I am a federal court of appeals judge in Chicago. But I also teach part-time at the University of Chicago Law School and write books and articles, mostly of an academic character and mostly dealing with law (particularly from an economic standpoint), though my most recent book, Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline, is not focused on law. This dual judicial-academic career keeps me very busy (my wife sometimes compares me to the frenetic White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland), and so I knew that, with a wedding to attend on Saturday, I would have to put in a full working day yesterday (Sunday). I had thought that maybe we would get back early enough from the wedding to enable me to get in an hour or two of work before my nightly session on the treadmill. But it was such a wonderful wedding (of a former law clerk of mine)—a fabulous band providing the background for the exuberant uninhibited dancing of the bride and her friends (reminding me of the Maenads of Greek mythology)—that my wife and I couldn’t tear ourselves away.
So, yesterday I had to work hard, but not to the neglect of my household responsibilities. They run primarily to our cat, Dinah, and I take them seriously. But even a celebrity feline (see Dinah’s photograph on Page 79 of the Dec. 10, 2001, issue of TheNew Yorker) is a low-maintenance pet. Not like that other species.
I have a busy week ahead—a day of hearing appeals, three two-hour classes on the law of evidence, an after-dinner speech Tuesday on civil liberties and national security—and a priority for Sunday was finishing up the draft of my speech. And finishing up a short paper on the economics of international law. And working on two articles that I am writing with an economist, one on presidential pardons (yes, there is a demand for and a supply of such things that economics can illuminate) and another on copyright law, focusing on an issue of considerable theoretical interest: Should copyrights be perpetual, rather than limited to the lifetime of the author plus 70 years? And on a book on legal pragmatism and democratic theory. And on a sixth edition of a textbook-treatise on economic analysis of law, my specialty. Since the fifth edition, published five years ago, hundreds of scholarly articles on the subject have been published, and I have to read some, skim others, and glance at the rest.
Don’t feel sorry for me. The work I do is fun. As far as extrajudicial research and writing are concerned, I pick the topics to work on, and I pick only ones that interest and challenge me, and I teach only courses that interest me. As far as my judicial work is concerned, federal appellate judging is a gas (to place a bit of circa 1970 slang back into circulation), because the cases are so varied, so eye-opening, and, often, so weird. Truth really is stranger than fiction, because writers of fiction try to be plausible, and reality has no aim. Also, we judges derive considerable personal satisfaction from believing that the responsible exercise of judicial power is a worthy form of public service.
I love variety, which may be another name for being impatient. My critics—who believe with Max Weber that “limitation to specialized work, with a renunciation of any Faustian universality of man which it involves, is a condition of any valuable work in the modern world”—accuse me of spreading myself too thin. Anyone who writes across a number of fields will make mistakes that a specialist would avoid. But the cross-country runner may also see connections that a specialist would miss and that lend a freshness to his work that a specialized monograph would lack.
But you can’t pursue a dual career successfully if, despite loving your work and having plenty of energy and concentration and only limited family responsibilities, and having the ability that many intelligent people lack of switching from project to project without loss of momentum (as you’ll see me doing throughout the week), you’re not intelligent about the use of your time. You need good work habits, such as: not procrastinating; careful prioritizing; and accepting assistance, in my case from law clerks and student research assistants. The trick is to delegate the truly delegable parts of one’s work but retain full control over the nondelegable. Most judges nowadays, because of heavy caseloads, delegate the writing of their judicial opinions to their clerks. It’s a mistake on a number of grounds: The more you write, the faster you write; only the effort to articulate a decision exposes the weak joints in the analysis; and the judge-written opinion provides greater insight into the judge’s values and reasoning process and so provides greater information—not least to the judge.
But I never did get around to finishing my speech for Tuesday. Will I make it? Keep tuned.