Monday, April 30, 2012
Underneath the Law Review Submission Process: Part X Advice for Law Review Articles Editors
For my final two posts on the law review submission process, (see intro, part I and part II on timing of submissions,part III interview, part IV interview, part V interview and part VI interview, part VII expedites, part VIII memes and part IX fall submission timing if you are interested) I am going to leave with some advice for current (and future) law review articles editors. Besides Eugene Volokh's great book (which all articles editors should read) there is not much out there as far as advice for new articles editors.
In this series of posts on the law review submission process, we professors have learned a lot from several articles editors through interviews and comments. We have been (mostly) humble and have tried to learn as much as we can from this process in order to improve our submissions and get a better sense of what exactly goes on after we submit a piece and how generally we can improve the quality of our work.
But of course, we wouldn't be proper prawfs if we didn't get a bit didactic here as well. So, this post is dedicated to teaching articles editors (which I hope will be as humble as we have been) a few things we have learned over the years. As a former editor-in-chief who was heavily involved in article selections (at BYU Law in 2003), I want to share a few thoughts. My next post will be advice from two former articles editors turned prawfs.
Four tips for articles editors:
1. Try to go back to when you used to be an interesting, well-rounded person and not a law student. Now you see your parents' swimming pool as an attractive nuisance, your fifth grade class christmas party as constitutionally suspect, and every school yard fight you ever got into as a tort. This is all good and natural, but as you are evaluating articles, try to get out of your 1L frame of mind and think about things that really matter to the world that might intersect with the law.
In considering an article, think, would this be something I would see reported in a newspaper, magazine or on television? Would I want to share what I learned in this article with a friend? A law professor? Who might care about this article? Before you went to law school, you were a really bright person who thought about ideas, social problems, and various different fields. All of this is great and makes you part of a diverse law student body which can help you recognize the importance of submissions made to your law review.
In your first year of law school you've learned a few really important topics; but these topics are not necessarily the most important ones in the scheme of scholarship or to the legal world at large. Don't let law school suck the interest you may have in a wide variety of topics out of you or narrow your interests into just what we teach you in the first year. Try to think about legal problems, but also think about other unresolved or broader public policy issues and see if the articles you are examining tackle those in any significant way--or help the world think about these issues in a different, but helpful light.
True story: despite my undergraduate premed science education, my major in sociology, research and interest in Africa and Iran, I thought given my successful first year law student transformation that the most important and interesting article that I read as an editor was one about the history of the Lochner court. Not that the Lochner court is not interesting and important, but in the scheme of things, there were a lot more important topics and articles that I came across that I probably thought were not "legal" or "scholarly" enough because they were not constitutional and did not cite cases. My own perception of this Lochner article being the best thing since sliced bread was matched by my fellow articles editors who were also equally brainwashed into thinking that constitutional law was the only true law and the best sort of legal scholarship. This "con law" bias I had has also been confirmed by at least one interview in a previous post, so it is something to beware of anyway. But the overall message is, don't let your idea of good scholarship just be focused on what you learned in law school.
2. Think about whether you really understand what the article is saying. If you can't understand the article, it doesn't mean you are not smart enough. It may just be that the author was not clear enough. If on second thought, you don't actually understand the article, it is probably not as good (or well-written) as you thought it was, and it probably needs to be clarified. The best ideas--and those that end up having a lot of impact in the field are not necessarily the most complex ones. I think articles editors may sometimes not give themselves enough credit and think that they may not have to understand every piece they are publishing. Yes, a piece may be empirical or technical, but you should still be able to understand it. And you should be able to explain the core idea of the article to a friend and they should be able to understand what you are saying.
3. Look into how important the topic really is. Law prawfs may tell you that the topic they are writing about is really important; but do your own work in figuring out how important it really is. To get a sense, you can see what else has been written on the topic by scholars, how or if courts consider the issue (for instance, how often courts do courts consider this issue? Is this "huge problem" something that plagues only 10 cases a year?),, whether the data says this is important (ie how many people/cases/countries/businesses does this impact?), or whether this is a debate in common every-day discourse.
Remember that as articles editors, you help keep law discourse at a level that most people can understand--not law professors alone but lawyers, judges and interested people. If the topic does not seem interesting to large enough group of lawyers, judges, or average citizens, then it probably is not that relevant.
4. Final tip, think about how hard this law review article was to write. Often, I see articles that show an impressive amount of important analysis of statutes, regulations, involving FOIA requests, unique cases or empirical studies of large proportions that do not get the requisite attention they deserve with a favorable placement. So, I would ask law review editors to think about whether this author was the first to find an important historical document and analyze it, whether the author assembled their own nationally or internationally representative dataset, whether the author scoured through mountains of case law, whether the author used unique methods like a randomized controlled trial or qualitative interviews, or whether they just read a handful of cases really closely? A consideration of the difficulty of putting together this article is one factor that you may want to consider. If the article was laborious to write and the database difficult to assemble (and of course if factors 1-3 are met) then this is an article that will likely be extremely important to the field.
Those are my tips. I'm sure others have tips on good scholarship as well, so I look forward to hearing from you on other thoughts or tips for articles editors.
My next post will include two interviews with former articles editors turned superstar academics: Ed Cheng (Vanderbilt) (former Harvard Law Review articles editor) and Josh Douglas (U. Kentucky) (former George Washington Law Review articles editor).
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