wesson, Dunya, 76 UMKC L. Rev. 795 (2008). It is a pitch-perfect take on the law school hiring process, and it speaks to your first hypothetical prank (well, in the story it was more of an accident than a prank, but... strangely, ridiculously, totally believable).