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I am Matthew Reid Krell, and This is How I Work

Today, I have the pleasure of interviewing Matthew Reid Krell. Matthew is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of Alabama. His dissertation research focuses on federal trial courts and the relationships among litigants and judges. He’s currently on the market – feel free to look him up at! He temporarily lives in Jerusalem, where he’s clerking for the Hon. Hanan Melcer of the Supreme Court of Israel. When he’s home, he’s bossed around by the three cats Titus, Vinnie, and Albie. Follow him on Twitter @ReidKrell.

Current Job: I currently have three jobs. I’m writing my dissertation in political science at the University of Alabama; I practice law in Mississippi, Tennessee, and Arkansas; and I am currently a volunteer foreign law clerk for the Hon. Hanan Melcer of the Supreme Court of Israel.
Current Location: Jerusalem, Israel
Current mobile device: Google Nexus 6X
Current computer: Lenovo X1 Carbon Thinkpad

Can you briefly explain your current situation and research to us?
I’m a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of Alabama. I’ve also continued my law practice since starting the Ph.D., and currently have about 8 open files that I share with co-counsel. I was fortunate enough this academic year to be awarded a dissertation completion fellowship, so I was able to spend three months clerking for a justice of the Supreme Court of Israel. My dissertation research focuses on information exchange in trial litigation – basically, how do litigants evaluate their case as they learn more about what the other side and the court thinks? My research for the Court is confidential, I’m afraid.

What tools, apps and software are essential to your workflow?

So I am a pretty “default” kind of guy. I write in Word, use Google Chrome for online research, and Stata for my statistics package. I have been working on trying to make more use of a citation manager (I use Zotero), and I’ve experimented with Scrivener. I liked Scrivener, but found it not great when I was putting the final package together. For research development, I use a lot of the techniques that Raul Pacheco-Vega uses, most especially the Conceptual Synthesis Excel Dump.

What does your workspace setup look like?
Unfortunately, being in Jerusalem, I don’t really have a set workspace at the moment. I’m actually writing this from a coffee shop on Emek Refaim near my apartment because my heat isn’t working. At the Court, the foreign law clerks have a dedicated space in the back of the law library. At home, I have a home office that is currently being used strictly for storage because I discovered one of my cats had been using a corner of it as an unauthorized litter box, and I haven’t had a chance to shampoo the carpet.

What is your best advice for productive academic work?

Don’t let days go by where you do nothing. You don’t have to do much; reading one article, jotting down a paragraph’s worth of notes, or even just a few bullet points of “here’s something I want to do with this.” Sitting and vegetating is part of how our brains develop new ideas, but doing nothing but vegetating breaks good habits.

How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?
Oh man, I should probably start doing that? I used to have a whiteboard, but when I switched from a teaching assistantship to a fellowship, I lost my office on campus. Google Calendar keeps me from screwing up my appointments, and I deadline everything. Marking conferences and submission deadlines on the calendar helps as well. But if something isn’t ready to be calendared, I’m not sure that I have a way to keep track of it other than in my head.

Besides phone and computer, do you use other technological tools in work and daily life?
I used to use a tablet, but I couldn’t get myself in the habit of carrying it or using it, and I didn’t have any markup tools that would make it a paper-equivalent. So no, right now I don’t use other technology.

Which skill makes you stand out as an academic?
Not really convinced that I do stand out? To the extent that I do, I think it’s the way I straddle the humanities and social sciences. Even if lawyers, judges, and legal academics don’t like to admit it, law is a humanities discipline, and our epistemologies have more in common with literary studies than physics. And there’s nothing wrong with that! But I think it might mean that using the scientific method to try and analyze legal systems leaves us with a lot of things that we think we know that we actually don’t.

That said, there’s definitely things we can do to employ scientific epistemologies in the study of law and legal systems, and I think that my great strength is that I don’t pick a particular approach. I use the right tools for the problem, whether that’s a doctrinal approach that uses more literary methods or a stats-heavy quantitative approach. While I would never claim that I’m as brilliant as Gary King and Lee Epstein, my approach to research is heavily informed by their 2000 Chicago Law Review piece, “On the Rules of Inference,” where they basically say, “look, legal academics, you don’t have to do statistics to do empirical research!” I’ve taken that same approach.

What do you listen to when you work?
I have been a Pandora subscriber since 2005, and I have about 35 stations. Some of them I cycle through fairly quickly. The ones that I tend to linger on are based on Myla Smith (a local Memphis artist I got to know in law school and then saw again when I was living in Memphis, as she’s based there), Great Big Sea (a now-defunct Canadian sea shanty/rock band), half a dozen stations that tend toward EDM and trance. I find that genre really helpful for writing as it has a strong beat that lets my heart follow along and I can fall into a flow state.

What are you currently reading? How do you find time for reading?
Jerusalem’s been a godsend for reading, frankly. I have a half-hour commute each way to and from work, and sometimes I have to wait an hour or more for my bus to arrive. Reading on the Kindle app on my phone kills that time (and my phone battery, but whatever). I went to Eilat for a weekend recently, which was a four-hour bus ride each way. I read about half of Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Labyrinth of Spirits on that trip. It’s a Gothic romance set in Barcelona during the Francoist dictatorship, and it’s utterly fascinating. It’s the last in a series.

Are you more of an introvert or extrovert? How does this influence your working habits?
I think I’m probably a misanthropic extrovert? Which means that I’m probably best off in terms of working habits with people around me, but not having to interact with them. It’s why I like cafes. If I try and work without people around, I just sit around and watch Youtube videos, but if the people are people I need to interact with, I find myself not buckling down and working.

What’s your sleep routine like?

“Routine” is a bit laughable as a descriptor of my sleep. Still trying to figure out why I sometimes sleep 16 hours and why I sometimes stay up for 30 hours, sleep 2, then work a full day.

What’s your work routine like?

Identify today’s goal, work toward it, Twitter, work, Twitter, get a phone call, Twitter, Twitter, Twitter, um….

What’s the best advice you ever received?
“Life is too short to be cautious.” Not going to say I follow it, but it’s definitely good advice.

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