Brian Leiter's Law School Reports

Brian Leiter
University of Chicago Law School

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

What about the fees for other AALS Meetings?

Ann Laquer Estin (Iowa) writes, raising an issue noted by others:

Thanks for taking up the AALS registration fee issue.  What about the comparably huge fees for the AALS midyear meetings?  Call me an idealist, but I think those more substantive conferences are especially important to make readily available to faculty at all levels.  I have passed on those meetings more than once, sometimes with real regret, because the total costs seemed so enormous.  (Years ago, I got in touch with Carl Monk to make this point, but his response was just that the meetings cost a lot to put on.)

 Thoughts from readers?  Examples welcome, as well as insight into what could justify the costs.  Submit your comment only once; signed comments very strongly preferred.

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I was program chair for the Section of Law, Medicine & Healthcare this year (2010 - New Orleans). AALS wanted to charge the section $800 to project powerpoint slides for the 90 minute session. (The previous year, the fee was $440 - that's quite an increase in 1 year). I refused, and we proceeded without powerpoint. You can buy a new projector for $500 at Office Max. It would be cheaper to buy one and give it away - for each session.

The Section breakfast price was $38, for a cold buffet of fruit and muffins - the same food that was available for free in the exhibit area that morning.

I asked Jane La Barbera (AALS Managing Director) about these outrageous fees. I received a long email, but no satisfactory explanation.

Posted by: Kevin Outterson - BU Law | Jan 20, 2010 11:46:12 AM

What is so interesting to me, in reading your following item, is that so many people on the relevant board are people who made their scholarly reputations arguing for social justice and fair treatment of the disadvantaged. Yet once in a position of power, they prove as feudal as undemocratic as their predecessors. There's a lesson in this somewhere, and it goes well beyond legal education.

Posted by: mike livingston | Jan 20, 2010 2:42:23 PM

I was section chair of the Section on Creditors' and Debtors' Rights this year, and a bankruptcy judge asked if she could come and spend about five minutes telling our section membership about opportunities for research funding from the National Conference of Bankruptcy Judges. Jane LaBarbara refused to allow her in for this 5-minute pitch without paying the full $525 (non-member) fee for the entire conference. The judge ended up paying the $525 just to come tell us that the judges wanted to give us money for research. LaBarbara's explanation for this embarrassing outrage? The AALS just can't afford to allow folks like this judge into the meeting without paying. Indeed!

We all seem to be mired in a classic collective action problem. I hope these blog entries help us to move past the impasse.

Posted by: Jason Kilborn | Jan 20, 2010 3:00:31 PM

I think most who have served on an AALS committee will attest to the organization's bloated bureaucracy, which is surely a cause of high costs. At my first committee meeting two years ago there were almost as many AALS staff members present as there were lay committee members. With each idea or proposal that we discussed, one of the staff would comment on the various bureaucratic steps necessary to make the idea come off. Consult this other committee, then another committee, then the VP of this, etc., etc. I was amazed and disappointed.

Posted by: Ben Bratman | Jan 20, 2010 6:08:57 PM

Brian, maybe you could invite Susan Prager or Ginger Patterson to write a guest blog post as an AALS spokesperson? Conference fees bring in revenue to the AALS but most law professors don't know where these funds go. I'd feel more comfortable forming an opinion about the fee in particular, and AALS in general, if I could hear from someone who sets the ticket price and decides what to do with the money.

Posted by: Anita Bernstein | Jan 21, 2010 12:01:20 AM

I want to thank Professor Leiter for making an issue of the outrageous costs associated with AALS meetings. These meetings are obviously important and yet the fees are a real deterrent to wide participation. The problem will become more acute as many law schools cut back on travel budgets. If law school budgets are going on a much needed diet, the AALS should follow suit. As a comparison, Law and Society charges a sliding scale for attendance based on salary but the highest fee is under $200.

Posted by: Miguel Schor | Jan 21, 2010 4:06:19 AM

I totally agree with this thread. I was my school's AALS representative this year, and after two hours of meetings in the House of Representatives I didn't hear a single action item. (Plenty of people were thanked for their activity leading to no results though). It reminded me of the Monty Python sketch about "The Society for Putting Things On Top Of Other Things."

Posted by: Gerard N. Magliocca | Jan 21, 2010 5:46:39 AM

The topic of the huge fees charged by AALS came up at lunch at one of their "substantive" conferences about a decade ago. Several of my lunch companions had served on AALS committees, and they regaled the rest of us with tales of stays at Four Seasons hotels, fabulous meals, and other signs of a self-serving bureaucracy with monopoly power run amok. This is all hearsay, of course, and out-of-date hearsay at that, but perhaps there are readers with first-hand recent experience with the AALS who can confirm or deny.

Posted by: David Bernstein | Jan 21, 2010 6:50:07 PM

Part of the thread is about cost, but another part is about the professionalism of the people who do the work at AALS. So I'll throw in my two cents that I've served on two AALS Planning Committees and found the staff, including Carl Monk, very helpful and professional in planning an annual meeting workshop on democracy and the last Conlaw meeting. We did the planning in DC and unfortunately, I was not put up in a first class hotel. Just a good one.

Re cost, there are legitimate issues here. But those of us who attend APSA or APA should keep in mind that there are many fewer thousands of law professors than there are political scientists or philosophers. At one point, APSA had nearly 15,000 members. More members to spread the costs over are one reason costs are high. AALS uses the same sort of conference hotels these other academic associations do; but I don't imagine that hotels vary their rates depending on the number of members. I'll bet the contracts are standard and the rates high.

Posted by: Steve Griffin | Jan 22, 2010 10:32:46 AM

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