Futility in Effort


When you’re an attorney, you’re almost expected to be published.  In two law-related jobs that I’ve held, one of the first questions I was asked was “Were you on a law journal?”  I managed to survive at the law firm and with the judge despite my answer in the negative, but I could always see in the questioner’s face a look of discontent and dissatisfaction.  I may have been overly sensitive, but they certainly weren’t impressed.

I always make the excuse that I couldn’t be on a journal because I was a transfer student.  There’s a grain of truth to that, but the reality is I had no interest in being on a journal.  I heard it was a lot of work and I didn’t see the payoff.  I still mostly don’t.  (But to those who are in or going to law school, do not do what I did.  Journals open up a lot of doors, including good clerkships.  Thankfully, my judge looked only at grades, but the appellate division wouldn’t have given me a time of day.  Not that I wanted one, but…)

But now that I’m surrounded by people who have been published and write about their publications in their fancy resumes and Internet profiles, I cannot help but feel jealous.  My writings are good enough to be published, I tell myself.  I should be published, I delude myself.

The publishers have yet to concur.  What I consider to be my best work, a law school paper on William Paterson’s role at the Constitutional Convention, was unanimously rejected by the academic  journal of New Jersey History by the three people who reviewed it.  The editor suggested I make improvements by reflecting the comments made by the reviewers.  I thought to myself, that was rather difficult when one of the critique was “The paper’s thesis is unoriginal and unpersuasive.”  That’s a damnation of a paper if there ever was one.  I think that’s how you get a “C” in this grade inflated world: your effort is commendable but the result is anything but.

I looked through other papers that are possibly worth publishing, going as far back as college.  Not surprisingly, the quality drops exponentially the older I go.  (Reviewing my old college papers, and yes, I still have them, I see unflattering comments like “I don’t think this works,” “You’re off today, Joe,” and my favorite, “Your paper was good, but I was most intrigued by your footnote 1.”)   The best I can hope for with these papers is I post it on my blog and people show the respect of plagiarizing off of them.

So instead of looking back, I looked beyond law school.  The only writing I’ve done in the last year are my contribution to several decisions as a law clerk.  I can’t take credit for them–they are the judge’s opinion–but I thought a publication of someone else’s work for which I contributed something was better than no publication at all.  So I picked what I thought were the best and most interesting decisions during my tenure with some level of contribution on my part and, with the judge’s permission, submitted them for publication to the Committee on Opinions.

The committee rejected them all.

I can’t even publish vicariously.

I am thus left with two publications: this blog and my undergraduate thesis.

My thesis is an interesting story that provides caution for all those who rely on online sources when conducting academic research.  Several years before I graduated in 2004, Boston College created an online depository of all the theses written by seniors.  My thesis, titled “Japanese Electoral Politics: Reform, Results, and Prospects for the Future,” is thus available online like all others.  It’s not particularly good, either in its writing or content, and its badness is considerably inflated by the writer’s wholly unwarranted haughty title for it.*  The piece rambles on for a ghastly 141 pages discussing matters which, with hindsight of 4 years and an election but even without such hindsights, prove neither thoughtful nor insightful.  Yet, if you Google my name, as I have done to satisfy my inflated ego, you will notice how often a link to my thesis is provided as a resource on a discussion of Japanese politics.  On one occasion, I am even quoted.

It is a frightening example of the dangers of relying upon online resources and a warning to those who cite Wikipedia as a source.  While a hundred ignorant minds may eventually stumble upon the correct answer, certainly my thesis–which was, after all, an academic endeavor over two semesters, overseen by a qualified adviser, supported by incalculable primary and secondary sources, and graded as worthy of a thesis by two faculty members–is more reliable than Wikipedia.  And despite that, I can definitely say, you still shouldn’t rely upon my thesis for any academic purpose.  It is, after all, a product of an undergraduate.

So for now, my pride and pursuit for glory must rest with this blog.  Some of you have sent me kind, encouraging words.  For that I say thank you.  But one day, I’d like to be able to say I’ve been published–and not in the way anyone with a computer can.

*I cannot take credit for this rather creative line.  I modeled it after the infamous review of the film “Heaven’s Gate” (1981) by Vincent Canby of the New York Times, who so sarcastically proclaimed, “Mr. Cimino has written his own screenplay, whose awfulness has been considerably inflated by the director’s wholly unwarranted respect for it.”  Some consider the film to be the biggest bust of all time because it brought down a production company.

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6 Responses to “Futility in Effort”


  1. 1 Tony W January 14, 2009 at 5:35 pm

    Holy crap Joe, ur as interesting in writing as you are in person! I’m darn glad that you posted this link on your FB. In any case, keep this up, you’ve made me a dvout reader out of one post!

    • 2 joesas January 14, 2009 at 6:56 pm

      Tony,

      Great to hear from you, and thanks for reading! I’m even more glad you enjoyed the post. I don’t think I’m that interesting, but I’m glad some people do. LOL.

      Readers like you allow me to keep on making posts.


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