The Larger Lessons of Increased Collaboration Among Law Professors

One of the most striking changes since I have been a law professor is the rise in the number of legal articles written jointly. This increase in collaboration is of more than academic interest because the reasons for it are leading to greater collaboration in other areas, too. The result will be greater prosperity and human flourishing.

First, joint authorship has grown with interdisciplinary scholarship. Increasingly, law is the subject of inquiry in other disciplines – economics, political science and psychology prominent among them.   But those with expertise in these areas frequently lack institutional knowledge of and practical experience in law. They can strengthen their arguments by partnering with law professors more sophistication about these matters, who, in turn get the advantage of more disciplined frameworks of social science. We see the same phenomenon in public policy, where different kinds of knowledge are more regularly pooled, resulting in a fuller, less one-dimensional view of the world.

Second, many law professors also team up in their research, even if neither have interdisciplinary backgrounds. The modern legal academy is marked by increased competition for both students and faculty. Standards for productivity and quality have clearly risen even in my two decades in the businesses. One way of competing better is to combine forces.  Two (or more) heads are better than one, for they come up with more and better ideas. Examples of such gains now abound in the wider world, where competition makes collaboration a necessity. In The Innovators, Walter Isaacson showed that many modern advances in technology required fruitful collaboration. Steve Jobs needed Steve Wozniak to get Apple off the ground.

Third, information technology makes collaboration at a distance so much easier than it once was and widens the market for successful partnerships. Drafts can be rapidly shared, discussed, and revised. These gains are clearly not limited to academics. In the wider world, the “collaboration” occurs not only between producers but between consumers and producers who can more easily exchange information about their qualities as through a rating system, like Uber’s.

Collaboration thus has clear advantages for productivity. But for me and I suspect for many others there is also the pleasure of companionship. Academics can be a very lonely business, but co-authorship at its best makes for conviviality.

Perhaps most importantly, increased collaboration should remind us that novel associations stand out as a great benefit of freedom. Classical liberalism rests ultimately not on the virtue of selfishness, but the gains from cooperation.